Thursday, March 30, 2006

The World in your Palm -- Download tthe schedules of the major alliances

A useful travel tip has always been that the traveler should always keep airline schedules in her pocket. Since the paper versions are rather bulky and many airlines no longer publish them, it is convenient to keep them in a Palm or other PDA. For the international traveler, you can download the schedules of the major airline alliances rather than going for individual airlines. With just three downloads, you can get most schedules of all the major airlines in the world. The major alliances are OneWorld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance.

The links to the PDA timetables are:

Sky Team
Star Alliance

To give you a sense of how many airlines, this covers, the Star Alliance network is listed below:

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Amenity Kit -- United Airlines, Business Class, February 2006

This is the amenity kit that is currently offered by United Airlines.

The contents include:
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste (Rembrandt)
  • Lotion (Nomad by Crabtree & Evelyn)
  • A tiny packet containing two sugar free mints (Smint)
  • Socks
  • Eyemask
  • Tissues
  • Earplugs
It comes in a useful little bag with a zipper. Men and women get the same thing. This is certainly not very much, but it is clearly superior to the amenity kits offered by Lufthansa.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Robert Parker -- Under fire

I really like reading about wine, and I enjoy reading Robert Parker's work. Inevitably, he has become so famous that he frequently comes under attack. An interesting article by Eric Asimov has appeared in the New York Times describing the controversy surrounding Parker. (You may need to register with the NYT to see the text of the article, but registration is free.)

The oddest part of the article is the comment that Hugh Johnson, who is also a very influential wine critic, has apparently compared Robert Parker to George W Bush:

In Mr. Parker's view, the attacks have gone beyond the bounds of civility. "Hugh Johnson compared me to George Bush," he said, almost in wonder. "I'm a great admirer of Hugh, but he really lowered himself significantly to write that. I'm not a dictator of taste, and I'm not an emperor of wine, either.

I love the implied commentary that comparison to the President of the United States is "beyond the bounds of civility." The fact that Parker seems to consider this to be the most hurtful insult of all only raises my respect for this very fair and objective critic of wine. As for Hugh Johnson, whatever you think of Parker, isn't any comparison to Mr. Bush going a little too far?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Flying Economy on Transatlantic Routes -- Free Drinks?

Almost all American carriers charge for drinks these days in economy, and this list is the beginning of a resource to keep track of who does what on the transatlantic routes.

I could really use help keeping this list up to date. Please comment with any new information.
  • AerLingus Charge for all drinks
  • Air Canada All drinks free
  • Air France All drinks free
  • Alitalia All drinks free
  • BMI All drinks free
  • British Airways All drinks free
  • Continental All drinks $5.00
  • Delta All drinks $5.00
  • Emirates All drinks free
  • Finnair Free wine and beer; charge for spirits
  • Iberia Free wine and beer; charge for spirits
  • Icelandair Charge for all drinks
  • KLM All drinks free
  • Lufthansa All drinks free
  • Northwest All drinks free (The only American carrier with free drinks)
  • Olympic All drinks free
  • SAS All drinks free
  • Singapore Airlines All drinks free (Flies from JFK to FRA)
  • United All drinks $5.00
  • USAirways All drinks $5.00
  • Virgin Atlantic All drinks free

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Hill of Content, Benjamin's Blend, 2004

This wine comes from Western Australia, and it is an interesting and refreshing change. First of all, there is no taste of oak whatsoever. Second, it blends Chardonnay (52%), Sauvignon Blanc (30%), and Semillon (18%). It has the distinctive taste of each of these varietals, including a distinct citrus taste and the grassy taste you usually associate with Sauvignon Blanc. Lively and refreshing, this wine captured my attention largely because it is different.

It also comes with a screw top. The cost is between $10.00 and $13.00 depending on where you buy it.

Recommended -- buy it if you see it. But it is not worth expending large amounts of energy to try to find it.

