Escaping the city for a quick weekend getaway is a bit like playing Mystery Date. Will you score dreamy or dud?
If the notion of a country getaway conjures happy images of roughing it, then the Grand Cascades Lodge at Crystal Springs in Hardyston, NJ, should not be on on your must-visit list.
However, if an indulgent weekend retreat from the hustle and flow of city living sounds perfect, then this 250-room Adirondack-style lodge delivers a decidedly dreamy experience.
Road weary and ready to relax, I could have spent the entire weekend in my room, making my way from a jacuzzi tub full of lavender-scented bubbles to the king-size bed that molded to my body and back again. Never have I slept on a more comfortable bed. I was reluctant to leave it.
But a higher purpose beckoned, the NJ Food & Wine Festival.
To prepare for some fabulous foods and spectacular wines - among them Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 1998 and Chateau La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée des Cadettes 2003 - we fortified ourselves with a dip in the warm pool waters at the Lodge's Biosphere.
The Biosphere, a 10,000-square-foot glass-enclosed complex, features free form, heated pools and a water slide, hot tubs, dry and steam saunas and a therapy-jet spa cove. At our request, the resort arranged an experienced babysitter, Brittany Carr, who took the boys swimming while we reluctantly left the warm waters and lush tropical heat to dress for the Grand Tasting.
Nothing is more seductive than good food and wine shared with good company. After our swim, we were hungry and thirsty (yes, we know we are supposed to sniff, swish and spit, but really)
The Grand Tasting presented a delightful excuse to tipple some superb vintages and nibble delicacies prepared and presented by the resort's four-star Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning dining room. Restaurant Latour rendered bite-sized small plates of seared tuna over beds of soba noodles to introduce guests to the creations of Executive Chef Michael Weisshaupt Also on hand were gourmet food purveyors such as D'Artagnan (the mousse of foie gras was exquisite) and Must Chocolates (extra dark chocolate makes a perfect pairing with wine).
I particularly enjoyed tasting a flight of Italian red wines. We started with a bright, ruby red Conti Contini Sangiovese, a varietal common to the entire country. This Sangiovese has a rich violet and cherry nose, underlying layers of slightly spicy berry and finishes fresh and clean.
Next we tried the 2000 Villa di Capezzana Carmignano, an 80% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon blend, fermented in stainless steel followed by 16 months in French oak and a year in the bottle. The Carmignano region has been producing wines in Tuscany since Etruscan times, more than 3000 years ago. Darkly, rich and plummy, I was happy the Italian reds were thoughtfully located next to the carving station. The chalky,thick reds needed tempering by the richly marbled beef.
From Capezzana also, we sampled Ghiaie Della Furba, a Super Tuscan blended from 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 20% Syrah. Designated IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), this wine was complex, well structured and intensely spicy. Aged in oak for 14 months and two months in the bottle, this garnet-colored wine is subtly tannic.
While the 17-piece David Aaron band played big band classics, we ended our evening with a decadent flourless chocolate cake, mixed berry tarts and champagne. Veuve Clicuot's La Grande Dame 1998 did not disappoint. Sixty-four percent Pinot Noir and 36% Chardonnay, the wine is made exclusively from the eight Grands Crus vineyards purchased by Madame Clicquot in the 19th century. Pale gold in color, with delicate bubbles, La Grande Dame is spirited with a floral and mineral nose which gives way to more subtle flavors like candied fruit.
For more information or reservations: www.TheCrystalSpringsResort.com