The Westin Austin at The Domain

Lobby of The Westin Austin at The Domain

I stay at many hotels, but it isn’t often that one merits a great review and mention. However, The Westin Austin at The Domain is one to recommend and remember.

Although the location of the Westin isn’t in downtown Austin, it’s well worth staying here and driving into Austin, or just enjoying The Domain, the retail and dining complex across the street. I can’t rave enough about the property itself, the restaurant, urban an american grill, and the room.

The service was outstanding. Everyone I encountered at check-in, the restaurant, and around the property were friendly and accommodating.

Brunch at urban an american grill

I loved both the food and the service I received at urban an american grill. I ate three meals there, two dinners at the bar and the Sunday brunch. The food was outstanding, the local beers cold and plentiful, and the wine list comprensive. I was also impressed with one of the bartender’s wine knowledge as she helped me select a wine with one of my meals, a pairing of NY Strip on spinach with Gloria Ferrer Carneros Merlot.

NY Strip on spinach with Gloria Ferrer Merlot

I was fortunate enough to be upgraded to the executive suite, which was luxurious and well-appointed, with a large living area, one and a half baths, and a large bedroom. My favorite part of the room was Westin’s famous Heavenly Bed. I didn’t want to get out of it either morning I was there. The full bathroom had both a bath/shower and a standalone shower, both with Westin’s branded shower heads. How often do you wish to stay in the shower forever?

The Westin Heavenly Bed

When I return to Austin, I definitely plan to return to the Westin. You should plan your next stay there as well, or I can plan it for you!


One Flew South: My Favorite Airport Restaurant/Bar

The Concourse E Burger at One Flew South

Since I am an elite flyer, I usually frequent airline pubs, er, clubs, for free libations. However, I make an exception in Atlanta. I don’t even mind being delayed in Atlanta because of this place. My favorite airport bar/pub/restaurant hands-down is One Flew South, even if I only want a drink and not food. They have by far the best cocktail and wine list of any airport bar, and if you do wish to eat, they also have an amazing menu of made-to-order appetizers and meals, as well as a sushi bar. What is even more surprising is that although it is described as an “upscale dining experience,” you are served very quickly. My last two visits have been about 45 minutes, from arrival to departure. If you inquire about how long it will take to receive your food and drink, the servers can answer with a preparation time for each item on the menu. If you do decide to eat, my personal favorites are the Chicken Noodle Soup, Concourse E Burger 1/2 pound Kobe, and Breast of Duck. Since I am a wino, I always go for a selection from their extensive wine list.

2009 Marc Brédif Chinon at One Flew South

If you’d like real-time information, please follow One Flew South on Facebook and Twitter.

Asheville, North Carolina in five hours

On Saturday, May 14, 2011, I spent five hours in downtown Asheville, North Carolina, exploring their wine and bar scene.  Below are my recommendations.

The Wine Studio of Asheville
169 Charlotte Street
Asheville NC 28801
(828) 255-5955

According to owner Jessica Gualano, CSW, on the Wine Studio’s website, it “exists to facilitate a better wine experience for all wine lovers.” The store only has 500 labels at a time ” to offer a diverse and dynamic set of wines from around the world.”  The store offers wine classes, tastings, and Girls on Grape, a women’s wine tasting club.  I enjoyed both the store, the wines I tasted, and meeting Jessica, whom I had met via Twitter, but never face to face until Saturday.  I left the store with my purchase, a bottle of 2010 Château des Annibals Cuvée Suivez-moi-jeune-homme Rosé, from Provence, France, recommended by Jessica.  You can follow Jessica online via Twitter or via her blog.

The Sky Bar
18 Battery Park Ave
Asheville NC 28801
(828) 225-6998

The Sky Bar is located on the top three floors, the fire escape/balcony areas, of Asheville’s historic Flatiron Building.  You enter the building on the ground floor, where an elevator with an attendant takes you to the top floor.  Once you arrive, you will discover full bar offerings and some of the most amazing views of Asheville and the surrounding Blue Ridge mountains.  The décor is sparce, just a few tables and chairs on each level.  It’s a simple, but very cool concept. Here I enjoyed a Terrapin Rye Pale Ale (Athens, GA).

Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar
1 Page Avenue #101 (Grove Arcade)
Asheville NC 28801
(828) 252-0020

What a small world! My friend and I arrived at the Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar and I noticed that they had Foris Vineyards‘ Gewürztraminer by the glass.  I inquired about the wine and the manager said, “How do you know Foris?” (apparently that is not a common question!) and I explained that I manage travel for one of Foris’ wine brokers.  Come to find out, we are both mutual acquaintances of Foris’ National Sales and Marketing Director.  The manager opened a bottle of 2008 Foris Pinot Noir for us, which we enjoyed by the glass.

The Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar is both a unique and beautiful venue, think a classic library combined with a wine bar.  According to their website, it “offers you the marriage of two of earth’s fines pleasures, books and wine, side by side. Or should we say page by glass? Persue thousands of books in dozens of categories while sipping a fine wine, sparkling wine, or Champagne.”

5 Walnut Wine Bar
5 Walnut Street
Asheville NC 28801
(828) 253-2593

As their website states, “Our philosophy is simple — Keep It Fun, Keep It Friendly.”  5 Walnut Wine Bar offers wines at the $5-$15 per glass price range, as well as six local tap beers, and light appetizers from local businesses.  Even the décor and furniture are made by locals.  I elected to try one of the local beer offerings, the Catawba Valley Brewing Company White Zombie Ale, a Belgian-style white ale made with coriander, orange peel, and wheat. Yummy!

