Join Me for Two Delicious Days Across the Stunning Canadian Rockies Aboard Rocky Mountaineer
Traveling across the Canadian Rockies from Vancouver to Banff is a breathtaking sight to behold with brilliant terrain changes and blanketed snowcapped rocky peaks all along the way, and of course, view an expansive variety wildlife viewing along the way. The drive there is certainly spectacular, however, imagine if you left the driving to the train conductor and food preparation to a skilled French chef and his team, and you could just sit back in comfy recliner seats with a clear dome above your head to view the majesty of the Canadian Rockies every minute of the journey – What a journey it would be and what a memorable journey it truly is. And for foodies, it makes it all the more special!!
This past year, I had the opportunity to join in on this renowned train excursion aboard Rocky Mountaineer’s “First Passage to the West” route, one of four routes which starts from the Rocky Mountaineer exclusive state-of-the-art train station just outside Vancouver. We were welcomed by the entire crew to piano music and an introduction to our rail journey by the conductor and the team, followed by an inviting Bagpipe serenade. Upon boarding these beautifully appointed train cars we were immediately immersed into two full days of luxury rail travel through Canada’s West and on through the impressive Canadian Rockies with an evening stay in Kamloops, ending up after our 2nd day of the sojourn in breathtaking Banff and Lake Louise.
Our voyage aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, which is the only passenger rail service on this historic route passes through lush Fraser Valley, spiraling tunnels, seven mountain ranges and a pass by Craigellachie, which is the spot where the last spike on the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven. From the outdoor viewing platform and the unparalleled panoramic views from our seats, we all had the opportunity to our set eyes on a large grizzly bear fishing for dinner along the river right next to the train tracks and the grand Eagle’s nest perched high upon one of the train towers passing by. A true highlight!
There isn’t a moment you aren’t in complete awe of the ever-changing vistas constantly emerging all along this spectacular historic route. Sit back relax, indulge and let yourself be ultimately pampered in first-class style by the top-notch team aboard Rocky Mountaineer whose sole mission is to do nothing more than to provide you with the best experience and service possible. Our group traveling was seated in Gold Leaf Service, one of two classes of services offered, though you can’t go wrong with either as both are exquisite. As they say – you choose from “Perfect” & “More Perfect”.
The Rocky Mountaineer experience is like taking the National Geographic Channel and melding it with the Food Channel giving you a delicious blend of spectacular photographic nature vistas along with amazing Five-Star Dining spiced with a flare of the luxury of the Orient Express. It doesn’t get much better than this.
As a part of our daily journey, we started the day’s excursion with a refreshing “Welcome Aboard” toast along with introductions of the crew and beautiful descriptions of our upcoming experiences for the day. In addition, to add to the exhilaration of the exploration, we were enticed by the food offerings for the day’s journey. We knew right then, we would certainly not go hungry or thirsty either.
For dining, there were two seating’s each day for breakfast and lunch. We had the first seating on day one in the beautifully appointed plush dining car booths along the along with the expansive picture windows overlooking the beauty of Western Canada as we cruised along, noshed and talked about the amazing day to come. When we were seated in the second seating the next day, we certainly didn’t get peckish, as we nibbled on freshly baked scones with fresh berries, hot out of the trains’ on-board ovens to keep us going to our breakfast seating.
The Rocky Mountaineer Welcome to Breakfast: Welcome to the GoldLeaf Service dining room! From the Coastal Waters of BC to the wide pastures of the prairies, the breakfast you are about to enjoy is a culinary tour of Canada. As you enjoy your meal, please look up and take in the beauty of your First Passage to the West journey. We promise, no one will take your plate away. Cheers, RM
The Rocky Mountaineer cuisine is orchestrated under the helm of their award-winning Executive Chef Jean Pierre Guerin and his talented culinary team in the galley aboard the train. There are several galleys on board for both the Gold Leaf and Silver Leaf services. Jean Pierre is absolutely charming and is not shy about spending time chatting it up with the guests onboard, except when he is hands-on at the helm of orchestrating the daily culinary presentations. He has been with the Rocky Mountaineer for over ten years and is known for his talents creating mouthwatering fusion cuisine. During his impressive career as a well-known chef, he has created meals for Princess Diana, Meryl Streep, and former President Clinton.
