Sunday, February 18, 2018

Celebrate the Year of the Dog in Las Vegas and Los Angeles

It's the Year of the Dog, a year for loyalty and honesty, hopeful portents for the days to come. So, pack your bags, make some reservations, and enjoy these wonderful specials happening through March 2: Chinese New Year is happily celebrated for 16 days!

China Poblano, Jose Andrés’ fantastical mashup of Chinese and Mexican cuisine at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, puts the emphasis on the Chinese side of the menu with a Year of the Dog celebration, through March 2.  Special cocktails, using ingredients thought to provide prosperity and fortune, are featured like the Orange Blossom and Hair of the Dog, both made with Dragon Fire Baijiu, a traditional Chinese liqueur. The celebratory menu includes key elements for a Chinese New Year blessing such as fish in the Shunde Raw Fish dish of yellowtail, soy vinaigrette, Chinese mustard, sorrel, and fried mung bean noodle; and Swimming in Harmony, seared black cod, soy fume, and fried shiso leaf.  Five à la carte selections have been created plus a special dessert, the Dragon’s Pearl, coconut tapioca placed alongside white sesame ice cream and topped with matcha meringue and lychee oba.  All six dishes are available as a tasting menu, at $85 per person. 

If You Missed the First Day of Celebration, You Can Celebrate with Food and Dance in Los Angeles:

The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles  will celebrate Chinese New Year at WP24 by Wolfgang Puck on February 23, with a special dinner 24 floors above Downtown Los Angeles.  Evoking a traditional Asian night market experience, the pop-up event will offer a special menu with squid ink shrimp steamed dumplings, roasted Peking duck garnished with golden pineapple scallions, and sesame bao buns. Sweet touches are provided with a Year of the Dog cocktail and a mochi waffle dessert.  There’s entertainment, too, with dragon dancers in traditional Chinese costumes. That’s something you don’t want to miss. 

A variety of Beverly Hills hotels celebrate with their own special touches:

Stay at the Beverly Hilton and you’ll receive Chinese breakfast (room service or in the Circa 55 restaurant), a pair of the hotel’s custom slippers, a Chinese tradition; a Chinese Newspaper, tea, and a traditional “Tray of Togetherness” filled with sugared fruits and sweets for a new year. 

The Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel will send you off on a Starline Celebrity Home Tour after welcoming you with its “China Ready” tea amenity and hotel slippers.

In-room Chinese tea service is included in your stay at the Montage Beverly Hills as well as a Mandarin monogrammed pillow, a dim sum-inspired dessert, and breakfast. 

A luxurious New Year is guaranteed at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills by booking the Lunar New Year package. You’ll receive a traditional Lai See (red envelope) with a surprise welcome gift, a symbolic wealth-and-luck gift of citrus fruit, and a Chinese tea turndown amenity. 

Chinese New Year in New York City: Where to Dine for Good Luck and Prosperity during the Year of the Dog

The Year of the Dog celebrates the return of spring and the beginning of the Chinese New Year.  This is a festival of unity, a way for friends and family to come together to enjoy traditions that will bring good fortune for the coming year. 2018 celebrates the dog, a symbol of loyalty and honesty, as we breathe some optimism into the days ahead. Unlike one-night New Year’s celebrations, Chinese New Year is celebrated for two weeks, through March 2 so you have plenty of time to enjoy. Here are some ways you can participate in this important holiday:

The sexiest celebration in New York City happens at Hakkasan in the Theater District. Kicked off by a lion dance on the first evening, the two weeks of the Chinese New Year are filled with special dinners and drinks.  For 2018, there is a $118 prix fixe menu (for a minimum of two guests) featuring the best of Hakkasan’s modern Cantonese signature dishes. Dishes have been selected for the cultural significance of their ingredients and their ability to portend good fortune. Baked Chilean sea bass with kumquat glaze will bring prosperity as eating fish at the New Year is said to increase wealth. Similarly, oysters, traditionally symbolizing fortune and good luck, are included in Szechuan oyster with lotus root and crispy rice in mantau. Fat choy is an ingredient that means “to grow wealth” in Chinese and is found in the abalone fried rice in bean curd wrap with Chinese sausage and shiitake mushroom. 

Hakkasan’s dinner also features a special Chinese New Year cocktail, the Good Fortune, made with Grey Goose Orange and fresh blood orange ice (oranges are traditionally given during the new year to symbolize good luck, happiness and abundance); five-spice pomegranate syrup, adding red to the drink, an important color of good luck, and the pomegranates to inspire fertility; satsuma godai; lime juice; and an orange peel rosette to add a touch of floral design, signifying rebirth and luck. Toast away! 

