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Some people like to bring a little comfort from home on vacation – like a pillow. Others want to know their TV shows will be available for them to watch while on vacation. Still others want to leave home behind altogether to learn all new things and broaden their horizons. This Wine Diva wants to bring her favorite wines with her on vacation AND learn about new exciting food and beverage combinations. Where did I do that? On a Holland America cruise to Alaska. Buckle up babe, this ain’t your grandma’s cruise line any more.
Cruise ships have so many onboard amenities now that they seem like floating hotels and special event centers all wrapped in to one. Carrying over 3000 guests along with fine restaurants, health spas, yoga instructors, and (my personal favorite ) sommeliers… that's probably not totally inaccurate. Each day brings a wealth of interesting cruise activity and personal indulgences. A person could get use to this special treatment in a Nano second.
Every evening before going to sleep, I looked forward to reading the Explorer, Holland’s daily list of activities. I woke up knowing that this cruise ship brings a wealth of cruise activities and indulgences, along with the freedom to partake in as many — or as few — as I pleased. No pressure, no hassle...just indulgent choice. Every day, every minute…in front of me was an opportunity to try something new that surprised and engaged me. Holland America’s tag line, “Dabble, discover, daydream — do everything, or do nothing at all” pretty much says it all.
Memories are what cruises are all about. Whether you want to work out in the fitness Center, learn how to make some killer coctails, take afternoon tea, pamper yourself with a massage and spa treatment or sip a cappuccino and check your email in the Explorations Café, there's a perfect onboard activity for everyone. As a known Internet junkie the last two options – cappuccino and Internet were some of my favorite moments. There’s something to be said about kicking back, surfing the Web, sipping premium coffee…all while doing some serious sightseeing between emails, cruising lazily by the beautiful green, green, green Alaskan scenery.
I could go on and on about the great shore excursions, sassy late night shows, spa services, beer tasting classes, endless exquisite cuisine, jewelry sales, and casino opportunities, but I think The Culinary Arts Center program presented by Food & Wine magazine deserves some serious space. It is a groundbreaking facility and program that integrates guests' love for fine food and wine by presenting a unique entertaining experience. I like the way they encourage you to immerse yourself in the unique traditions and tastes of the ports of call you will visit. The best, best, best part for me was the opportunity to dine with the ship’s executi ve chef Troy Wastell for a gourmet three hour , six course “Dine with the Chef” extravaganza, sample fine wines from California with executive winemaker Don Rhea, and learning to make a new gourmet dish in a cooking class taught by Master Chef Hervé Laurent.
A special toast goes to Mary Schimmelman, Holland America Line’s public relations manager, for allowing the group (50+people) I was with (International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association) the opportunity to customize a few tasting events over 4 days by bringing aboard our own chef, our own winemaker and our own wines. You may or may not want to do the same, but now you know the opportunity is available to you.
First up was a private food & wine pairing tasting with executive winemaker Don Reha and Chef Laurent. We learned about food and wine matching while exploring the wines of Monterey, California. The wines selected for this tasting were chosen based the unique attributes of the nine diverse AVAs that make up Monterey Wine Country’s Thermal Rainbow™. The coolest regions are north moving to the warmer regions in the south by time dependent thermal gradients that stretch down the valley. The cool to warm gradients present a Thermal Rainbow® effect that reflects the diversity of growing regions and the specific varietals that are grown within each AVA. For example, cool climate-loving Pinot Noir and Chardonnay do well in the north while Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and many Rhone grape types flourish in the warmer south. It was great fun having both a chef and winemaker explaining how and why food & wine pairing work. This particular tasting served as the foundation for our next three tastings. Hervé and Don did a great job bringing us all up to speed on the most current trends. The Monterey wines were exquisite and set us on the road to expect excellence throughout the next days.
The next day we were back in the Culinary Center with Don Reha tasting three new wines: a bright green fruit and citrus Un-Oaked Roche Winery2009 Carnerous Chardonnay ($18.95), a 2008 North Coast Cab ($33.95) food friendly red berry beauty and Chocolais ($12) a gorgeous rich Swiss chocolate, thick Dutch cream & fine Italian wine combination. Each wine was paired perfectly with a bite of food. The group was beginning to get their wine & food pairing groove on.
Our next tasting was sponsored by Thornton Winery fine champagnes. Conducted up in the Eagles nest, this was a one hour casual tasting that included 4 Champagnes with small tray passed hors d’oeuvres. Talk about indulgent pleasures, the group of 40 people were pampered with NV Blanc de Noirs ($24), NV Brut ($24), NV Cuvee Rouge ( $26), and a 2004 Brut Reserve($38).