Chef Guerin explained, “Cooking on board is not difficult, however, we have to take everything, including the kitchen sink. We don’t have the luxury of stopping for anything. We have to take 2-3 days of supplies. And when I say supplies that’s not just the food but the expertise – the chefs have to travel with us. Everything has to be super well organized aboard the train. You have to know where everything is. Each season we do a brand-new menu depending on fresh seasonal offerings.”
Breakfast always begins with coffee, juice and Chef’s seasonal fruit creation with a freshly baked treat. The delightful menu includes their ever-popular and absolutely delicious Eggs Benedict with two poached eggs and Montreal style smoked beef on a toasted English Muffin, topped with tarragon hollandaise. I’d go back just for that!!
Another breakfast treat was the Spinach, Feta and Egg Soufflé with roasted Yukon Gold potatoes, and smoked farmers sausages. The Blueberry Pancakes were out of this world with traditional Canadian Maple syrup. Then, of course, there is the Smoked Salmon Scramble – a scene-stealer with roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes, crème Fraiche, smoked salmon, and a crispy tortilla. So many lovely choices. And that is just to name a few of the delicious delights on the morning menu. Be sure to save room for lunch…
There is always a mid-morning munch in between breakfast and lunch along with a selection of hot and cold beverages, perhaps a mimosa is on your agenda or try out one of their “Caesars” – a traditional Canadian version of the Bloody Mary.
For lunch, we headed back down from our domed vista car to the dining room where it was beautifully set in white linen adorned with decorative flower arrangements. The aromas floating out of the galley kitchen sent a mouthwatering invitation to yet another amazing meal created by Chef Jean Pierre Guerin.
Being a Napa Valley Foodie and Wine Lover, the luncheon presentation yet again did not disappoint! Their wine selections offered varietals from the Okanagan wine region in British Columbia and were delightfully paired to perfection with the afternoon’s luncheon selections. Any Napa Valley wine enthusiast would certainly concur. They were pouring two varietals from Sumac Ridge Estate from their Vineyard Collection, an unoaked Chardonnay and a Merlot. Also from Jackson-Triggs Reserve Selection, we were offered a lovely Sauvignon Blanc and a luscious Cabernet Sauvignon.
Lunch began with a Forest-Fresh Mushroom soup, followed by a Baked Cherry Tomato Salad. The “Alberta Short Ribs” is a popular favorite on the lunch menu. The Smokey Mushroom Burger made with AAA Alberta beef on the pretzel roll is another popular item on the menu. There are 6 delightful entrees to choose from each day. And lunch is always followed up with a delightful dessert. The Decadent Dark Chocolate Pistachio Brownie is absolutely heavenly.
For 2018, there is something new on the Rocky Mountaineer travel menu which is a 10-day package for foodies, The First Passage to the West Culinary Exploration. You will feast on wine-paired gourmet meals every day while touring Rocky Mountain Peaks. There is even a Panoramic Helicopter Flightseeing excursion.
Rocky Mountaineers Famous Short Ribs
Rocky Mountaineer offers something for everyone from 2 days to 10 days. Check them out at www.rockymountaineer.com
Time for Wine – Visit Mendoza Argentina
Argentina’s Explosion onto the International Wine Scene in Picturesque Mendoza
A Visit to Mendoza, Argentina. The Mendoza wine region in Argentina is the fifth largest producer of wine in the world. Mendoza is the most significant wine region in Argentina with over two-thirds of the country’s wines coming from this area. Malbec is the most prominent varietal being produced in Mendoza, though award-winning Cabernets, Tempranillo’s and Chardonnays have quickly followed suit. This magnificent wine region of Mendoza adjoins the panoramic Andean foothills spanning over 75 miles from Mendoza City to the south into Uco Valley.
