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As airlines continue to tinker with wine offerings to woo travelers, Alaska Airlines announced earlier this month that it's expanding its Wine Flies Free program to 18 more cities, meaning that Mileage Plan members can check a case of wine to a U.S. destination without paying the customary $25 baggage fee. The 29 total participating cities are all in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho; among the new spots are Los Angeles, Monterey, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Barbara and Seattle. In conjunction with the offering, Alaska Airlines shares details on wine regions to explore on its information page.
Ready for the next adventure? Look for these wine travel experiences this March.
As the weather warms, California wine country comes alive with events. Here are a handful of highlights.
March brings two film festivals just a week apart: the San Luis Obispo (SLO) International Film Festival (March 13–18) and the Sonoma International Film Festival (March 21–25). SLO is showing André: The Voice of Wine, about Napa’s wine “doctor,” André Tchelistcheff. The winemaker’s grandnephew, Mark Tchelistcheff, directed and produced the film, and will be in attendance for a special screening. Also of interest to foodies are a PBS special about Jacques Pépin narrated by Stanley Tucci, Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft; and Caviar Dreams, a short that explores the history of the delicacy. Get tickets.
At the Sonoma film fest, the Sonoma Chefs & Shorts dinner, on March 22, offers five courses, each paired with a food-focused short film. The chef lineup includes Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn and Bar Crenn, and pasta specialist Evan Funke of the Los Angeles sensation Felix. At the festival, wine and food lovers will also find the films about Tchelistcheff and Pépin, in addition to the U.S. premiere of the documentary The Quest of Alain Ducasse and the world premiere of Wilder Than Wild, a documentary about the growing threat of wildfires in wine country. Festival passes that include all films are on sale. Chefs & Shorts is extra; general admission tickets for the dinner are available at $200 per person.
Also in Sonoma, chef Charlie Palmer’s 13th annual Pigs & Pinot event returns to Hotel Healdsburg, home of Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner Dry Creek Kitchen, from March 16–17. Some of the events are sold out, but you can still get tickets to the Friday “Taste of Pigs & Pinot,” with 60 Pinot Noirs from around the world and pork dishes from Palmer, guest chefs and local restaurants ($175 per person). All net proceeds from the event go to the nonprofit organization Share Our Strength and local scholarships and charities, including those dedicated to wine country fire relief. Get details on tickets and hotel packages.
If you can’t make it to Pigs & Pinot but are still hankering for some pork, try the Cochon555 tour, which started 10 years ago to educate food lovers about heritage breed pigs and support the farmers that breed them. General admission gives access to the event's signature three-hour walk-around tasting of foods from chefs who source local ingredients. The main attraction here is, of course, the pork, butchered and prepared by five selected chefs. There are several other food bars, including one dedicated to cheese, another to butter, another to paté … plus a rum cart, a winemaker's table, a tiki bar and other options. Ticket proceeds benefit Cochon555's Piggy Bank, a farm in Missouri that helps farmers preserve heritage breeds on a grassroots level and helps farming families facing natural disasters or sickness. The event comes to San Francisco on March 4 and Los Angeles on March 11, partnering with wineries like Kosta Browne, Sandhi Wines and more. Tickets start at $130.
Element 47, the Grand Award–winning restaurant at the Little Nell resort in Aspen, has brought back its guest-chef dinners for a third edition.
On March 2, the stars are Jean-Georges Vongerichten and his son, Cedric, the chef de cuisine at his father’s Perry St restaurant in New York. They’ll be serving a six-course dinner that includes black truffle fritters, house-made burrata with Meyer lemon jam, and Colorado lamb chops with mushroom bolognese and broccoli rabe.
The last dinner, March 22, is with chef Håkan Thörnström, known for creative Nordic cuisine at restaurant Thörnströms Kök in Gothenberg, Sweden. His seafood-driven menu pays homage to his homeland with bites that have been fermented, marinated, pickled or smoked. A warm herb-spiced red wine, Thörnström’s own recipe, will also be served during the dinner. Tickets begin at $165 per person, plus an $85 wine-pairing option. For details and reservations, call (970) 920-6330 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those staying at the Little Nell in between those dates, Element 47 is hosting a separate wine event: a four-course pairing dinner by executive chef Matt Zubord that celebrates Chablis. Prices begin at $175 per person; contact wine director Carlton McCoy for details and reservations at email@example.com.
Whisky Advocate magazine, a sister publication of Wine Spectator, kicks off the 2018 Whisky Fests on March 23 in Chicago at the Hyatt Regency hotel, where participants can mingle with distillers, master blenders and fellow whisky lovers at a grand tasting and several seminars. With more than 300 whiskies being poured, it’s a chance to taste the differences among a wide range of styles (single malt, blended, Bourbon, rye and more) from all over the world (Scotland, Ireland, Tennessee, Kentucky, Canada, Japan), plus sample high-end rum, Cognac and other spirits. Remember to pace yourself.
The excitement runs high at the grand tasting, but don't overlook the gems at the smaller seminars. This year, look for sessions such as blending your own small-batch Elijah Craig with Heaven Hill Distillery; tasting rare Lagavulin Scotch selections; or comparing barrel proofs of Old Elk Bourbon with its master distiller.
General admission tickets to Whisky Fest, which include the seminars (first come, first served) and a buffet, are $325 per person; devoted whisky lovers may want to opt for the $445 VIP tickets, which get you into the grand tasting an hour earlier, the only time when some prizes, like Glenlivet’s 21-Year-Old Scotch Whisky and Glenfiddich’s Project XX Single Malt Whisky, are available.
The tour continues to Washington, D.C., on April 17 and San Francisco on Nov. 2, then wraps up in New York on Dec. 4. Discounted tickets are available for early birds.
Bodega Catena Zapata in Mendoza is credited as a leader in promoting quality Argentine wine on the international stage. The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia is a historic retreat known for hosting U.S. presidents and a secret underground bunker during the Cold War. The collaboration of these two entities promises a colorful tasting experience.
On Friday, an evening with Catena in the Cameo Ballroom showcases six wines from her family’s estate, including Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, back to the 2013 vintage of Bodega Catena Zapata Nicolás Catena Zapata Mendoza, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. Tickets are $35 per person.
Saturday evening brings a six-course wine dinner for up to 50 people at the Best of Award of Excellence–winning Main Dining Room, for $175 per person. Eight wines are paired with the menu, which features dishes such as king crab with gnocchi, broccolini and bacon, and flank steak churrasco served with chimichurri, eggplant and onion.
Both events are open to overnight guests as well as day visitors. Call (855) 453-4858 for details and reservations.