A sweet finish is provided with Hakkasan’s re-imagined fortune cookie, the macartune, which has 88 (8 represents prosperity in Chinese tradition) New York-centric fortunes written by author Jay McInerney like “Your train will arrive on time and there will be a seat available” (happy) or “A new skyscraper is being built next door to your building and your view is about to disappear” (sad). The writer of “Bright Lights, Big City” and Hakkasan  Executive Pastry Chef Alexander Zecena have imagined the vanilla-flavored cooked as a riff on New York’s beloved black and white, with one half coated in chocolate and then stamped with a red chocolate seal to symbolize good luck for the New Year.   

Another tradition continues at Hakkasan, too, the annual wishing tree. Guests receive a red ribbon upon arrival on which they write their wishes. Ribbons are hung around the dining areas, a custom that is said to have begun hundreds of years ago in Hong Kong. In Lam Tsuen, Hong Kong, villagers would arrive to visit the secret Wishing Trees and hang notes on the branches with wishes for the year ahead.  Today, as yesterday, guests are encouraged to write their wishes with the hope that all written down will come true.

Little Tong Noodle Shop in the East Village pays homage to its Yunnanese roots with its first-ever 16-Day Chinese New Year Celebration.  The mixian menu here is enhanced with a special dish at both lunch and dinner such as Day 3’s goubull 18-fold dumplings and Day 16’s yuan xiao, a sweet sticky rice ball soup.  Each day represents a different celebration starting with the Celebration of the Chicken on February 16 with shaokao, fire-grilled chicken wings with gingko and the Celebration of the Dog on February 17 and finishing with the Celebration of the Dragon on March 1 when red snapper and dragon fruit slaw will be served. The grand finale happens on March 2, the Lantern Festival.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

16 Sweet Ways to Enjoy a Valentine’s Date in the Big Apple

Haven't figured out what to do yet for Valentine's Day? Here are 16 intriguing ideas.

Make a Reservation

Rice & Gold, Dale Talde’s new restaurant in the Hotel 50 Bowery is offering a special Asian Fusion Valentine’s day pairing dinner. Mixing up Asian flavors with sweet treats, wine and specially curated cocktails, the dinner showcases the intriguing food combinations that fans have loved since chef’s first restaurant in Park Slope. 

Another Asian favorite has created a special off-menu Valentine’s Day evening. Mixian noodles, Little Tong Noodle Shop's Yunnanese specialty, combine with choices like ghost chicken and beef tartare, all guaranteed to add significant spice to your palate and your evening.  For a sweet balance, the evening will finish with a special dessert and a glass of sake.  Three seatings only on Valentine’s Day. 

My vote for “bringing sexy back,” Zuma is offering three omakase options for Valentine’s Day, showing off their top-notch sushi and Japanese izakaya dishes. Diners will begin with a glass of Champagne and finish with a romantic surprise dessert.  If you’re one of the couples to book the restaurant’s three private rooms overlooking the main dining room, a private chef will create a very personalized experience with wine and sake pairings. Extend your night in one of the ultra-romantic booths in the lounge and listen to tunes spun by a live DJ. 

Passing through Grand Central Terminal? Agern, the Scandinavian import with noma heritage will give you reason to miss your train with a special red-toned menu for two (think: radishes, beef heart tartare, beets, blank currants and more). 

The iconic New York restaurant Gotham Bar and Grill will pair jazz by the Gabrielle Gorman Quartet with a special dinner on Valentine’s Day. As part of the romantic evening, the restaurant will offer two varieties of their signature house-made bonbons: a Taittinger Rose Bonbon made with Taittinger Champagne and the Chocolate Lovers’ Box, a selection of bonbons and housemade chocolate bars appropriately named “intense, ““passion,” and “wild” for Valentine’s Day. 

A retro favorite for the 21st century, The Empire Diner beckons with a special menu from Executive Chef Justin Nuebeck. The highlight of the Valentine’s Day evening is a 12-layer chocolate Sweetheart Cake complete with icing message (call ahead to have yours personalized). 

Dessert also stars at newcomer DaDong with a special five-course menu with the restaurant’s acclaimed Peking duck, geoduck clams, and squid ink soup. Dessert is a chocolate heart dessert branded with “DaDong Loves You.” 