Winegrowing is not new to the Mendoza region, in fact by 1910 there were over 45,000 vines planted mostly with the French rootstock – Malbec. The vineyards and wineries near Mendoza city are more traditional with some dating back well over 100 years, such as Bodegas Lopez in Maipu, which has been producing wines since 1898.
Heading further south through Maipu, onto the region of Lujan de Cuyo, and then into the newest region of Uco Valley, you will find very modernistic wineries with high-tech production facilities. The terrain throughout the Mendoza region is high-desert like, with some of the vineyards planted in the highest elevations in the world, with average elevations of 2,000 to 3,500 feet. The higher the elevation, the more intense the sunlight.
The diversity of the Mendoza terroir spans over three major wine regions encompassing over almost 100 miles of lush vineyards. The furthest north in the Mendoza region is Maipu which is just southeast of Mendoza city. Another forty miles south is the southern part of the Lujan de Cuyo region.
Uco Valley, the newest and most revered region lays 75 miles south of Mendoza City and has received much acclaim as one of the most picturesque of the areas, producing world-renowned award-winning Malbecs as well as other popular varietals are grown in Mendoza.
Mendoza’s three distinct wine regions are much like the designated appellations of Napa Valley’s wine country, giving each of the regions their own unique offerings. The terroir varies from region to region throughout the winegrowing corridor of Mendoza. Though one characteristic that they all share is the lush blankets of emerald vineyards painted up against the scenic backdrop of the majestic snow-capped peaks of Chile’s towering Andes mountains.
In the Uco Valley, a vast selection of international wine investors has influenced the development of this sprawling Malbec producing area. These renowned international investors having had a significant impact on the region’s expansion which includes the Kendall Jackson Group, well-known California vintner Paul Hobbs, a group of Walt Disney Investors, as well as famed French Vintner Michel Roland who created the Clos de Siete group in Uco Valley. Also, other Napa wineries have impacted the expansion of the region, including Revana of Saint Helena, who opened Bodega Corazon Del Sol in 2015 in the Uco Valley.
A few years ago, the Napa Valley Wine Auction presented an Argentine theme to its attending guests. Celebrated Argentine Chef, Francis Mallmann, known for his famed cookbook Seven Fires and his famous collection of restaurants, was brought in to create an exceptional experience for the hungry bidders.
The dining event came with great applause as Mallmann’s dramatic display of his unique wood fire style presented a once in a lifetime experience. The proprietor of Quintessa, Agustin Huneeus, stated, “Our shared love for South America will shine through Francis’s food and innovative presentations.”
There are several other Napa Valley Vintners with distinct Argentine roots. Delia Viader of Viader was born and raised in Argentina, and as a young woman and pioneer in Napa Valley winemaking, against many odds, she created her thriving Howell mountain vineyard and winery. Another well-known Napa Valley vintner of Palmaz Vineyard, born in Buenos Aires, is Julio Palmaz, well known for inventing the Palmaz Coronary Stent.
Getting to the Mendoza wine region offers major two routes which you can fly in from. If you choose to fly into Buenos Aires, it is a 1 hour 55-minute flight into the Aeropuerto Mendoza, their international airport. Another option is to fly into Santiago, Chile, where the flight is just a short 55-minutes.
Or if you have extra time to explore, driving from Santiago to Mendoza is exceptional, as you will experience a breathtaking drive over the monumental Andes Mountains over the border into Argentina, well worth the 226-mile drive along Ruta Nacional 7. Most major airlines offer flights into both Buenos Aires or Santiago.
Visit Mendoza Choices:
The various Mendoza wine regions and nearby mountains present many opportunities to explore beyond wine tasting. Though it is most definitely a mecca for wine lovers and foodies, particularly carnivores, there are adventures galore to behold. The area is host to an abundance of hiking trails from novice to advanced, bicycling, river-rafting, horseback riding and fly fishing for those seeking a bit of adventure to pair along with their wines.
