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Wing’s Castle – Love, Genius and Perseverance

August 9, 2017 11 comments

“I want you to marry me. And I will build you a castle”. These were the words of 23 years old Peter Wing back in 1970, when he proposed to Toni Ann, standing in a middle of an empty green field in Millbrook, New York. Peter was born and raised a farm boy, and had no idea about construction, never mind building medieval castles, but a promise is a promise.

Wing's Castle

Of course, today you can task trusted Google with getting you all the instructions for DIY castle building enthusiasts. However, in 1970 Google was not even conceived. That didn’t stop Peter – book by book, rock by rock, piece of scrap after piece of scrap, the dream was coming along. Peter and Toni didn’t have money to simply go and shop at the “all for castle builders” aisle at the local Home Depot. Instead, they got whatever pieces they could from the demolitions sites, from houses to buildings to the roads. If you look at the castle rooftops, they look perfectly authentic, similar to what I saw recently in Copenhagen – you will have to do some serious sleuthing to see that those can be old copper sinks and bathtubs – and same goes for most of the parts which together equate to a beautiful castle.

Peter had to conquer many professions to build the house of his dreams – bricklayer, carpenter, plumber, blacksmith – but the castle was growing. When we met Peter about 8 years ago, he was already famous – Wing’s Castle was featured on the Discovery channel and was well known as a unique attraction (the way the castle was built, with lots of small corridors and tight corners, it was also an ideal Halloween destination). Peter had plans for opening a Bed and Breakfast as part of the castle, which would make his and Toni’s life easier.

Last weekend we visited the Wing’s Castle again for a tour with a group of friends, which was run by Toni – we learned that Peter died in the fatal car crash about 3 years ago. The Bed and Breakfast is mostly operational now, with Charles, Peter and Toni’s son, finishing construction of the last guest suite, which will complete the Wing’s Castle – well, or not. I’m sure there will be always ideas to make the castle just a little bit better, don’t you think?

Take a look at the pictures below – look at all the little details and think about all the love and perseverance which went into this lifetime of work. This is the genius of the humankind, the never ending desire to create – forever and ever.

Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

View of the valley from Wing's Castle Single Stone Picnic table at Wing's Castle

Outdoor decor at Wing's Castle

Let’s take a look inside:

And a few moer:

Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

Let’s go shoot some targets?

 

Wing's Castle

 

Peter Wing's Autoportret at Wing's Castle

Peter Wing, self-portrait

Wing's Castle

 

Wing's Castle

Beautiful mosaic…

The latest addition, B&B Guest Suite:

B&B Guest Suite Wing's Castle

B&B Guest Suite Door Wing's Castle

B&B Guest Suite at Wing's Castle

 

 

Wing's Castle

Find the drill bit

And now my favorite – rooftops:

Rooftops of Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

Rooftops of Wing's Castle There you have it, my friends. If you are are visiting the area, Wing’s Castle well worth your attention, simply as a proof that people can achieve whatever they will set their mind to. Do you have your favorite love story to share?

When in Canada … Drink Local, and Visit LCBO

July 26, 2017 6 comments

tasting Niagara winesTruth be told, I love visiting foreign countries. Ability to do that without flying is a huge bonus. So if you live in the Northeast USA, the only foreign country one can visit without flying is Canada – and if you live in the South of the USA, you better really love driving. However, I start getting off the tangent here, so let’s get closer to what I really wanted to talk about.

I don’t know how many times I visited Canada in the past 20 years – really a lot, as it is so close. I had a lot of business meetings there, which would be typically 2-3 days in and out – those would usually involve flying. I’ve done a lot of vacations and long weekend giveaways. Here comes the strange part – with the exception of one trip, I never bought wine in Canada before (outside of restaurants and duty-free shops, where I would typically buy Scotch and not wine). And that one exception was our vacation a few years ago, when we stumbled across beautiful wine region of Niagara-on-the-Lake (more details here and here), and bought a good number of wines at the wineries – I even broke the Canadian law (unknowingly), which apparently prohibits one from moving the wines across province’s borders.

A recent meeting took me to Toronto, and of course, being a wine geek I am, and remembering great experience of a few years back, I definitely wanted to taste some local wines. If I wouldn’t be a blogger who also like to read other blogs, I’m sure I would be quite oblivious to the ways one can obtain a retail alcohol in Canada – but thanks to my wine blogging friends from Canada, like Bill @ Duff’s Wines, I knew the magic word – LCBO! Whatever the acronym stands for, I understood that this is the key word for one looking to buy a bottle of wine. While walking from the train station to the hotel, I saw the magic word written on the store – and this was the “aha moment” – I’m going to have some fun!

If you are into wine, I’m sure you will understand the “Disneyland for adults” analogy for the wine lover at a wine store – especially when it is as large, brightly lit and spacious as the LCBO store I visited. Aisles and aisles of treasures, some under the glass, but still ohh so visible and attractive – good wine store is the place wine lover has a problem leaving on their own. You really need to have a serious reason to walk out of the wine store – it is so much more appealing to look and look and look.

It was definitely interesting to look at the wine selection and the prices – but my end goal was to get a few of the local wines, which means Niagara Peninsula in this particular case, however without spending much money. I ended up with three wines – the Riesling, as I simply love Riesling, and this is the grape which folks in Canada know very well how to handle right; Pinot Noir from Inniskillin, simply because I love Inniskillin, and I had some good Canadian Pinot Noir wines before; and Cabernet Franc, simply because I love the grape, and I had very good experience with Château des Charmes in the past.

