Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cruising For Wine On The High Seas

 2010_0501cruise0026 To mark a very special anniversary, my wife and I booked a Western Caribbean cruise on the Celebrity Solstice. The stops in Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Honduras certainly were appealing, but I must admit that the wine events scheduled on the ship may have sealed my decision to opt for this particular ship.

This dazzling ship features 13 different bars, outstanding entertainment and even has a “lawn club” up on the top deck with glassmaking demonstrations and lawn games.

One of the bars is Cellar Masters with a Napa Valley theme and enomatic wine machines that dispense tastes of some of the top wines in the world. Opus One anyone? The main dining area, the Grand Epernay, features a gleaming two-story glass wine tower. The ship also has a regular schedule of wine tastings throughout the voyage.

There were six special wine events during our seven-day cruise, and we took part in one called the World Wine Tour. The tasting had six different stations, each with two wines. It started in the Cellar Masters bar and then wound its way to various stations on Deck 4 overlooking the Grand Foyer.

The lineup included:
2010_0501cruise0023 Station 1: Gruner Veltliner Nigl Kremser, Austria, (Gewürztraminer-like and tasty); and Riesling SA Prum Essence, Germany (semi-sweet and too sweet for our taste).

Station 2: Pinotage Blend, Heron’s Nest, South Africa (light red in color, tart cherry with a bit of pepper on the finish); and Malbec Elsa Valentini Bianchi, Argentina (smooth, rich, a bit like Layer Cake Shiraz).

Station 3: Chateauneuf du Pape Mont Redon, France (now we’re talking! low in tannins, smooth and pleasing finish); and Pouilly Fume Domaine Denis Gaudry, France (another winner with flavor notes of green apple).

Station 4: Chardonnay Cakebread Napa (I was looking forward to this and assumed it would be a highlight. Pale gold in color, oak on the nose – and unfortunately way too oaky. However, many of the other passengers dug it.); Cabernet Sauvignon Sequoia Grove (beautiful and for me the best wine of the tasting. Smooth, silky and a nice ride that concluded with a long finish).

Station 5: Valpolicella Classico Allegrini, Italy (nice, but non-descript red); Sparkling Ferrari Brut, Italy (great effervescence with a touch of sweetness).

Station 6: Albarino Paco Lola, Spain (straw in color, citrus on the nose and a mineral taste); Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva St. Carolina (nice, as I recall – but this was the 12th wine we tasted!).
The tasting was an outstanding event. Each station was set up with a flag representing the various countries to tie-in with the global theme. Not only were the wines enjoyable, but it was a great way to mingle with the other passengers.
2010_0501cruise0102 Another thoughtful feature of the cruise was that if you ate in the main dining room (which we did) you could buy a bottle of wine and if you didn’t finish it, they would save it and you could have it with your meal the next evening. We enjoyed a superior white burgundy one evening (nothing left to save) and had a dynamite 2007 Pinot Noir Manzana Vineyard (Sonoma Coast) from Nickel & Nickel. Beautiful ruby color, dark fruit flavor notes with a touch of herbiness.

We were catered to by our sommelier who we got to know and who also learned our tastes. The ship has the most sommeliers I’ve ever seen in one place.

The cruise was a delight and the exceptional attention to the wine made sure it was smooth sailing the whole way!
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