It would be great for a party!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Best wine in 2006, Château Léoville-Barton 2003

I always get excited in December when The Wine Spectator publishes a list of 100 wines that it considers the most interesting and exciting wines of that year. Quite often I get the satisfaction of having already discovered the wines that they like the most, and quite often the issue gives me ideas about wines that I would like to buy. The "winner" is, of course, the "wine of the year," the top wine in the list.

Last year, the top wine was the Joseph Phelps Insignia. Previous winners have included Château Rieussec (2001), Guigal Chateauneuf-du-Pape (1999), Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino (1997), Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages (1996), Château Pichon-Longueville-Baron Pauillac (1989), Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Private Reserve (1986), Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection (1990), Antinori Toscana Solaia (1997), and Penfolds Shiraz Grange (1990).

This year I have decided to make a prediction about the winner for 2006 -- Château Léoville-Barton 2003. The Wine Spectator gave Château Léoville-Barton 2003 a score of 98 when they reviewed it last month. At $75, it will be a relative bargain particularly if it wins!

I like to drink wine and dislike the notion of wine as an investment tool, but I can't help thinking that with all the favorable press, the price of this wine is going to soar! Buy all you can afford! (Robert Parker likes it very much too, and suggests that it is "realistically priced" at $75.00. He also suggests it should be cellared and forgotten for at least seven years.)

I remember a retailer once sadly saying that if a wine scores more than 90 in the Wine Spectator, he can't buy it. And if it scores less than 90, he can't sell it!

The sad thing is that it is already impossible to find, and my guess is that the price will double very quickly. If you think I am wrong about this, post your prediction in a comment.

I have several years of
Château Léoville-Barton in my cellar, including the very highly rated 1982.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Château Langoa-Barton, 1988

Château Langoa-Barton is one of my favorites, and I have bought a bottle or two during many years although my special favorite St Julien is its sibling, Château Léoville-Barton.

Langoa Barton is owned by the same folks who own Château Léoville-Barton. It was classified as a third growth in the classification of 1855. It occupies about 15 hectares (37 acres), which are planted with the traditional Bordeaux mix: Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), Merlot (20%), Cabernet Franc (8%), and Petit Verdot (2%). It is known for its finesse and style, which tends to be lighter and less concentrated than Léoville-Barton. Unlike many "modernized" Bordeaux wines, Langoa-Barton is still fermented in wood as opposed to stainless steel.

On Saturday, we had a bottle of the 1988. It has been mostly well kept, and the color was ruby although there were signs of browning on the edges. You could still taste the tannins which were well balance with the still fresh blackberry/black current fruit. It had a long lingering finish with hints of smoky cedar at the end. Very nice indeed!

Interestingly the price was still on the bottle -- $17.99! Expect to pay over $40 for the very well reviewed 2003!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Demoiselle de Sociando Mallet, 1998 and 2000

I love the wine from Sociando Mallet. I remember trying a bottle of the 2000 and wondering whether this was the best wine I had ever tasted! That is probably an exaggeration, but Sociando Mallet is one of those Bordeaux properties that produce excellent wine year after year, and you are not charged an arm and a leg for it. The vineyards provide a traditional Bordeaux blend with Cabernet Sauvignon (60%), Merlot (25%), Cabernet Franc (25%) and Petit Verdot (5%). The grapes are fermented in stainless steel and concrete tanks and finished with oak, and much of it is new, which leads to initially tannic and long-lasting wines. I try to get hold of at least some wine from this property every single year.

Demoiselle de Sociando Mallet is the second label of Sociando Mallet, and its wine is also consistently excellent so I was delighted yesterday when Dr. M arrived with a bottle of the 2000 when he came to dinner. First we had the bottle of the 2000. The color was beautiful -- a dark, clear ruby color. The blend was well integrated, and you could still taste the vanilla overtones from the oak. With its wonderful long lingering finish, this is an excellent wine.

i had a bottle of the 1998 lying around in my cellar, and thought it would be a great opportunity to compare it with the delightful 2000. But the 1998 was a different story altogether. First, the color bothered me. It had been well stored in my cellar practically from "birth." Yet, this wine was a brownish, muddy, color without the clarity of the 2000. It was drinkable, but definitely a let down after the 2000. The taste was a little harsh, and there was something a bit weedy about this wine. It definitely seemed "over a hill" that it might have never even climbed. A disappointment!

Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant, West Chester, PA

Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant
3 West Gay Street
West Chester, PA 19380
Telephone: 610 738 9600

I stumbled across this restaurant and brewery in West Chester, Pennsylvania. All the beers are made on site, and they are good -- really good! I had the sampler, where they put ten 4-ounce glasses in front of you and tell you about each of them in great and wonderful detail.

The beer included a British style brew called Anvil Ale, which was outstanding. There was also a Raspberry Wheat that was exceptional. I don't usually like Porter very much, but loved their Pig Iron Porter. The range includes American, German, Belgian, and English style beers. (I will always drink an American beer brewed in the English style rather than an import. They are fresher, and England tends to export its less interesting beers, such as Bass Ale.)

We were not especially hungry but had some terrific hummus and scallops wrapped in bacon, which were on the appetizer list.

I wish I had had more time, but I got the sense that if we had stayed a little longer I would have completely fallen in love with this place.
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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Bump Story # 3 -- Highly Profitable Bump

This story is the third in a series of stories about memorable bumps. The first story is here; and this link brings you to the second one. (I would love to hear readers' stories about getting bumped!) Tips on playing the bump game can be found here. (I am talking in this article about voluntary bumps rather than involuntary bumps.)

Thanksgiving is the most busy time for travel in the United States and if you travel on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and on the Sunday after the holiday, you are practically guaranteed to get bumped if that is what you are looking for. Of course, you can increase the odds by taking a route where you have to change plane. For several years, we sustained an mini vacation at Thanksgiving by using vouchers from previous bumps, and then earning new vouchers the following year. In 2001, we went to visit Ms. M and her family in Seattle. We had no luck getting bumped on the way out, but the return journey was excellent.

All four Moyeys were traveling on United, which, of course, multiplies the potential profits. We were also traveling using vouchers earned at Thanksgiving when we went to Phoenix the year before. Our return itinerary was from Seattle (SEA) to Baltimore (BWI) via Chicago (ORD) at about 11:00 in the morning. That plane was full, and we were given four $400 vouchers and transferred to a flight to Washington Dulles (IAD) at about 11:30 with vouchers for a taxi to take us back to BWI. The desk where they were checking in passengers for Washington was just steps away, and we asked again if they needed volunteers. We were given a second set of four $400 vouchers, and this time we were put on a flight to San Francisco (SFO) with an onward leg into Washington Dulles. We got back late that night with $3,200 in vouchers.

Naturally, we tried our luck again on both the flight from Seattle to San Francisco, and the flight from San Francisco to Washington. But we had probably had more than anyone can expect in a single day! Interestingly, the flight from San Francisco to Washington was practically empty, and the flight attendant explained that the flight's primary purpose was to move a plane from San Francisco to Washington.

We had a long and moving conversation with the flight attendant, who was not busy on an almost empty plane. When she asked me what I would like to drink, I said that I would like Champagne. She reminded me that I was traveling in Economy, where Champagne was not offered. I replied, jokingly, that she had not asked me what I expected her to offer. Rather, I had responded to her question which was what I would like to drink. I added that I would also be grateful not to be reminded that I was traveling in Economy. She laughed and brought an entire bottle of good Californian sparkling wine, which I think was Chandon Blanc de Noirs), from the First Class cabin.