When I started writing this post, I found out that all three wines come from the different sub-appellations in Niagara. Here are my notes:

2015 Reif Estate Riesling  Niagara River VQA (12% ABV, CAD 13.95)
C: Straw pale color
N: Touch of petrol on the nose, honey notes
P: Touch of honey on the palate with cut through clean acidity. Excellent balance, very nice overall
V: 7+, very good wine

2015 Inniskillin Niagara Estate Pinot Noir Niagara Penninsula VQA (13% ABV, CAD 15.95)
There is an interesting story with this wine. I was very much looking forward to trying it. When I twisted the cup off, I didn’t hear the traditional crackling noise of breaking of the cup off the ring, and it also opened very easily. My first thought was that the someone opened the wine before, but this was very strange. I poured a little taste, tried it – didn’t like it at all. Decided that somehow wine got opened prior, and obviously it was not drinkable anymore. In two days, just before throwing out the bottle, I decided to taste it one more time – and to my amazement (and delight), the wine came around to a fresh and crisp Pinot Noir – a favorite of this tasting:
C: Garnet
N: touch of tobacco and underripe cherries
P: fresh herbs, tart cherries, touch of smoke, good structure, crisp, medium finish
V: 8-, very enjoyable

2015 Château des Charmes Cabernet Franc Niagara-on-the-Lake VQA (13% ABV, CAD 15.95)
C: Dark garnet, almost black
N: Fresh berries, freshly crushed blueberries, open, inviting
P: balanced fresh blueberries on the palate – not overripe, but nicely tart, with good acidity. Tobacco showed up on the second day, still perfectly drinkable, nice wine.
V: 7+

And now, for your viewing enjoyment, here are some of the wines observed at LCBO. It was fun to see lots of high-end wines. Bordeaux selection was definitely better than the Burgundy, and France definitely trumpeted California. But anyway, here you can see it with your own eyes:

Niagara VQA wines

Niagara VQA wines

Canadian wines - cool labels

Canadian wines – cool labels

Chateau des Charmes Cabernet

Chateau des Charmes Cabernet

Alsace wines - ready for that crab

Alsace wines – ready for that crab

Canadian Rosé

Canadian Rosé

Inniskillin Merlot

Inniskillin Merlot

Canadian wines - more cool labels

Canadian wines – more cool labels

Château Mouton-Rothschild

Château Mouton-Rothschild

Château Latour

Château Latour

Château La Mission Haut-Brion

Château d'Ampuis Côte-Rôtie

Château d’Ampuis Côte-Rôtie

Château Chaval Blanc

Château Chaval Blanc

Mazis-Chambertin Burgundy

Mazis-Chambertin Burgundy

Marchesi di Barolo

Marchesi di Barolo

Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon

Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon

Le Méal Hermitage

Le Méal Hermitage

Le Méal and La Mordorée

Le Méal and La Mordorée

Jewels of Canada - Ice Wines

Jewels of Canada – Ice Wines

Vérité La Joie

Vérité La Joie

Tahbilk and Penfolds Grange

Tahbilk and Penfolds Grange

Scotch Selection at LCBO

Scotch Selection at LCBO

High End Scotch Selection at LCBO

High End Scotch Selection at LCBO

There you have it, my friends. When traveling, drink local. And yes, when in Canada, go and visit the LCBO – just make sure you have enough time for it. Cheers!

Travel Diaries: Copenhagen in the Rain

July 20, 2017 8 comments

My business trip was taking me to Malmo in Sweden. At first, I was trying to book the flight to arrive at the Malmo airport, but tickets were coming out extremely pricey, and what is even worse, required at least two stops to come back to the USA – there were no other options available.

Obviously, when one gets stuck in today’s world, then one asks for help of … no, not audience, but the almighty Google. Within a few minutes I was able to figure out that it is much easier to fly to Copenhagen and then take a train from the Copenhagen airport to the Malmo central station, which is very easy and takes less than 30 minutes. After figuring that out with Google, I looked into the invitation letter for the meeting, and that is exactly what was recommended there (yep, a classic RTFM case). Anyway, to make the long story short, I got the tickets for the flight which was arriving into Copenhagen very early Sunday morning.

I connected at Copenhagen airport a few times before, but this was the first time I had an opportunity to actually visit the city. And a few weeks before the trip it dawned on me that I will be visiting the city I was so fascinated with while growing up as a child. You see, fairy tales were one of my most favorite books, and when it comes to the fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen is easily the classic of the classics, comparable may be only to the Grimms brothers.

Hans Andersen was living in Copenhagen for the most of his life, and so the illustrator for his books (translated, of course) which I had an opportunity to read, had chosen different Copenhagen city landmarks to be on the cover and throughout the books. The opportunity to see all the castles, spires and flags was truly exciting and brought back lots of childhood memories…

On the morning of arrival, the weather was grey, and by the time I was able to go drop my luggage at the hotel in Malmo and come back to Copenhagen, the rain started. I couldn’t give up the opportunity to connect with the childhood, so rain or not, this was my only day to walk around Copenhagen, and nothing was going to stop me. Thus what you see below is mostly bleak, but it is still looks beautiful to me…

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

I clearly remember the building below (which turns out to be the old Stock Exchange building) to be depicted on the cover of the books, so I really made a few attempts to find a good way to capture the view (not easy with an iPhone camera):

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

More of the “wet” views:

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

You know, you get tired walking for a day, with or without the rain. By accident, we found the ILLUM Rooftop, which is a large rooftop space on top of the shopping mall, hosting lots of different restaurants. We wandered into the Bar Jacobsen, which provided delicious locally brewed Jacobsen beer and some beautiful views:

 

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

And the last picture for today, processed with my favorite iPhone photo editor, SnapSeed:

Copenhagen in the rain

Wet but very, very happy – that was my state upon coming back to Malmo.

