Seattle and San Digeo over the holidays

In a previous post, I told you all about the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card and all the wonderful things that you can use your Starpoints for – such as hotel stays, flights, experiences, merchandise,etc. Well, AmEx and Starwood decided to really show me what you can do with Starpoints and that’s how I ended up with 100,000 Starpoints to use on a destination of my choosing. My sister recently moved to Seattle and when I plugged in “Seattle” in the Starwood website, one of the hotels available was the W. There is a cool W here in Leicester Sq., which I’ve been to, so I knew I’d be in for a treat. I knew I wanted to visit Seattle but I thought if I’m going all the way to the West Coast, might as well make it worth my while. I went to university in San Diego and of course, there is a W in downtown San Diego. A quick search on the Starwood website and I was booked in for both hotels. 5 days in Seattle and 7 in San Diego – all courtesy of my Starpoints. I’d never been to Seattle so I really wasn’t sure what to expect other than rain and coffee but Seattle is a great city. Even though I arrived at Christmas time, there was still plenty to do in the city. The first thing we did was check into the W – located a few blocks from Pike’s Market and the main shopping district, it was in a great location. Walking in, I was wowed by the high ceilings and vast lounge, the ‘Living Room’ that all W’s have. This one had a fireplace that was centre stage in the Living Room and made for a cosy welcome whenever we returned to the hotel. Our room was on the 22nd floor and we had a great view of the cityscape as well as the sea at the end of the road. As I was...

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San Diego Cellars – a downtown urban winery

Jan 11, 14 San Diego Cellars – a downtown urban winery

Posted by in All, California, Travel

I spent the majority of my holiday break in San Diego, Ca., which was nice and sunny, of course. But besides the sun and sea, San Diego also has their very own urban winery. The concept of urban wineries more or less started in California but has since spread to many other parts of the States – Washington and Oregon in particular having large urban winery communities in their major cities. We here in London also have our own urban winery, London Cru. Anyway, I spotted San Diego Cellars as we were driving down the street and decided to stop in for a quick look around. Their winery is quite rustic, shall we say,  it mostly consists of barrels and plastic tanks in the back lot of their small bar/tasting room with a small crusher/destemmer hidden under a tarp. I was a bit surprised to see all the barrels out in the open but then I remembered, it never rains in Southern California and winters are mild. What they lack in state of the equipment, they certainly make up for with laid back California charm. The wine maker is Todd Hipper (what a name!) and he was busy working away in the back lot when we arrived. The inspiration to have an urban winery in Downtown San Diego was similar to us in that San Diego has a thriving craft beer scene and they thought why couldn’t they make great wine as well. They bring in their grapes from various wine regions in California and they also make all their wines on the premises. They currently make three Syrahs, a Chardonnay, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Pinot Noir, an Old Vine Zinfandel, a Viognier, and a Viognier/Chardonnay Blend, all on tap. The wines were very much in the California style but well made and are available to take away in their 1000ml ‘Cruzer’ refillable bottles. Apparently this is their version of a ‘Growler’ which is a 2 liter refillable glass jug that American craft breweries...

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Wine making in the back country of San Diego, Eagles Nest Winery, Ramona AVA

Aug 20, 13 Wine making in the back country of San Diego, Eagles Nest Winery, Ramona AVA

Posted by in All, California, N. America, Travel

I try to visit the States in the summertime to keep a finger on the pulse of the American wine world and of course, to visit family and friends. This year, one of my first stops in the US was San Diego, Ca. I went to university in San Diego so I have a bit of a soft spot for the region but back in the day, there weren’t many wineries in the back country of San Diego around. Or, maybe there were but back then I was more interested in tequila then wine 😉 Anyway, I attended the first American wine bloggers conference back in 2008 and it was there that I met the owners of Eagles Nest Winery, Dennis and Julie Grimes. They were very friendly and invited me to visit them the next time I was in the area. Forward to 2013 and we’re tweeting each other, arranging my visit to their vineyard. Dennis and Julie started Eagles Nest about 10 years ago, clearing and planting the hillsides on land they bought in the Ramona Valley. Ramona Valley is in the foothills of San Diego but the beach can seem a million miles away, driving along the dry and dusty hills. That’s what I’ve always like about my home state – the variety of climate and landscapes all encapsulated in one place. Be it rivers, mountains, deserts, lakes or the sea, it’s all here and within easy driving distance. The Ramona AVA is a relatively new designation but the vineyards there are cranking out award winning wines. The AVA has over 20 wineries, which grow both red and white varieties. As the valley is nestled in the foothills of  the coastal mountains, it benefits from the coastal marine layer and fog that rolls in most nights. This being California, the days are hot and the nights are cool, all of which are great for the maturation of  the grapes. At Eagles Nest, Dennis and Julie grow both red and white grapes...