The Wayfarer, around the corner from Carnegie Hall, hits all the right romantic notes on Valentine’s Day with a special menu that includes foie gras, caviar, lobster, rack of lamb, and truffles.  For a sweet finish, three desserts with red highlights are offered: red velvet cake truffles, passionfruit Pavlova with red berry sorbet, and hazelnut chocolate mousse with strawberry coulis.

Food and More

Nicoletta invites couples to a “Pizza Class for Lovers.” You’ll start with some Prosecco to get the inspiration following, followed by snacks, the class itself and then a pizza dinner with beer and wine. How fun is that! 

Want a broader selection of shareable cooking experiences for Valentine’s Day? The Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) invites you to a Valentine’s Day Dinner Date where you can choose to learn to make an aphrodisiacal meal of grilled oysters, rack of lamb, molten chocolate cake and special swoon-worthy cocktails. 

Perhaps you’re more in the mood for dinner and a “love” movie?  Check out the Nitehawk Cinema for their Love Series during the month of February. You’ll dine and cuddle at the same time.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Opt to join the frenzy surrounding the second movie installment of the sexiest book series in recent years, “Fifty Shades Freed.” The Gregory Hotel is offering a “Fifty Shades of Gregory” package for Valentine’s evening for a staycation or escape with Champagne, streaming service via Google Chrome to watch the previous Fifty Shades of Grey, a signature Gregory Do Not Disturb tie to take home, Gregory candle by Apotheke to help set the mood, and a passion-inspiring handcuffs bracelet. “Mr. Gregory will see you now.”

The Shakespeare at The William brings Burlesque performer Rosie Cheeks to Manhattan in a dinner-show evening. The evening’s special tasting menu provides equally seductive moves with lobster, lamb, truffles and chocolate on the menu.

Serious culture lovers should quickly book the after-hours Valentine Tours at MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art.  With two scheduled small group tours, you’ll begin your evening exploration of the museum with a candlelit wine reception and hors d’oeuvres or dessert, depending on the time slot selected. Hurry, these will book quickly. The museum will stay open just for you on this special evening.

Theatrically, Sweeney Todd is where you want to be for Valentine’s Day. Special for the holiday, “Angels Above, Devils Below” cake will be served in the pie shop along with sparkling rose to toast your sweetie.  Don’t’ worry, you can still order a meat pie as well. 

Show your love to the world by renewing your vows in Times Square.  On the iconic red steps by the TKTS Booth at 47th Street, the open ceremony invites all lovers to come together on Valentine’s Day at 6pm.  The celebration of love is free to all. 

Sweet Valentine’s Day Ideas from around the United States

If you haven’t yet planned your dream Valentine’s evening, here are some ideas to consider:

Watch Hill, Rhode Island is home to Taylor Swift, traditional wood-shingled mansions, and some of New England’s most beautiful coastline.  Two sister properties, the five-star Ocean House and the smaller Weekapaug Inn want to envelope you in romance this Valentine’s Day. 

At the Weekapaug, the “Love, Naturally” program that includes a two-night stay in a Fenway Suite, a couple’s massage, a foray to watch the sunset by the lighthouse, stargazing, and much more.  At the Ocean House, over-the-top "Ocean View" is suggested and the takeaway gift is a new Mercedes-Benz AMG C43 (my dream car). Take the train there, and drive home in your new car, wearing a vintage starfish diamond necklace and sporting a new pair of binoculars. The rest is a given: penthouse suite accommodations, a wine pairing dinner, and more. This is certainly the way to show your commitment. 

Funkier and in a city characterized by an “anything goes” attitude, the Kimpton Hotel Vintage Portland will give you “Good, Clean Fun” with a package filled with bubbles for drinking and bathing, chocolate-dipped and Pop Rocks-sprinkled strawberries, and other sweets. Like the wines from the neighboring Willamette Valley area, the hotel is draped in red and purple tones. Insider tip: ask for one of the three Urban Soak Suites on the ninth floor, which have a private patio and hot tub with a view of the city. 

Loews Santa Monica Beach has a truly adorable package for Valentine’s Day, the “Puppy Love” package. In addition to a private dinner with your own butler, Dom Perignon Champagne, roses and a couples’ massage, you receive the piece de resistance (in my mind), an (adoptable) dog to play with for the entire stay – the dog can stay in your suite, play with you on the beach, and even go home with you, if you’d like! Part of your stay charge is donated to Wags & Walks, to support the new adoption center in Santa Monica. 