To be continued…

Travel Diaries: Few Restaurant Recommendations for Prague

June 12, 2017 1 comment

@ Pivovarský klubI recently shared my excitement after spending two weeks in Prague, one of the most beautiful cities on this planet – mostly in pictures. Today I want to share with you some of the dining experiences, just in case if you plan traveling to Prague in the near future.

First, let me give you a “thousand feet view” of Prague’s dining scene and Czech cuisine. Prague is a modern city, so as in any modern city, you will find a mix of different cuisines, and the range of dining style options, from the street food to the beer gardens to the bistro and then the world-class fine dining. Prague is a popular tourist destination so you have to expect to find lots of tourist traps, especially around any historical sites.

Talking about Czech cuisine, the best thing to have in Prague is pork. Pork dishes are done in a number of the ways – smoked pork cold cuts, roasted pork shank and anything in between – I spent quite a bit of time dining together with an international group, and pork dishes always were the most popular and generated the most of the “wow” references. Don’t get me wrong – of course, there is lots more to eat than just pork. The game is big in Prague – venison, ostrich, wild boar – you can easily find all of those on the menu, and all at the reasonable prices. Of course, there is chicken, and the fish dishes would also be worth your attention. If you like pickled vegetables, you might find yourself in heaven – everything I tasted was delicious, not overly vinegary and with an excellent crunch. In a number of restaurants I also saw special vegetarian sections on the menu, however, I don’t think vegetarian cooking is as widespread as it is in the USA.

One more quick note before we talk about the restaurants themselves. English menus are generally available, but not everywhere. In a few cases, we had to wait for someone to come and translate the menu for us. One way to avoid it is by using Google Translate app on your phone, where you can just point it to the text on the menu and get your immediate translation. Download extended dictionary as the basic one might not be enough.

Ahh, sorry, another quick general note. In Prague, you should drink local. The beer is excellent, not matter where and no matter which. Local wines, often made from Austrian and German varieties (Gruner Veltliner, Muller Thurgau, St. Lauren, Portugieser and more), are generally excellent and you should do yourself a favor and try them while in Prague, as many of those wines are simply not available outside of Czech Republic.

Now, let’s eat! Well, I meant let’s talk about the restaurants. Below are the restaurants which I’m happy to recommend – there were definitely a few I was not thrilled about, but I don’t see a point of bringing them up in this post.

Kampa Park
Na Kampe 8b, 118 00 Praha
Ph: +420 296826102
http://www.kampagroup.com/en/

Let me start with one of the best dining experiences of the trip. Kampa Park was the first fine dining establishment in Prague, opened in 1992. The location is superb, right under the Charles Bridge, so you get the great view of the bridge and the river – definitely hard to beat. Make no mistake – the restaurant can be expensive, pretty much on par with fine dining prices, let’s say in New York ($50+ pp lunch) – but of course, it will depend on what you will order.

Good wine list with a good number of local wines. Food is creative European, lots of good options. We had cream of asparagus soup which was sublime, and then the pork cheek which was super tender and flavorful. The service is top class – attentive and helpful. Overall, for a great restaurant experience and the views, I can’t recommend the restaurant high enough – I think it worth the price.

Steak Tartare @ Kampa Park

Steak Tartare @ Kampa Park

Pork Cheeks @ Kampa Park

Terasa U Prince
Staromestské námestí 29, 110 00 Praha-1
Ph: +420 602 462 260
https://www.terasauprince.com/terrace

The restaurant is located on the roof of U Prince hotel. It is notoriously difficult to get in and suggested reservations are two weeks in advance. However, many people manage to talk their way in without any reservations, so you definitely should try your luck.

Most important part of the experience is the view. There is only 1 (one) beer available at the restaurant, and two different wines by the glass (and none of them were Czech), otherwise the drinks menu is extremely expensive. Food is decent, but not amazing. Creme Brulee is supposed to be very good. But again, the views are amazing, so it is worth suffering for one night.

Prague View from Terasa U Prince

Pivovarský Klub
Križíkova 17, Karlín, Praha 8
Ph: +420 222315777
http://www.pivovarskyklub.com

If you like beer, this place is a heaven. As you walk in, you can see the walls all covered in various types of beer. Everything on draft is excellent – I had most of what they offer and all the beers were one better than another. If you don’t want to drink Czech beer, no problems – there is a great offering of Belgium, German, UK, and others. I had 5 AM Saint by the Brewdog, something which is hard to find in the USA, and it was outstanding.

The food is mostly traditional Czech. Good soups, good pickles, cured meats, port, duck. Very reasonable prices. Good location close to the subway station. Definitely recommended.

Arrosto Ristorante
Mikuláše z Husi 1709/9, 140 00 Prague
Ph: +420 241 405 964
arrostoristorante.cz

Located in the close proximity to Vyšehrad which I highly recommend visiting as a tourist attraction – great place, located close to the subway station with the same name (Vyšehrad).

The restaurant is charming, especially the room in the back where the tables stand around the big tree. From the name of the restaurant, you would expect that the food will be an Italian, and it is to some degree, but definitely with the local flair. Good wine list with a number of local wines to select from. We had buffalo mozzarella with cherry tomatoes and then file of sole with pasta – all delicious.

The Bašta Brewery
Sousedský Pivovar Bašta
Táborská 389/49, 140 00 Prague
Ph: +420 602 295 403
ubansethu.cz/en

This is a true neighborhood restaurant for the locals, despite having the menu in English available (also in a close proximity to Vyšehrad). You sit down at the communal table, and beer starts flowing – fresh, tasty, simple, without any cherry or mango flavors. Then the bread arrives, and then whatever you will decide on. The menu is not large but offers many local specialties. Cold frankfurter sausage with pickled onions was excellent. Duck fat with crackles was just spectacular, home pate outstanding, luscious and tasty. Fresh crispy fries are a must when you drink beer, right? And then the smoked pork (pork belly and pork loin) was just an incredible dish in flavor, you could smell smoke before the dish was even landed on the table.