She spent about an hour chatting to us and told us that her usual route had been from San Francisco to New York, but she had begun to find it too depressing flying to New York. She had known people who had died in the 9/11 attacks, and it was just too sad to see people traveling to New York on business related to lost relatives. I will never forget this flight attendant -- so kind, friendly, and placed in such a sad situation as a result of that incident.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Where I buy my wine

This is from the perspective of someone living in Columbia, Maryland, and is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all the good places in the Columbia/Baltimore area.

1. Iron Bridge Wine Company I get most of my everyday wine from this marvelous shop and restaurant. They have a great list of good wines that they present as "monthly specials," and, when you buy by the case, they give you a 20% discount. It is also good for things that are interesting and hard to find. This place is also my favorite restaurant in Maryland.

Iron Bridge Wine Company State Route 108 Columbia, Maryland 21044
410-997-3456 phone 410-997-3807 fax

2. Kings Contrivance Liquor Store Located in the Kings Contrivance Village Center in Columbia, this friendly neighborhood store has good monthly specials, reasonable prices, and they sell the
Wine Spectator. The only thing I don't like about this shop is that their prices on sparkling wines and Champagne seem to be a little steep.

Kings Contrivance Liquor and Smoke Shop 8630 Guilford Road, Columbia, MD 21046 (410) 290-7860

3. Mills Fine Wine & Sprits I use this shop in the harbor area of Annapolis when I want to stock up on special wine. It is excellent for getting serious Bordeaux, for example. Most of the staff are friendly and almost all of them are knowledgeable. If you go to Mills, ask for the catalog, which gives you better prices than the prices that are marked on the shelves.

Mills Fine Wine & Sprits 87 Main Street Annapolis, MD 21401(410) 263-2888 (800) 261-WINE (410) 268-2616 fax

4. Corridor Wine This shop in Laurel sometimes has very good prices. It is worth getting hold of their advertisement and making sure you get the advertised prices. Prices of Champagne tend to be very keen, but I have sometimes felt that their prices on high-end wines are little high.

Corridor Wine & Spirits 3321 Corridor Market Place, Laurel, MD 20724
Phone: 301-617-8507
Fax: 301-617-8506

5. Berry Brothers and Rudd I use the duty free outlets of this astounding wine merchant whenever I go through London Heathrow (LHR). Recently, the dollar has been so weak against the pound that it has become a little expensive although I recently picked up some terrific bargains. I love their "Good Ordinary Claret" that comes in useful 500 ml bottles. They have closed their shop in Terminal 3, but they have a good outlet in the general duty free shop with a good range of wines. It is best used to find stuff that is hard to find in the United States (or wherever you happen to be traveling) rather than to try to save money although, very occasionally, both of these objectives can be met. Berry's seems to be one of those "old fashioned" merchants that have kept up with the times combining the advantages of new technology with traditional service principles. In the context of a wine merchant, this means sound advice after listening carefully to try to figure out your taste as opposed to the fatuous "how-are-yous" that are so common in retail today. (Forgive the diatribe!) On the modern side, they have one of the most informative websites on wine with good e-commerce capability.

Berry Brothers sells wine in all the terminals at Heathrow, and these are listed on their site.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Airways Inn Of Frederick, Maryland

Airways Inn Of Frederick
310 Aviation Way
Frederick, Maryland 21701
Phone: (301) 228-2100
Breakfast: 7:00am - 11:00 M-F, Sat & Sun to 12:30
Lunch & Dinner: From 11 until closing

I have been to this restaurant many times, but always for breakfast, and I always choose the same thing, Eggs Chesapeake ($8.95). Eggs Chesapeake is like Eggs Benedict except there is a crab cake between the poached egg and the Canadian Bacon, and, at the Airways Inn, it comes with home fries and steamed asparagus. The service is very friendly, and efficient. Although I go there only every three months or so, the server remembers me, offers me my usual table, and asks me if I will have "the usual."

The restaurant is under the control tower at Frederick Airport, and the view is a delight to anyone who enjoys aviation and watching planes. Good, freshly cooked food, in an interesting setting. Airways Inn is one of my favorite breakfast restaurants