Spirituality mixes with romance at L’Auberge de Sedona in Arizona. In honor of both the New Moon in February and Valentine’s Day, the resort invites you to ignite your romance with their “Love Under the New Moon” treatments which include an aphrodisiacal Love Lotus Wei spray and serum as part of a couple’s massage in the Apothecary Spa. A post-treatment chocolate refreshment is infused with aphrodisiac herbs. For the more spiritual guest, a sound journey using crustal bowls combines with the new moon energy to further ignite the love flame. 

Are you and your honey night owls? Then this package from the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, DC is perfect for you. After a day of touring the city (or of simply sleeping in), you can have a true evening spa experience at the “Night Spa” with a couples’ massage, flowers, monogrammed bathrobes, a Michael Mina dining experience with Champagne (or wine), followed by exclusive after-dinner  use of the hotel’s pool level between 10:30pm and 1:30am. You’ll sleep well after this! 

If you’d rather lounge around in your gorgeous hotel room than join others during this romantic evening, the Langham, New York invites you to buy tickets to its “Double Feature Film” package, which includes accommodations, a mini-bar credit, and two free in-room movies, for a night of private bliss. 

San Francisco’s Hotel Zelos from the Viceroy Group has a steamy holiday planned for Valentine’s Day. Debuting its Dirty Bath Service (named after its bar and restaurant, Dirty Habit), the hotel will arrange a warm bubble bath in a large Fuji soaking tub, accentuated with candles, dry ice buckets and rolling fog, creating your own personal setting to sip San Francisco cocktails created by the hotel’s “bar star” bar manager. Try some Sonoma rye whiskey on the rocks or the provocative 50 Shades of Purple made with Bombay Sapphire East gin, Buddha’s Hand citron, grapefruit, lemon, Prosecco and Firefly pea extract. 

Further south, Californian creativity extends to the “Chemistry in the Kitchen” package at Paradise Point Resort & Spa, A Destination Hotel.  This time it’s a beach holiday that mixes with epicurean experiences.  You’ll have your own chef who will share his well-honed cooking skills with you as you learn how to whip up a romantic dinner to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Wine is an important part of the chemistry here and you’ll receive a gift of a pre-selected vintage along with two keepsake wine glasses, a tote bag (for the kitchen or the beach) and a cookbook in which you can jot down your notes from the class.

For a beach holiday on the East Coast, SLS South Beach in Miami teases with a “South Beach Seduction” package, filled with romantic enticements like Perrier Jouet Champagne, candies, rose petals, dinner for two in Katsuya South Beach. Add to it a sumptuous dinner at The Bazaar by superstar chef Jose Andres and your stay will be truly delicious. After dinner, head back to your room to experience some of the treats (and tricks) provided in the Lovers Kit designed just for Valentine’s Day. 

In Las Vegas, it’s food that seduces at SLS (Sweet Lovely Stay) and Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres. Book the one-night-only gourmand ten-course, meat-centric dinner for February 14 by calling 702-761-7000.

And, finally, do you remember your first date with fondness?  The Talbott Hotel in Chicago will help you recreate that experience by cooking up your first meal (perhaps with a few special flourishes) in the Gallery Room of their 20 East restaurant.  Just in case it wasn’t as you had imagined, a sweet treat of Champagne, strawberries and chocolate will be waiting for you in your suite. 

Three Valentine’s Day Traditions You Never Knew About

Durban, South Africa is the gateway to the Zulu Kingdom, home to the country’s largest ethnic group. One of the Zulus’ time-honored practices is beading, a tradition passed on from generation to generation. But did you know that the color and patterns of the beadwork are used to communicate women’s interest to potential partners?  They call these the Zulu Love Letter.  A beaded rectangular flap contains the “message” which is attached to a narrow band of beads. When used in a positive way, each color of beads is chosen to convey a specific meaning: white shows purity, faithfulness and true love. Black indicates marriage and regeneration. Blue conveys fidelity while green is contentment and yellow is the color of wealthy and fertility.  If you’re interested in creating your own Zulu Love Letter, you can join a beading workshop at the Ohlange Institute on Old Main Road, Inanda, Durban.

In China, The Sisters’ Meals Festival celebrated by the Maio minority people is a celebration of love and spring and is regarded as the oldest "Valentine's Day" of China. The celebration usually lasts for three days, starting with the 15th day of the third month in the lunar calendar. Several days before the festival, Miao girls collect fresh flowers and leaves such as daylily and maple leaf from the mountains to produce natural coloring for dying rice red, yellow, blue, orange and black, a creation known as “sisters’ rice.The result is Five Color Glutinous Rice, an auspicious food symbolizing a good harvest.