The whole price of feast was $25 for two – I’d say you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Of course it is impossible to fit Prague’s food scene into the one simple blog post – but I still hope my personal recommendations might be useful.

One more note before we part – I also ate at a number of “fast food” places – Chinese, Oriental, Pizza, Creperie – and pretty much everywhere the food was reasonably priced and tasty. However, yes – be aware of the tourist traps.

I hope your travels will take you to Prague and you will get to enjoy this beautiful city! Cheers!

Travel Diaries: Beautiful Prague

May 15, 2017 8 comments

For the first time I visited Prague in 1990 (if memory serves me right, of course). I have some scarce memories of that trip – Charles Bridge, Clock Tower, Gothic architecture and a street the food in form of the waffle with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. I always wanted to come back and experience Prague once again – and finally opportunity presented as one of my business meetings took me there.

You know how it can be dangerous to rely on the past experiences while setting the expectations? Everything changes – we change, everything around us changes as well – “you can’t enter the same river twice”. And the best moment in any experience is when you say – ahh, it is even better than I expected.

That is my feeling about the Prague. Beautiful city, all covered with the red roofs (somehow, red roofs have a magical effect on me), beautifully colorful buildings, castles and cathedrals everywhere – you derive the pleasure from anywhere you look (well, sadly, once you step a little away from the old town, you see lots of graffiti and simply start dreaming about all the pain which should be inflicted on the people who do that, but this is way outside of the subject of this post).

I’m not going to try to describe my impressions in words – instead, let me inundate you with pictures – lots and lots of pictures of the beautiful town of Prague. And when I say lots and lots, I actually mean it…

Prague Views

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Don’t think you will find vine grapes growing in New York’s Central Park, but you do in Prague!

Spring in Prague

Prague Vltava River

Prague Vltava River

Prague Views

 

Prague Views

Prague Views

Prague Views

Red Roofs of Prague

Prague Charles Bridge

Prague Charles Bridge

Prague Charles Bridge

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Streets of Prague - Trdelnik

These two peeing man (the parts of their bodies which attract the most attention are not only releasing the water, but also moving – heard quite a range of comments from the spectators:

Peeing man sculpture at Kafka Museum

Peeing man sculpture kafka Museum

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castle Cathedral Fragment

Prague Castles and Cathedrals (1)

The legend has it that St. John of Nepomuk was executed for refusing to give the details of queen’s confession to the king. The St. John is honored with his own statue on the Charles Bridge. The legend also has it that if you will touch two of the fragments on the bottom of the statue, you wish will b granted. However, it seems that the legend might not get it exactly right – take a look at this blog post to learn what exactly do you need to touch:

Let me leave you with the love locks at the Charles Bridge – Prague is a beautiful city which is easy to fall in love with. Cheers!

Love Locks near Charles Bridge in Prague

Pleasures of Drinking Local

May 8, 2017 2 comments

I love travel -seeing the world, different cultures, different people, different traditions, and, of course, different food and drinks. Food is given, as we all have to eat, so one way or the other we get to experience local cuisine. But then what I drink is also very important to me, with the same spirit of exploration.

I love drinking local. And, of course, when I say “drinking”, I primarily mean wine. When travel, I always make an effort to find and try local wines. Unknown and obscure? Perfect – the less I know about the wine, the more pleasure it brings. Drinking local wines doesn’t mean I have to visit the wineries. More often than not, my trips don’t include any spare time and any facilities to reach the wineries. But – in many places, and I would even say, in increasingly more places, you can still find local wine at local shops, as long as you willing to look for it.

Templarsky Sklepy St Laurent

It is, of course, the best when you are visiting places where the wine is part of the culture, like most countries in Europe (sorry, never been to Latin America or Australia, but somehow I think I would do fine there as well). If the wine is a part of the culture and tradition, it almost guarantees you authentic wine experiences – and what is very important – without breaking the bank. In the USA, for instance, the wine is still a part of the fashion and not part of the tradition, thus in USA, finding reasonably priced wines is extremely difficult, and finding locally produced and reasonably priced wines is simply a mission impossible. Wait, I didn’t mean for this post to be a rant, so let me get back on track.

This time around, my travel took me to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. I’m sure for many (most?) of people, as soon as they will hear “Czech Republic”, the very next image of the local drink is  – of course – a beer. This makes perfect sense, as Czechs are internationally known for their beer, same as Germany or Belgium, and rightfully so. But – what most of the people don’t know is that Czechs also had been making wines almost forever – okay, starting from approximately the 2nd century – long enough? Czech wine never made it to the levels of fame of French or Italian wines – but that doesn’t decrease the pleasure of drinking Czech wines in any way.

I discovered Czech wines for myself last year, when I had delicious Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris ( you can read about it here). Thus I had no doubts that Czech wine is something I’m going to look for upon arrival.

The hotel I’m staying at is adjacent to the shopping mall, which includes a supermarket, a wine store and some other food stores, all of them selling wines. And mind you – at the prices which make you smile from ear to ear. So far I got the wines from the supermarket, and you will see the prices I paid in the descriptions of the wines, as usual.

I had an easy criterion for selecting the wines. Price – of course, but there was another important requirement  – new grapes. As you can see the grape count in the right column of my blog page, I continue my grape journey, so I’m always on the lookout for the additions to the list. Of course, it is usually not that easy – the name of the grape in the local language might sound new and unique – but once you do the research, you can easily find out that there is nothing new about that grape. For instance, take a look at Rulandské modré – sounds unique, right? Meanwhile, it is only a local name for Pinot Noir. Or Rulandské šedé – must be something indigenous, right? Nope, it is simply the Pinot Gris.