Our class demo in the Culinary Center with Chef Laurent on salmon pairings was inspirational. We learned how to prepare salmon and three tasty sauces to go with. Chef Laurent is a master of his trade. We were all very glad we were able to spend some time with him.
A new day brought a new tasting adventure. This time we treated to an extensive Niner Wine Estates Bootjack Ranch Paso Robles tasting. Niner sent us a short CD to watch which set the mood and helped us better understand the Niner philosophy. The crowd of over 40 attendees was wowed as Don Reha once again led us through a unique food and wine tasting asking us to stretch our wine and food pairing skills. Of note during this tasting were the 2009 Sav Blanc ($17) with tart kiwi, lime and lemongrass notes. It had a beautiful crisp mineral characteristic; 2008 Sangiovese ($24) showing strawberry and carnation spice with big bright juicy raspberry and cherry flavors. Yummy mouthwatering finish; 2007 Syrah ($20) showcasing complex layers of black fruit, berries, plum and a smoky oak character with black pepper and spearmint attributes. My favorite by far; And finally a 2007 Cab ($28) that would knock it out of the park with a Cheddar Bacon Burger or Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola Sauce. Classic herbal notes , fine tannins and a long finish made this a group favorite.
Our final tasting before going home featured Zaca Mesa estate grown and bottled wines. Zaca Mesa is a Santa Ynez Valley Estate vineyard and winery dedicated to Rhône varieties. Each wine is hand crafted with integrity using traditional methods from grapes sustainably grown in their Santa Barbara County vineyard. Once again the 40+ members of our group loved these wines for their rich distinctive characteristics. The tasting included a bite of food to go with each wine. Each wine was presented and discussed thoroughly by wine expert Don Reha. Starting with the fabulous 2009 Viognier ($20), this wine had a gorgeous nose of honey suckle and orange blossoms. What the nose promised the palate delivered with rich flavors of melon and peach. A stunning white, worth whatever price you can get it at. Next up was the luscious 2007 Roussanne ($ 25). This is a wine for people who want to explore different white wines. It’s a full-bodied beauty featuring rich apricot, spiced pears, figs and a hint of minerality. Yum! The 2007 Z Cuvee( $ 20), a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Cinsault was a charming medium-bodied wine with flavors of blackberries, herbs and some light smoky oak. Our final taste was the 2008 Syrah ($25). Another winner for sure, everyone was delighted by is rich blackberry, cassis and spice nose. All in all, Zaca Mesa was one of the best tastings of the cruise.
So I guess between the beer tasting classes, the high tea adventures, learning how to make new cocktails, dining with two outstanding chefs, getting coaching from a master winemaker, and sipping cappuccinos while watching the gorgeous Alaska scenery float by… I’d have to say that this type of vacation is just what the wine diva ordered. I know you’ll enjoy this new kind of wine, brew and spirits adventure as much as I did. Think about booking a cruise for your next vacation.
Chef Hervé Laurent‘s SALMON PAIRINGS
Serve with a Zaca Mesa Winery 2009 Viognier ($20)
1 Salmon filet
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup Niner Winery red wine
1/2 cup Maple sirup
50 g Dark chocolate
1 cup Washington white wine
50 ml Cream
100 g Unsalted butter
1 Orange (juice and zest)
200 g Firm papaya
50 g Fresh ginger
1/2 cup Sugar
250 g Smoked bacon
1. Chop shallot for both sauces.
2. Reduce red wine by half with maple syrup and 1/2 of the diced shallots. Remove from the heat and add dark chocolate. Season.
3. Reduce white wine and the rest of the diced shallots until dry. Add cream and season – on a low heat add small cubes of chilled butter.
4. Cut papaya in cubes and ginger in small strips – cook with sugar and the same amount of water.
5. Bake the smoked bacon until dry. Then chop using the food processor.
6. Scale the salmon, wash under cold water dry then cut in high cubes, leave the skin on.
7. Season the salmon with salt.
8. Cook the salmon in a hot nonstick pan, with olive oil, ¾ on the skin side, ¼ on the over side.
9. Garnish the dish with turned vegetables (pan fried with butter) or stuffed vegetables with mushrooms (and baked).
10. Decorate the plate, 4 cubes of salmon, 3 with different sauces on top, 1 with chopped bacon, finish with vegetables.