Valentine’s Day is known as “El Día del Amor y Amistad” in Ecuador. Popular in the United States, Ecuadorian roses find their way into many celebrations in their home country, often accompanied by Ecuadorian cocoa and chocolates. To enjoy these roses, particularly in the cold of a North American winter, you can select from the best at this new site  Equally wonderful, shipping is free to the U.S.

Around the World with Romance on Valentine's Day

Surprise your honey with a Valentine's trip to one of these five special places around the world:

Did you know that Dublin is host to Saint Valentine himself? Hidden in the beautiful Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church are the remains of Valentinus, patron saint of love. On Valentine’s Day guests flock to the church to celebrate the Saint and his namesake holiday, Valentine’s Day. The charming hosts at the super-luxe K Club in the County of Kildare are ready to help you get the most of this secret holiday with their own “My Lovely Valentine” package. You’ll get five-star accommodations, full Irish breakfast, dinner, champagne, chocolates and more.  After awakening in the romantic hotel, you’ll be given the resort’s own secret advice for visiting the church when its least crowded and the concierge Cupids will help you book a spa service to have some truly private romantic time. 

A sweet afternoon for your sweetie is promised at the Sundara beach club at the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay. The special Valentine edition of the resort’s Valrhona Chocolate Afternoon Tea comes with chocolate fountains and an array of 22 different pink sweets and savories, accompanied, of course, by sparkling rosé or rosella tea from Muntigunung, a hamlet in East Bali. Fruit, marshmallows, and brownies are included for dipping and savory nibbles round out the experience.

In Florence, Italy, the Hotel Lungarno oozes romance with its cozy Picteau Lounge Bar and setting overlooking the Ponte Vecchio. You really don’t need a special package here, just order the “Ah l'amour" cocktail and finger food treat menu and create your own meeting of the souls.

Indulgence never quits at the Port Ferdinand luxury Resort and Residences in tony Barbados where a personal butler is yours for the asking. In this marina resort with suite-style villas, you’ll be pampered with private yacht excursions, couples’ massages and spa treatments. You’ll revel in the mix of Caribbean flair, Bajan luxe and English Commonwealth formality here with this upscale romantic escape where no request is too small or too large. 

Are you thinking about getting engaged? Or maybe “renewing” your engagement for Valentine’s Day (a nice twist on the vow renewal tradition)? In London, you can latch onto the spirit of the upcoming Royal wedding with The Milestone’s “Royal Engagement Package.” You’ll celebrate like a Royal with Royal Afternoon Tea, a chauffeured Bentley ride to a posh Hatton Gardens jewelry store (to pick out a new rock, of course), a horse-drawn carriage ride around London, and a private tour of Kensington Palace followed by a photo session to situate you in the home of the new Royals. 

If London isn’t your cup of tea, maybe Spain is.  How about proposing to your sweetheart in Barcelona instead? Hotel Arts Barcelona will arrange a very special engagement day for you including a couples’ massage in their waterview 43 the Spa, plus a private wine pairing dinner in the hotel’s premium suite against a backdrop of live piano music or a string quartet. It's all put together for you in their "Ultimate Proposal Package." 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Craving Korean Food after Watching the Olympics? Try These Restaurants in Manhattan

The newest Korean restaurant in Manhattan, Soogil, is a modern Korean spot in the East Village named after Chef/Owner Soogil Lim from South Korea. A CIA grad, Chef Soogil was the first Korean Sous Chef at Restaurant Daniel. Among Chef’s must-dry dishes at his eponymous restaurant are housemade tofu flan with shrimp, squid and manila clams in a spicy seafood broth made with dried herring and kombu stock poured tableside; shredded Brussels sprouts tossed with raisins, crushed peanuts, and topped with slices of pan-fried warm tofu and julienne of crispy seaweed; and pan-fried mung bean sprout pancakes served with a kimchi sprout salad. 108 East 4th St, NYC; 646-838-5524;

wildly popular Baekjeong deserves its near-cult status with Korean BBQ elevated to the finest levels. Beef, short ribs, pork and more are served by attentive waiters who ensure that the meat is cooked properly and instruct about the proper combination of accompanying sauces, salts, egg, corn and cheese, kimchi and veggies. The atmosphere is festive and upscale, markedly different from the many Korean BBQ restaurants that line Koreatown. If you have a large party, you can make a reservation, but the best strategy to avoid lines is to come at lunchtime or after prime-time dinner – that shouldn’t be a problem as the restaurant stays open until the wee hours of the morning. 1 East 32nd St., 212-966-9839