Obviously, that didn’t stop me. I found two new white grapes, and for the red, the name looked so cool (Svatovavřinecké) that  I had to get it, despite the fact that this was the local name for the St. Laurent grape – well, how often do you drink St. Laurent wines anyway?

I started with the red wine, as whites needed some chilling – and 2015 Templářské Sklepy Svatovavřinecké Morava Czech Republic (11.5% ABV, 119 Kč ~ $5, 100% St. Laurent) didn’t disappoint – light garnet color. Pleasant nose with touch of spices, sage, lavender, tobacco, hint of blueberries. Fresh fruit on the palate, tobacco, pepper, medium body, mouth-watering acidity, light, pleasant. Drinkability: 8-/8, a proof that delicious wine doesn’t have to be a fruit or tannin bomb.

Czech White wines

The whites where new, unique and different. One was made out of the grape called Muškat moravsky, which is a cross between Muscat Ottonel and Prachtraube. The other grape was called Pálava, and it was a cross between Müller Thurgau and Gewürztraminer, first selected in 1953. I’m always a bit concerned with the new white wines (many things can go wrong), but this two were simply a stand out. I guess I was simply lucky. Or may be my palate is cursed. Of well. Here are the notes for the white wines:

2015 Chateau Bzenec Muškat moravsky Morava Czech Republic (11.5% ABV, 119 Kč ~ $5)
Straw pale color. Perfumy nose, reminiscent of Gewurtztraminer but of a lesser intensity, white peaches, lemon undertones, touch of minerality. Delicious on the palate – succulent fresh whitestone fruit with practically no sweetness, ripe green apple and touch of lemon. Clean, balanced, fresh, excellent acidity. Medium-short finish, pleasure to drink. Very impressive. Drinkability: 8/8+

2015 Vinium Velké Pavlovice Pálava Pozdní Sber Morava Czech Republic (12% ABV, 239 Kč ~ $10)
Light golden color. Very pleasant nose, perfumy, touch of honey, tropical fruit (guava, pineapple), medium intensity. Delicious lip smacking palate – crisp acidity, medium to full body, wine is nicely present, mouth coating, acidity keeps lingering with tart apples underpinning, then some ripe apples showing with addition of white plums. Another excellent wine. Unique and different, perfectly enjoyable on its own, but will play very nicely with the food. Drinkability: 8/8+, outstanding.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. When travel, take risk, drink local – your reward will be new experience and lots and lots of pleasure. And if you will not like it – the experience will still be with you. Cheers!

Hudson Valley Escapades

August 25, 2016 1 comment

Clermont WineryLast week I was talking about Fero Vineyards, which was a part of our traditional August getaway in 2015. As I don’t want to wait until 2017 to tell you about our adult’s getaway 2016, let’s talk about it now.

This year we happened to go back to the upstate New York, similar to the trip we took in 2013 when we had an amazing time at the Hudson Distillery. This year, we started our weekend with the lunch at Clermont Vineyards and Winery in Clermont (Germantown), New York.

Clermont Vineyards and Winery was started in 2014 by Tony Trigo, with the vineyards planted about 6 years prior. Before we talk about the wines, we need to talk about breathtaking views you get from the tasting room and surrounding decks. Better yet, let not talk – take a look at these pictures:

View from Clermont winery deck

Vineyards at Clermon winery

View from Clermont Vineyards deckThe winery primarily focuses on a traditional New York varietals (Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Seyval Blanc), but as Tony explained to us, last two winters were brutal, with temperatures dropping very low, so he lost about 3/4 of the Chardonnay vines. As the result, he is adding now hybrid varietals such as Aurore and Arandell, which were created specifically to withstand upstate New York winters – particularly Arandell, selected locally at Cornell University, can successfully survive temperatures of -19ºF, which definitely comes in handy. Having Portuguese roots, Claremont Vineyards also imports few of the Portuguese wines we had an opportunity to taste.

Unfortunately, a number of wines at Claremont Vineyards were sold out, so here are the notes for what we were able to try (just for your information, tasting of 5 wines costs $5 per person):

2015 Grambeira White Douro DOC Portugal (blend of Códega do Larinho; Rabigato and Viosinho) – nice, simple, clean, good body and good acidity
2015 Clermont Vineyards Chardonnay Columbia County New York – excellent, good fruit, bright, hint of sweetness
2014 Clermont Vineyards Aurore Columbia County New York – nice, clean, touch of sweetness – a new grape for me!
2014 Clermont Vineyards Arandell Columbia County New York  – Nice touch of sweetness, unusual, strong herbal component. This wine can be polarising, like Norton. The grape itself is selected to sustain cold winters and is also disease resistant – and this is another new grape for the collection
2011 Grambeira Red Douro DOC Portugal (blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, 11 months in oak, 8 months in the bottle) – outstanding, Great density, dark, brooding core of spices.

Grape Leaf with water drops

Grapes in progressAll in all, very nice place with priceless views, so it would worth even a special trip if you’d like. We also had a long and relaxing 2 hours lunch at a big communal table which Tony graciously set up for us (we brought food with us) – if you plan a group outing, Clermont Winery is a great place for it, but make sure to call ahead.