Horseback Riding through the Vineyards of the Uco Valley
Let’s Go Visit Mendoza
Before you hop in your car to go tasting, keep in mind that wine-tasting in Argentina is a bit different than you are used to in the Napa Valley. If you don’t utilize a hired service to take you from winery to winery, driving to each winery does take a bit of time as the region and the wineries are very spread out. Don’t try to see all three regions in one day. Split them up over 3 or 4 days, as there is a lot to experience, to taste, and to view. If this is your first time in Mendoza, definitely look into a private wine tour service.
There are many of them, and they will give you wonderful options and suggestions on where to taste, how to taste, and which wineries to eat at. Almost all of the wineries in Uco Valley and in Lujan de Cujo are by appointment only, so just popping into a winery unannounced is not a good suggestion.
If you are used to more of a Napa Valley style of wine tasting, the northern party of the Lujan de Cuyo region is approximately 20 miles from the town of Mendoza, where you will find larger production wineries and some that you can actually go to without an appointment. One of my favorite parts of wine tasting in all of the regions in Mendoza is the wineries’ specialty luncheons. The majority of the Bodegas (wineries) offer a paired lunch, usually 4-6 courses. And to our surprise and amazement, these delicious culinary presentations average around $40 per person, including wine.
The best way to set your day up is to set up a morning tasting, a paired lunch, and then an afternoon tasting. More than three per day can be a bit much, being that your luncheon experience can last three hours. Also, keep in mind, sometimes contacting the wineries to set up appointment or lunch reservations can be tedious and time-consuming. All the more reason to set up your day with a customized wine touring service or a hired car. Plus you will enjoy it more as they will be your designated driver. Mendoza Wine Camp set us up perfectly. www.mendozawinecamp.com
Wine and Food Pairings Visit Mendoza
Most of the luncheons at wineries have highly experienced in-house chefs, some with international training from world-renowned restaurants. Expect a Napa Valley quality dining experience for far less than what it would cost to dine in the Napa Valley. Each of the wineries presents beautifully designed dining areas serving guests in an inviting indoor or outdoor setting, with most overlooking the vineyards or the winery estate.
The daily menus are very diverse, utilizing only the freshest of regional ingredients. Much of the time you will find their own variations of Empanadas, No lunch would be complete without being presented freshly baked traditional Argentine Empanadas. A treat indeed!
Chimichurri Sauces and the highest grades of Argentine beef. Each course delivers a unique artistic presentation on a plate, all creating a memorable gastronomic experience paired with some of Argentina’s finest wines. Get ready for some outrageous Malbecs, after all, that’s what we came here, but then there’s so more in Mendoza to explore!
Here are a few highlights from one of the winery lunches we delighted in during our four days in Mendoza.
Ruca Malen in Lujan de Cuyo– Chef Juan Ventureyra, created some of the most innovative and spectacular dishes we experienced during our visit to Mendoza. Not surprising his creativity was off the charts and his dishes were out of this world, as he trained under 2 Michelin Star Chef Jacque Chibois at Las Bastide Sainte Antoine in France for 7 years. The menu of “seven steps” (courses) is paired with “seven tags” (wines) of the winery. All of the produce from his abundant extensive gardens are utilized in his remarkable dishes.
Several of chef’s highlights included – Beef Carpaccio with mashed beetroot, raspberries, toasted almonds and Salicornia (regional salad herb) paired with Yauquen Bonarda 2015. Egg at 145 Degrees served with pumpkin and carob bread paired with Ruca Malen Malbec 2014 (90 Points James Suckling). Milcao (potato bread) served in the “curanto-style” with gnocchi alla Romana paired with Ruca Malen Petit Verdot 2014. Filet Mignon with chili peppers, bean chimichurri and fresh tomato salad paired with Kinien Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Bronze Medal Decanter).
Other exceptional wine lunch locations we experienced around the Mendoza regions include: Susana Balbo in Lujan de Cujo; Casarena Bodega y Restaurante in Lujan de Cuyo; Gimenez Riili Bodega & Vinedos in Uco Valley; Casa Azul in Uco Valley; Piedra Infinita Cocina at Bodega Zuccardi in Uco Valley; Clos de Los Siete at Bodega Monteviejo in Uco Valley.
