Hotel stays yield surprisingly amazing wine selections and edification.
Fresh off a series of flights to Dubrovnik, and plunked down along Croatia’s glittering shoreline, I’m bleary-eyed but starving and thirsty. When the option to eat and drink in the lobby bar at Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera Hotel is presented, I don’t assume the wine list will be curated with gems hand-picked by a sommelier. Nor do I expect to be impressed. This is a hotel bar, after all.
Fast forward two hours, full belly and all, and I’ve just had a crash course in Croatian wines—along with beers—and picked up some pairing tips while nibbling on regional foods. Seated in a sofa on the hotel’s Piano Bar terrace, gazing out at waters that celebrities like Beyonce and Jay Z, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, have crested across in yachts, this is the perfect check-in amenity.
It used to be that a hotel bar was a dimly lit sports-themed environment humming with the static of television sets. Guests went there for a cold beer, maybe a greasy burger and fries, but certainly not a glass of wine to pair with a selection of small plates teeming with locally sourced ingredients, each artfully plated.
Today the scene is much improved—to the relief of business travelers everywhere. Wine bars tucked into hotels often have a separate entrance to coax locals to come in for the night and partake of the star-studded talent—from celebrity chefs to wildly popular local chefs—cooking in the kitchen.
Sheraton Hotels & Resorts around the globe, recognizing this trend, launched an innovative program last summer called Paired, designed to give weary travelers like me a warm introduction to the region’s noshing and imbibing options. Now, Sheratons from Paris to Pittsburgh are answering the growing consumer demand for localized, authentic experiences. All wines folded into the Sheraton program—of which as many wines as possible are local—must have received at least 85 points from Wine Spectator. Guests can order 2-ounce tastes, 6-ounces glasses, or the entire bottle of a recommended pairing wine.
It’s important to know that my experience in Dubrovnik wasn’t simply a series of plates plopped in front of me. Eight different pairings were offered, consisting of either a taste of beer or small pour of wine paired with an appetizer-sized food item. Half of the wines were Croatian. Chef Tomislav Niksic and the hotel’s beverage director were on hand to entertain questions about Croatia’s best wine pours, as well as to share information about tourism to those wine regions and a tip on truffle hunting, too.
For instance, I found a glass of 2013 Korta Katarina’s strawberry aromas and clean, fresh salinity was a good match with octopus satay, while a Croatian Chardonnay (2012 Korak Sur Lie) featured candied nuts, nice acidity, and a lingering finish. A surprising addition was a Dingac Radovic from Croatia’s Peljesac Peninsula, practically a dessert wine with its 14.5 percent alcohol content. Armed with this survey of Croatian wines, I felt prepped to peruse wine lists in Old Town the next day.
A week later, I checked into the Sheraton Lake Como Hotel well after nightfall, doing the same airport dance as I did to get to Croatia (two flights, two countries). Two nights later, after exploring the cuisine in this Northern Italian region, I slipped onto a bar stool at Bar Fresco and fully experienced this property’s dining ambiance courtesy of its own riff on Paired.