Our next stop was Tousey Winery, about two miles down the road from Clermont Vineyards. We visited the winery back in 2013 and liked many of their wines, so we were definitely excited at the opportunity to taste their new releases. This is where things took a bittersweet turn. We showed up as a large group (16 people), and 8 of us wanted to taste the wines. We were nicely accommodated on the outside porch and were told that the tasting would cost us $5 per person, and we are allowed to taste any 5 wines from the list. The owner was doing the tasting for us, and yes, we asked quite a few questions (which I truly hope should be expected – the conversation with the customers is an integral part of the wine tasting, don’t you think?); I had a feeling that our questions were perceived as annoying (as the owner was not a winemaker – her husband makes wines – some of the questions were probably a bit challenging). One person from our group wanted to taste a few more wines, for which she grudgingly agreed. When the time came to pay, all of a sudden we were told that the tasting was $15 and not $5 anymore, with the reason that we were a group and she had to pour us more than 5 wines (to one person, 3 extra tastings!!). This is not the issue with $15 versus $5, the problem is simply that you can’t treat people like that. When we tried to argue about it, the response was very irritated – as we were all in the vacation mood, nobody wanted to fight over an extra $10, it was easier to pay and just leave.

What the winery owner doesn’t understand that the winery’s tasting room is a hospitality business, and you have to respect your customers – or face the consequences. It is a pity – Tousey makes delicious Chardonnay, very clean, mineral and crisp, Chablis-style; their Pinot Noir is outstanding as well – restrained, smokey, well balanced – but no wines worth the abuse you have to subject yourself to for the pleasure of trying those wines. We will not be back…

Last stop before we went to our Inn was at Hudson Valley Distillers – and what a pleasure it is to talk to the nice and friendly people (see, we humans need so little to be happy). I like how this distillery is describing itself –  “formed by two families sharing a dream“. I like whiskey, thus first thing I wanted to try was their Chancellor’s Imperial Whiskey. I was a bit disappointed to learn that it was produced not from the crushed and fermented barley, but rather by distilling the beer. But the proof is in the pudding, right? Err, the glass, of course.

I like the clever presentation of that malt whiskey, where you get an opportunity to taste the product before and after. To do that, you get a taste of both beer – which is locally produced nearby – and the final malt whiskey, which was excellent – nice touch of sweetness, herbs, soft and round. The Hudson Valley Distillers also produces gin (very tasty), vodka from apples, and plans to start producing their whiskey directly from the malted barley. We also tasted a few of the cocktails which were super delicious and refreshing on a hot summer day. Add here live music (which was, of course, playing right there), and you have a recipe for a perfect summer weekend.

Our next stop was the Inn, and then the dinner – another post is to follow. Cheers!

Wine On The Go: SF Uncork’d

May 15, 2016 2 comments

wine flight at SF Uncork'dMy main line of work (the one which pays the bills) includes good amount of travel, which I don’t mind, as I like traveling. Well, yes, four hours delay, and especially a night of sleep on the airport floor make me reconsider this statement, but still. Different people have different approach to the travel logistics, of course. One of the sales people I worked with before would always say – “ahh, we still have an hour and a half before the flight, let’s go have dinner, I know a great place” – granted, it was in pre-9/11 days, but I believe this “style” is still used by many. I, on another hand, prefer to wait at the airport for another hour as opposed to biting nails in the standstill traffic.

Last week, coming back from San Francisco, I did exactly that – arrived to the airport with solid few hours to spare. Which translates into an opportunity to have a glass of wine – assuming, you can a place for that. Wondering through United gates section of Terminal 3, I noticed the place called SF Uncork’d. I’ve been through the same section of the airport many times before but never saw the restaurant – I believe it was simply a store selling California wine – at the airport prices, so I was never a big fan. Now, this was a restaurant sporting wine everywhere, so I had to wander in.

First glance at the menu made me pretty happy – not only were many wines listed by the glass (reasonably priced), but SF Uncork’d also offered a good number of wine flights at very reasonable prices ($10-$12), each flight consisting of 3 wines. In my typical snobbish fashion, I’ve chosen most expensive ($25) flight called Fab Cabs and consisting of Stuhlmuller, Jordan and Nickel & Nickel Tench – well, I think $25 is a reasonable price for an opportunity to taste 3 of California classics.

Care to guess which one was my favorite? Let me give you my brief tasting notes, and you will figure it out.

Generally, Jordan is one of my favorite California Cabernets. This 2012 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley had nice aroma of the fresh blackberries and mint, however on the palate it was rather hot. It had some fruit, but nothing of the signature clean Jordan style. The wine was dispensed from the preservation system (you can see it below), so I can’t tell if the issue was simply the temperature or there was something wrong with the dispenser, but the wine was definitely not what I expected.

Wine Preservation system at SF Uncork'd

Next I had 2013 Stuhlmuller Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, which had somewhat of a closed nose with a hint of red fruit, but on the palate this wine was singing – black currant, eucalyptus, good acidity – delicious Cabernet Sauvignon by all means. Last wine was 2013 Nickel & Nickel Tench Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Napa Valley – and it was mostly closed both on the nose and the palate. I probably would be able to give you some nuances, but the big picture was simple – the wine was not ready to drink by all means – at least this is what I think, as I never had aged Nickel & Nickel. I don’t know if you guessed correctly, but as you can tell now, Stuhlmuller was my favorite wine. An interesting ‘sidebar” note – Stuhlmuller retails for about half of Jordan, and Nickel & Nickel is 1.5 to 2 times more expensive than Jordan. Yep, go figure…

Of course SF Uncork’d is not only about the wine – food menu looks good too. I settled on the salad and sandwich. For the salad I had Raspberry Walnut Salad (Spring Mix & Butter lettuce, fresh tomatoes, candied walnuts, crumbled Gorgonzola, fresh raspberries & a side of low fat raspberry vinaigrette) – served very nicely with fresh raspberries and raspberry vinaigrette on a side in a little jar – salad was fresh and tasty.

Yes, of course you will be paying airport prices, which means at least 30% higher than at the average retail store, but – everything has the silver lining – SF Uncork’d wine prices are still significantly less compare to Duty Free stores.

If travel will take you to the Terminal 3 in San Francisco, now you know where to get a good glass of wine, good food and good service, so Happy Travels. Cheers!