Lunch Ruca Malen
Where to Stay When You Visit Mendoza
When traveling in Mendoza, there are a variety of options for accommodations ranging from a 4 room B&B style inn to significant hotels within Mendoza City, luxury wine lodges offering 5-star amenities and everything else in between. If you are staying in Mendoza City, particularly during their annual renowned wine festival, “Vendimia,” which is usually held the first weekend in March, you will want to stay close to town and close to the square for the festivities.
Most of the parade and festival activities are right in front of the Park Hyatt Mendoza, which presents the optimum place to be a participant and a spectator. They have a variety of Vendimia events at the hotel or very near the hotel.
I would recommend staying in Mendoza City for at least one night as the town offers many great restaurants, places to see and things to do. Then it will be time to head a bit off of the beaten path into wine country where you will discover places you never dreamed existed.
Park Hyatt Mendoza in Mendoza City: Is set in a beautifully restored 19-century Spanish colonial castle-like building on the main square, Plaza Indepencia in the heart of Mendoza. This 5-star luxury hotel offers all of the amenities to pamper you during your stay, including a state of the art spa and a variety of dining options. You are walking distance to wine tasting bars and many amazing regional cuisine inspired restaurants.
Pod on Stilts presented By Glamping Hub – Lujan de Cuyo – A unique one-of-a-kind individual getaway amidst the vineyards is a pod built on stilts. Glampers can experience a stay like no other at this stilted pod near Mendoza. It floats in the air above the vines of the on-site winery producing exquisite Argentine Malbecs, offering a cocoon nestling guests between land and sky. There is a bathtub on the terrace with views of the Andes, and a window in the roof promising guests stargazing in the clear skies of Argentina’s west. There is also a private jacuzzi hot tub.
A queen bed provides comfort and tranquility for two, with a private bathroom ensuring seclusion.
Auberge du Vin – A Tribute Portfolio Hotel in Tupungato: Part of the Marriott Bonvoy Hotel Group – You can even use your loyalty points to stay here. This stunning Mendoza getaway is a bit off the beaten path from Mendoza City hustle and bustle. When you arrive at Auberge du Vin, you will find yourself in a sophisticated rustic oasis in Tupungato and close to many of the most famous Bodegas in the Uco Valley.
The beautifully appointed guest rooms offer views overlooking the sprawling vineyards and the snow-capped Andes. Many rooms have kitchenettes, and there is an onsite fitness center as well as a tranquil outdoor pool and lounging area. Their signature restaurant and lounge presents regional cuisine and innovative libations along with an extensive wine list.
The Vines Resort and Spa in Uco Valley: If you are planning on heading down to Uco Valley and you seek a 5-star pamper yourself experience, then look no further than The Vines Resort & Spa. The Vine’s cuisine and Restaurant, Siete Fuegos (Seven Fires – also the name of Mallmann’s award-winning cookbook) was inspired by legendary Argentine Chef, Francis Mallmann. The property was developed across 650 acres of land in 2005 by Pablo Gimenez Riili and Michael Evans, who had a vision and a dream to create and luxury oasis at the base of the Andes Mountains.
This expansive wine destination resort offers rustic elegance and with the utmost of amenities. The Vines is beyond extraordinary, it immerses you in the sheer indulgence of the senses, of beauty, tastes, sights, and sounds. The sophisticated private villas that surround the hotel property allow guests to escape while providing the ultimate retreat for food and wine lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. It is no surprise that Conde Nast’s and Travel and Leisure have named it one of the top hotels in the world.
Gimenez Riili Posada
Gimenez Rilli – Los Sauces – The winery was founded in 1945, by Pablo Rilli – Co-founder of The Vines Resort and is located adjacent to the Vines Resort in Winemakers Village. The Casa de Huespedes is on the grounds of the Bodega Gimenez Riili and vineyards. It is a charming, intimate posada amid the vineyards with spectacular views of the Andes. This 4-room boutique inn also offers spacious rooms with luxury amenities and a cook to order breakfasts.