Musings of a travel and wine geek

Yes, I know. It’s been a while since I posted and I apologize. It’s been a crazy winter of bad weather (one trip cancellation, two itinerary changes to alternate weekends) and new opportunities for me in the areas of travel management and wine social media that are keeping me busy, in addition to my community college teaching. I can’t believe it, but I believe I can officially be called a travel and a wine geek. I sense a turning point in my life and in this blog. Now if I can only keep up with it all.

I’ve participated in three Twitter Community wine tweet-ups the past few months: California Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc, and last night’s Washington Merlot. April 1 is the next tweet-up, wine blends, and I can’t wait. After these four events, I will have tasted and tweeted about fantastic wines from Anderson’s Conn Valley, Columbia Crest, Foris, ONEHOPE, Parducci, and Paul Dolan.

As to travel, the last three itineraries on Delta went mostly well, so I really didn’t want to write another trip report about the standard fare of being on time, upgrades, drink/meal/snack offerings, etc.  I did experience two tarmac delays, one that was two and a half hours and another an hour and a half, both due to weather and Air Traffic Control, that made me think about the new three-hour tarmac rule. You know, both times I would have been very disappointed to have returned to the gate.  I really wanted to depart, even if we did have to wait a while.  Both flight crews were great during the waits. We were given drinks, lavatory access, and were allowed to use our portable electronic devices.  And since I can’t control the weather (although some of my friends now think I influence the weather with all of the bad luck I’ve had with it lately!) or Air Traffic Control, I patiently waited with my BlackBerry keeping me occupied.

I have a busy April of flying scheduled – to Richmond, VA; Chicago, IL; and New York, NY. My Chicago trip is the first ever pointless, “mileage run” trip I’ve ever taken. I’m flying there to help my Delta Together We Fly promotion team earn bonus miles. I selected Chicago because it was the least expensive from my home airport of TRI and I’ve never been there. So please post suggestions of how I should spend one April Saturday in Chicago, please!

This weekend, I’m off to redeem a gift certificate for a one-night’s stay and breakfast at the gorgeous Hotel Roanoke before it expires. I’m calling it a girl’s weekend out, but it’ll be just this girl. I will be spending Saturday night observing Earth Hour in The Regency Room, enjoying a candlelight dinner. It should be fantastic and I’ll make sure to share photos on Facebook and Twitter. And of course, expect me to do a little shopping at my favorite department store, Macy’s at the Valley View Mall.

So that’s what’s going on in my crazy busy world. I apologize again for being tardy to post. Stay tuned for posts on a wide variety of topics from me and my travel friends.

Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards and Ghost Horse Vineyards, St. Helena, CA

Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards and Ghost Horse Vineyards
680 Rossi Road
St. Helena, CA 94574

Toll-free (800) 946-3497
Phone (707) 963-8600
Fax (707) 963-7818

Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards/Ghost Horse Vineyards is located about 30 minutes north of Napa near the beautiful town of St. Helena.  If traveling by car, I suggest using a GPS device as finding this hidden jewel can be tricky. When I visited the winery in March, I was greeted warmly by winemaker Todd Anderson and his Director of Hospitality and Direct Sales, Dave Bryant, and graciously welcomed into the very home-like tasting area.

Tastings of Anderson’s Conn Valley wines are $25, while Ghost Horse tastings are $250. All are well worth the price and the fees can be applied towards a wine purchase. The red, white, and Late Harvest wines I tasted each possessed a unique depth of character and complexity that I had never experienced before. My favorites were the 2005 and 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2004 Ghost Horse Cabernet Sauvignon. I also enjoyed listening to Todd speak passionately about how to make and taste good wines, as well as the personalized tour of the caves, where I was able to see and learn about wines in various stages of oak barrel fermentation.

While there, I also learned that the winery has an annual Cave Dweller party each September for its wine club members.  Other wine club membership plans in the works include a possible film festival, barrel parties that include dinner and bottling a case of wine from a specific barrel, and monthly barrel tastings.

The winery strives to make each visit unique and tailored to its guests. There aren’t many wineries where you can sit down with the winemaker and really get to know him.

To schedule a tasting/tour or for more information about upcoming events, contact Dave Bryant at the winery.

Trentadue Winery in Geyserville, Sonoma County, CA

Trentadue Winery
19170 Geyserville Ave
Geyserville, CA 95441

Phone (707) 433-3104 or (888) 332-3032
Fax (707) 433-5825

An hour’s drive away from Napa in Geyserville (Sonoma County) is Trentadue Winery.  While there, my fiancé and I sampled a variety of red, white, and port wines while speaking with the winemaker, Miro Tcholakov, who stepped away from his busy bottling to welcome us.  My favorite Trentadue wine was the award-winning 2005 La Storia Zinfandel Alexander Valley Estate, while my fiancé enjoyed the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley. The winery also makes its own olive oil.

Tastings at Trentadue range from $5 to $20 per person.  Reservations are required for La Storia Reserve tastings and the Gondola Tour.  The winery is open seven days a week from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm daily.

Bell Wine Cellars in Yountville, CA

Bell Wine Cellars
6200 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
Phone (707) 944-1673

Bell’s Wine Cellars is located in Yountville, CA, a 15-minute drive from Napa. The owner, Anthony Bell, a native South African, produces a varied selection of wines, such as the award-winning 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (Clone 6, Rutherford), Sonnette, Claret, Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and my favorite, a delightful 2006 South African Sauvignon Blanc. Tastings range from $15-$250 per person and the tasting room is open by appointment seven days a week from 10:30 am until 4:00 pm.