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Hahn Estates Wine Country Tapas in London

Nov 15, 12 Hahn Estates Wine Country Tapas in London

Posted by in California, Food and Wine, restaurants

Although I’m from California, I’m really not all that familiar with the wines of California. Of course, I know your Mondavis and Fetzers but as so many of California’s wines don’t ever make it to the UK’s shores, I am a bit in the dark as to what they are doing over there. So, I was quite pleased to be invited along to Automat American Brasserie in Mayfair for what was billed as a “Wine Country Tapas” tasting with Hahn Estates wines. Wine Country Tapas? Well, why not. I’m a bit tired of Spanish tapas anyway. Turns out the idea behind the tapas is to showcase the local, fresh and sustainable produce of the region and pair it with Hahn Estates wines. They have an Estate Chef, Brian Overhauser, who has created dishes specifically for this culinary program. As we were in London, we got a taster of California cuisine, including seared scallops, wild mushroom risotto and, one of the most interesting dishes – smoked egg yolk and autumn vegetable salad. The winery sells these wine country tapas on site, along with a glass of wine, so that guests can see how food and wine matching works for themselves. But what about the wines? Hahn Estates is located in the Santa Lucia Mountains on the Central Coast of California. If you’re familiar with CA, it’s close to Monterey. One of the main draws for Hahn Estates was the fact that the Santa Lucia range is very much affected by the “Blue Grand Canyon” – a very deep canyon (more than 2 miles deep) just off the coast, the cold water creating a cold wind that is funneled into the appellation. This wind has a huge affect on the grapes, helping to extend the hang time and development of the grapes. The soil of the Santa Lucia Mtn range also had very good drainage which gives added depth and complexity to the pinot noir, especially, that is grown there. Bill Leigon, President of the company, and...

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Cigars and red wine, they may not be a classic pairing but…

Nov 07, 12 Cigars and red wine, they may not be a classic pairing but…

Posted by in Argentina, California, Chile, Lifestyle

I recently took part in a cigar and red wine matching exercise with Alvaro Marcos Garcia of Concha y Tora and two lovely fellows, Jimmy and Dan, from Hunters & Frankau, a major cigar importer and distributor here in the UK. Alvaro is an ex-sommelier and he often noticed that diners would often have a cigar after lunch or dinner with the last of their red wine. When one thinks of cigars, it’s usually port or brandy that springs to mind as an accompaniment. However, even though cigar and red wine are not a classic pairing, they are often a common pairing. This got Alvaro to thinking and before you know it, we were sitting in the outdoor cigar lounge of Home House in Mayfair, lighting up some stogies as an experiment to see how well they would match with red wine. Alvaro had brought along 3 robust red wines to go along with the cigars that Dan and Jimmy from Hunters & Frankau had brought along. The wines were the Don Melchor 2008, Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2009 and Bonterra’s The Butler 2007. All 3 wines were from the New World and I think that for cigars, you do need big and brash wines, wines with fruit and structure because, let’s face it, cigars are not exactly wallflowers of flavour. Briefly on the wines: Don Melchor is a Chilean caberent sauvignon, a rich and complex wine with loads of fruit flavours. The Trivento is 100% malbec, a silky wine with loads of cherry and plum on the palate.  The Butler from biodynamic producer Bonterra, is an enticing syrah/grenache blend with mouvedre and petit syrah also in the blend. A rich and velvety wine, it had licorice, black cherry and a spicy note to it. There is an art to cigar rolling and Jimmy explained that hand rolled cigars are preferable to machine rolled because hand rolled cigars are whole leaves that are rolled in a particular order which allows the flavour to develop...

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The Ultimate Box Collection from Moet & Hennessey, winemakers video

Why were 3 winemakers from far flung parts of the globe all in Central London at the same time? They were here for the launch of Moet Hennessey’s Ultimate Collection Box, a collection of 6 iconic wines from MH’s wine portfolio. Although there are 6 different wines, it is hard enough to get 3 winemakers together at one time, let alone all 6 so I felt lucky to be chatting with Manuel Loazada of Numanthia, Nicholas Audebert of Cheval des Andes and Ian Morden of Cloudy Bay, all 3, Chief Winemakers for their respective estates. The Ultimate Box Collection was designed by Argentine artist Pablo Reinoso and is a handsome, handcrafted wooden jewel box designed to showcase the flagship bottles from each of the wineries from its Estates and Wines portfolio which are: Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon, Cloudy Bay’s Te Koko, Cheval des Andes, Newton’s The Puzzle, Numanthia’s Termanthia and Terrazas de los Andes’ Afincado Malbec. The box was created in part to respond to the growing consumer demand for Super Premium New World wines. Why would Moet Hennessey put together such a box and launch it now, I asked Manuel. Well, now is as good as time as any, he replied. And besides, if they waited to get all 6 winemakers together in one place, it would never happen. I had a brief chat with the 3 to see what they thought of the whole Collection concept… The Ultimate Collection Box is available from Harrod’s and thechampagnecompany.com at a suggested retail price of £500 so start saving those pennies… Share this:TwitterFacebookLinkedInPocketRedditGoogleTumblrEmailPrintPinterestLike this:Like...

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