Dining at Gimenez Riili
Federico, the owner, and charming host provides an onsite restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating along with wine paired lunches and dinners. Our 5-course dining experience was absolutely divine. You can dine on their Argentine Asado specialties and other regional specialties while enjoying a selection of their wines. A great value too. Be sure and try the Gran Reserva Malbec. Rent horse or bicycles and watch the sunrise in the vineyards. You can reserve directly through them or book through one of the booking sites like Booking.com or TripAdvisor.
During your visit to Mendoza, Argentina – Here are a few suggested Bodegas for your Mendoza wine tasting adventures:
Lujan de Cujo
- Archaval Ferrer
- Ruca Malen
- Bodega Matervini
- Clos de Chacras
- Catena Zapata
- Susana Balbo
- Vino Cobos – Paul Hobbs
- The Vines
- Gimenez Riili
- Clos de los Siete
- Corazon del Sol
- Archaval Ferrer
- Super Uco
Its that time of year again for the Harvest Party of the year at Crocker Starr – Carnivus Maximus
When summer is on the way out with the colors of fall burgeoning upon the valley and the aromas of harvest are perfuming the air, what better time for a celebration of wine, harvest, and merriment. One of the queens of the crop orchestrated by winemaker and co-owner Pam Starr is Crocker Starr’s Annual Carnivus Maximus soiree held every year on the Sunday before Labor Day at the winery’s St. Helena location.
Over 400 Crocker Starr Casali Members, friends and family descended on a very warm Sunday afternoon this past September to make merry under the Big Top with an abundance of food, flowing wine, music, dancing and frolicking. Games, photo booths, prizes galore, a grand raffle and more are all part of the experience. This renowned afternoon extravaganza has been coined as “the greatest wine celebration of the year”.
Charlie Crocker and Pam Starr
Adding to the flow of the afternoon, owners Charlie Crocker and Pam Starr continuously popped the corks on Crocker Starr library wines, large format bottles from the cellar and pre-release vintages. And, of course, there was also no shortage on fantastic food at the spread of flavors presented on the colorful and festive buffet tables under the party tent.
2010 was the inaugural first Carnivus event where Charlie, Pam, friends and family celebrated in a small intimate setting with a 10-year vertical tasting in the historic 1918 Farmhouse. The Carnivus Celebration was conceived and its roots began with the roasting of the traditional “blessed” pig while sharing great Crocker Starr wine and stories under the Stonehouse Arbor.
Carnivus Crocker Starr Buffet
The tradition continued in 2011 and in 2012, the first party like a #rockStarr had begun. They upped their game and expanded their annual party by bringing in a selection of local purveyors to prepare the ultimate spread with Zuzu’s famous Paella, Hog Island Oysters and of course the pig roasted to perfection by Smoke, who have all been a part of the party since. Also featured this at this year’s celebration were Fatted Calf Charcuterie, Napa Valley Crust wood-fired pizzas and keeping the guests cool – Paradise Shaved Ice.
Live music and dancing and fun and games like guess the cork, giant Jenga and ring toss to win your very own grapevine were also added to the festivities of Carnivus Maximus. Guests also collected stamps on their passport to enter into a drawing to win one of the 3 Big prizes – Grand, Grander and Grandest. Every year the Crocker Starr Labor Day weekend celebration gets bigger and better and is always a quick sell-out event! There are always new surprises in store each year for their returning guests, family and friends!
The event’s success is attributed to the amazing orchestration by the Crocker Starr team and their Napa Valley event planner, Sasha Souza Events who has been designing the event for the past 3 years. Plans are already in the making for next year’s festivities.
Crocker Starr – Estate old vines sustainably & responsibly grown and farmed continuously since 1870, now handcrafting a small production of exquisite, world-class wines from their historic vineyard estate in St. Helena. Winemaker and co-owner Pam Starr designs the estates Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec blend and Sauvignon Blanc to capture the essence of the extraordinary terroir of the vineyard.
For information and tickets, if available please call 707-967-9111
Located at 700 Dowdell Lane in St. Helena. www.crockerstarr.com