SF Uncork’d
San Francisco International Airport
Terminal 3 Next to Gate 83 (Post-Security)
San Francisco, CA 94128
Ph: (650) 821-8975
http://sfuncorkd.com/

SF Uncork'd Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

While The Snow Was Falling on East Coast…

January 24, 2016 25 comments

I heard about snow storm targeting East Coast of the USA on Wednesday. As I was at the meetings in San Diego, my first thought was “I have to make it back home to Connecticut”. Originally, I was supposed to take the red eye flight on Friday, come home for a day, and then leave for the conference in Florida on Sunday. I called travel agent right away, and moved my flight back to Newark to the middle of the day on Friday, and Florida flight to Monday morning – and felt pretty comfortable that I dealt well with upcoming storm.

Only on Friday, when I was practically ready to start moving to the airport, I got a message on my phone any air traveler is dreading the most: “your flight had been cancelled”… The thought of my family dealing with the snow on their own was practically unbearable. After talking to the travel agent, the truth settled in – I will not be able to make it home for the weekend, no matter how hard I will try. And yes, I will simply have to go directly to Florida without stopping in New York – no other options.

Coming out of the stupor, I realized – I have very close friends living close by in Irvine, which is about hour and half from San Diego – visiting them for the weekend would be a lot better than sitting by myself at the hotel – so Irvine it was.

My wife kept me updated on the snow situation back at home – this is what they will have to deal with today, and even for a while:

snow storm 2016,

My day looked quite different – I discovered a Farmer’s Market in California. In the United States, there are two primary sources of fresh fruit and produce all year around – California and Florida, this was of course known to me. And farmer’s market is something which is not difficult to find in Connecticut, where I live – but only during the summer, mostly offering vegetables and a bit of fruit, and somehow always inciting me to challenge the authenticity of the actual “local farm” origin of that produce, seeing it sold from the pretty big trucks.

Thus farmer’s market we visited in Laguna Beach in California on Saturday in January was absolutely mind boggling experience for me as a foodie. All the citrus fruit you can imagine – grapefruit red and white, oranges, blood oranges, mandarins, Satsuma mandarins – to be honest, I don’t think I ever tasted a grapefruit which was as sweet and delicious as the one I tasted at this farmer’s market. Then you got strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, apples, pears – lots of them. Everything tastes fresh, delicious and almost unreal for someone from the east coast. All sorts of vegetables, of course, almonds with lots of different preparations, walnuts, dried fruit – I can go on and on – I’m sure you can tell that I can hardly contain my excitement. So here is simply an extravaganza of colors for you, in the form of the pictures – unfortunately, blogs can’t convey taste and smell – not yet, at least:

Oranges

Oranges

Satsuma mandarins

Lots of beets of all colors

strawberries - I wish you could smell them

Beets

oranges

Radishes!

California Avocado

radishes?

Honey!

And then of course there were flowers:

Also, you never know then the Universe might strike back, so someone always have to be ready:

Galactic Patrol Car

Spotted on the street in Laguna Beach – couldn’t resist to include this

If you are on the East Coast, I hope your digging out was successful and not super-tiring, so you can now relax with the glass of wine or whatever your heart’s desires. I’m off to continue flying. Cheers!

China Travel Tidbits

November 23, 2015 7 comments

In the previous post, I shared my food and wine experiences in China. In this post, I want to inundate you with pictures, and also share a bit of the first-hand advice. I had certain level of expectations, but those were no match to the actual experiences, hence the post.

One important disclaimer is that while I was traveling on business, I was all on my own, without any arrangements made, outside of having a visa and having the hotel room reservation. I had company for most of the business activities, but overall coming in and out, and moving around for the sightseeing was all by myself. Another important “disclaimer” – I only visited Beijing – your experience in the other cities might be quite different, so keep that in mind.

While in the taxi on the way from airport, I took a pictures of my last “sun sighting” for the week in Beijing

I will not be trying to recount the daily activities, as this would be boring and long, but instead, here are my main takeaways regarding travel to China.

Language barrier: yes, I expected it, but it was much more than I expected. Absolute majority of the people don’t speak or understand English (duh). That includes taxi drivers. Yes, there are signs in English, but it doesn’t help you if your taxi driver doesn’t understand a word of what you are saying. Even in hotels, lots of service personnel don’t speak English. The places which offer welcome relief? Anywhere someone wants to sell you something – from Pearl Market to the little street shops by the Great Wall, all sellers are very proficient with “how much” and “tell me your price”.

What exacerbates the language problem is the sheer size (huge!) of the city and everything in it. Let me explain with the simplest, but probably the most critical for any visitor, example – hotels. New York City has around 470 hotels. Seoul has roughly 430 hotels. Beijing has more than 5,500 hotels. 5,500! Do you think any of the taxi drivers had any idea where Sheraton Great Wall is located? No, they didn’t! Even when you have a special card from the hotel where the address is written in Chinese, and the driver speaks decent English – all I got was a smile and “I don’t know where it is”. Keep that in mind. If you have to, have hotel’s number on a speed dial – the taxi driver at the airport called hotel to find out where to go (works at the airport, doesn’t work that well on the street).