If you’re commuting to the city,the Pennsy Food Hall above Penn Station will be your destination to watch the Olympics and enjoy some Korean cuisine. Pennsy vendor will be serving up tasty treats to enjoy while watching the games on one of the 14 TVs in the food hall.  Or, if you’re looking for something more interactive, Plaza33 will transition into the Olympic Village from February 12-15, 12Noon -3pm, hosting curling tournament and decorated with ski lodge décor straight out of South Korea.To eat: at Pat LaFrieda, try the Korean-style sticky “short rib” sandwich,” a Korean inspiration topped with ginger-sesame aioli; or the Korean bipimbap “sushi style” at Sabi Sushi.

Valentine's Day Ideas for Wine Lovers

When I think of Valentine’s Day, I think of hearts, flowers, chocolates, and, of course, red wine. 

If wine is on your mind this Valentine’s Day, you might want to plana trip to a vineyard, where you can do a tasting first-hand and stay in a cozy, romantic inn. (For a kickstart, refresh your wine knowledge with a viewing of the romantic comedy, “Sideways” where Miles and Jack go on a last-gasp guys’ wine country trip before Jack’s wedding).

Consider a stay at the luxurious Gables Wine Country Inn in Sonoma County, an area where viniculture is alive and well and welcoming guests.  If you book a two-night stay during Valentine’s week, you’ll get a bottle of Breathless Blanc de Noirs, some chocolate-dipped strawberries, and a red rose to ignite your inner Cupid. Owner Larry Willis will direct you to the best of the 450 vineyards in the county.

In nearby Napa Valley, Las Alcobas, a Luxury Collection Hotel, invites you to spend the night with your sweetie while indulging in a treatment at the Atrio Spa and dinner at Acacia House restaurant. Occupying a stately, Georgian-style farmhouse dating from 1907, the resort is neighbor to the famous Beringer vineyards  Photo: Acacia House at Las Alcobas

The Allison Inn and Spa in Oregon’s Willamette Valley incorporates wine into the spa treatments with “pinotherapy” options.  Book a “Blissful Romance” package and you’ll get a two-night stay in a deluxe suite, a $100 food credit for in-room or JORY restaurant dining, plus a $200 spa credit.

If you'd like a dose of much warmer weather, a trip to Mendoza will satisfy your wine wishes and let you escape Northern hemisphere winter. Vineyards in this beautiful part of Argentina offer special wine-tasting meals for Valentine's Day. Two that I especially love are Entre Cielos and Casa Vigil, each known for their wonderful Malbecs.

For Valentine's Day the dramatic Entre Cielos' vineyard and hotel offers a six-course menu paired with their special wines, all sensuously accompanied by live music.

Nearby Casa El Enemigo Vigil has a tradition of mixing music and art with wine. Last year's evening gave couples a new way to toast their loved one with song dedications, creating a fluid musical medley that complemented the six-course wine pairing dinner.

But, if travel isn’t on the horizon for Valentine's Day this year, you can still get the wine tasting experience on your own with these fabulous red wines:

New Zealand’s Marlborough region produces some of the finest Pinot Noirs in the world, and at very delicious prices.  One of my favorites is Oyster Bay Pinot Noir. . The bay, cool climate and maritime influences come together to create a lovely concentration of fragrant cherry and juicy black plum with silky tannins in Oyster Bay's signature red wine.

The Central Coast in California is having some fun with one of its newest wine brands, BACON.  Affordable, witty, and, as they say, “bacon goes with everything,” BACON is a Rhone red blend of Syrah and Grenache with bold, rich flavors and a juicy finish.  Find it here.

Trinchero Family Estates in Napa Valley suggests a trio of seductively named wines to whet your Valentine's Day appetites: try their Taken Cabernet/Merlot, a lovely dark-hued wine with oak and dark chocolate notes; Menage a Trois Decadence, a luxurious Cabernet Sauvignon;  and Folie a Deux from the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County, a jammy Zinfandel with bright fruit flavors and medium tannins, You can find more information on their website at

Among Old Country wines, Italy stands out for its varied reds. Drinking Sagrantino from the Umbria region offers up another wine travel experience without the need to book a ticket in chilly February – plan your trip to Central Italy for a warmer month when you can visit the vineyards and the town of Terni, the city that gave birth to Saint Valentine, the patron of all lovers.  A favorite wine from the  neighboring town of Montefalco is the bold, smoky Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG, a wine high in tannins and deep ruby in color.