Beijing Sheraton Great Wall (1)

Sheraton Great wall was built about 30 years ago and was one of the very first hotels where foreigners were allowed to stay

Beijing in the morning

A typical morning view from my hotel room

Subway is your friend. I can’t give enough praise to the Beijing subway. Not only it is clean, spacious and all the trains are brand spanking new, but all the signs are bi-lingual. As long as you know where do you need to go, you can buy a ticket from the machine, which can be easily switched into all English prompts with one button. All the fares are distance based, with I think 5 yuan been the most within most areas in Beijing, so it is very inexpensive. Not that the taxi cost a lot – the taxi fares in Beijing are only distance based, independent from the time – which is vital considering insurmountable traffic in Beijing at any time (for sure during the day). The starting fare in taxi is 13 yuan, and you can drive quite a distance before the meter will advance – but then you might be able to walk faster…

Pearl Market in Beijing

Pearl Market in Beijing

Bargaining. Just a little note here, as I really don’t enjoy the process, but bargaining is unavoidable if you want to buy anything on the street or at any of the tourist-focused shops (which are lots). Two small examples. When visiting pearl market (went there with friends), I didn’t need pearls, but wanted to buy two small key chains. I found some little wooden key chains, and lady asked me for 230 yuan (about $40 for two tiny pieces of wood!). I said “20”, and simply started to walk away. The lady screamed at me to come back, and with the face expression showing that I just offended her beyond belief, asked me to give her the money. So I bought 2 key chains for about $3 each, which I think is a fair price (instead of $20 as requested originally). Thus I recommend that 10% is what you need to start from if you want to buy something from the street vendors. One more example – I was looking at the small pendant with the one single pearl in it. The lady asked the same 230 yuan for it (must be the day, huh). Native speaking colleague standing next to me, quickly found exact same pendant for 19 yuan on Ali-Baba – it is all made in China after all, right?

One of the countless ultra modern shopping centers in Beijing

One of the countless ultra modern shopping centers in Beijing

I’m almost ready to talk about sightseeing I was able to do in Beijing, but before we get there, one more important note – a bit out of place, as it concerns my experience at the airport, but I want to mention it as it might save you some aggravation. It appears the Chinese security at the airport has particular admiration for the power charging sticks, a portable batteries in any forms. They request you to take it out of your carry on and put it through the X-ray machine. What they are actually looking for is the capacity (1 Ah, 2.8 Ah, 3.7 Ah, anything of this kind) written on the battery pack. My battery stick, which saved me countless number of times for the last year, didn’t have the capacity written on it, as I got it at one of the conferences as a present, and therefore, it was confiscated. I tried to argue, but you know how much you can argue with airport security, especially in China… Therefore, if you plan to travel to China, check that your power stick has the capacity written on it, to avoid any unpleasant experiences (those little things get you…).

Now, it is the time for a barrage of pictures (almost). I was able to visit Great Wall and Forbidden City, which are probably what any tourist would want to see. There are few locations to get on top of the Great Wall – I chose the place called Mutianyu, which is about 1.5 hours away from Beijing, and it is less crowded than the others. Take a look at the pictures below – while it was extremely foggy, the experience was still magnificent. If you will go there, make sure you would wear something very comfortable, both shoes and clothes – going up and down on the little stairs is quite a strenuous workout.

The Forbidden City, which is located right in the center of Beijing and is the largest wooden structure of this kind in the world, is interesting to see, but I would honestly say that it is not a “must see” type. Colorful, yes, but in the end of the day, it is just a bunch of buildings… Anyway, the rest of my China travel expressions are below in the form of the pictures – I also will include comments where possible. By the way, there is a mini-quiz there – scroll through slowly, so you will see the quiz and the answer should be somewhere there as well. Cheers!

The entrance to the Mutianyu Great Wall complex

The entrance to the Mutianyu Great Wall complex

After you take a ride on the shuttle bus, this is your way up to the cable car

After you take a ride on the shuttle bus, this is your way up to the cable car

Up on the cable car

Up on the cable car

Yep, you are finally there

Yep, you are finally there

The actual entrance to the very top

The actual entrance to the very top

Up and down the Great wall - take a look at the tiny height of the steps - but make sure you pay attention while walking, or else

Up and down the Great wall – take a look at the tiny height of the steps – but make sure you pay attention while walking, or else

The Great Wall

The Great Wall

Magnificent...

Magnificent…

more of the magnificent views, even in the fog...

more of the magnificent views, even in the fog…

Probably the best shot of the Great Wall I could take

Probably the best shot of the Great Wall I could take

One of the Guard towers

One of the Guard towers

Into the fog...

Into the fog…

The defence view

The defence view

Yep, still on the wall

Yep, still on the wall

Toboggan - the best way down

Toboggan – the best way down. You can also see the ski lift which you can take to get up instead of the Cable Car.

And now, The Forbidden City:

Walk towards the entrance to the Forbidden City

Walk towards the entrance to the Forbidden City

The side wall of the Forbidden City. Love the perspective...

The side wall of the Forbidden City. Love the perspective…

and one more view of the side wall - Forbidden City

and one more view of the side wall – Forbidden City

Forbidden City - just the beginning. I wish you could see how many people carry selfies sticks...

Forbidden City – just the beginning. I wish you could see how many people carry selfies sticks…

From here on - the fragments of beautiful timeless architecture.

From here on – the fragments of beautiful timeless architecture.

Beijing Forbidden City (12) Beijing Forbidden City (14) Beijing Forbidden City (17)

Here is your Quiz - what this urn is for?

Here is your Quiz – what this urn is for?

Beijing Forbidden City (4) Beijing Forbidden City (3) Beijing Forbidden City (2)

Beijing Forbidden City (6)

Beijing Forbidden City (13)

Beijing Forbidden City (11)

Beijing Forbidden City (10)

Beijing Forbidden City (9)

Beijing Forbidden City (8)

Beijing Forbidden City (7)

Beijing Forbidden City (5)

Beijing Forbidden City (1)

Here is your an answer - it is a fire extinguisher...

Here is the answer to the quiz – the urn was a fire extinguisher…

And the sun shined above Forbidden City by the time I was leaving

And the sun shined (okay, as much as it is possible in Beijing) above the Forbidden City by the time I was leaving

Not that this is anything special, but here is the China Airline birdy which took me to Seoul…

Bye bye China

Bye bye China