Photo Credit: Barbara Balik
Wines selected for the Italy Meets France Dinner in the Chartreuse restaurant.
The Wine Exchange
Allen R. Balik
Wining and dining on Regent’s
Seven Seas Voyager
Departing from our Icelandic visit was bittersweet. During our time in “The Land of Fire and Ice” our group of 30 experienced so many adventures from the natural beauty of the country to our wine, food and beer discoveries, the gracious people we met and of course, our good fortune of being in the caring hands of our guide extraordinaire Ýmir Arthúrsson and his wife Hebba.
Upon boarding Regent Seven Seas Voyager in Southampton, England for the second leg of our trip, the focus shifted to the exciting cruise ahead with the numerous historic and quaint port cities that awaited, two in-depth wine tasting seminars and a most unusual 5-course wine pairing dinner.
Working with a very compressed timeframe for planning our cruise aboard the Regent Voyager (due to the dissolution of Crystal Cruises earlier this year), it took a real team effort in planning and coordinating the many details necessary to ensure that our (now) group of 53 wine-loving guests from across the country would enjoy the revised itinerary.
A huge thank you to Jeanne Sibley and Diane Murphy Dunn of Frosch Fine Wine Voyages along with Regent’s Culinary Director Bernhard Klotz and Corporate Beverage Manager Ricky Ballinger for all their efforts in making our time at sea so memorable. Once on board, we also received a warm and gracious welcome from the excellent Regent staff. I am especially grateful to those I worked with closely on the planning and execution of each culinary and wine event. Hats off to everyone!
After enjoying a leisurely lunch on the upper deck followed by a late afternoon departure, we convened in the Veranda restaurant for our “meet and greet” Champagne welcoming reception accompanied by an excellent array of delectable canapés from Chef Suraj. The reception and our entire cruise experience were under the watchful eyes of Head Sommelier Emiliano, Beverage Manager Bogdan, Restaurant Manager Alin, F&B Director Renato, Cruise Director John and the “man in charge” – General Manager Davor.
We arrived in St. Malo, France the following morning and spent time touring the town and visiting Mont St. Michel Abby. Dinner that night was on our own at any one of the Voyager’s excellent restaurants. Chartreuse for French fare, Prime 7 for steak, chops and other savory dishes, Sette Mari for Italian or Compass Rose, the beautiful open dining room offering a wide range of Continental Cuisine.
Our next day spent at sea gave me the opportunity of hosting our group to the first wine tasting seminar featuring “Old World Reds.” Even during a compressed planning schedule, I was able to source by direct communication with producers in France, Italy, Spain and England, the wines for this tasting as well as our next one (“La Méthode Traditionnelle Outside of Champagne”) and our 5-course wine pairing dinner, “When Italy Meets France.”
Here is where the unparalleled cooperation and endless assistance from Bernhard, Ricky and their staffs both on board and in their port offices was truly appreciated. Not only were the wines sourced in a tight timeframe, they had to be received and placed on board during May before the summer heat set in. Some were transferred through Regent’s facility in Barcelona while others were received on specific days at various Voyager ports of call. A complicated process that, thankfully, worked perfectly
At the “Old World Reds” tasting in Chartreuse, we were joined by our second Head Sommelier Kadek who had just come aboard to work with Emiliano for our group’s events. This tasting compared and contrasted wines from six individual growing areas and three countries.
Featured wines from Spain were 2019 Mas Doix Les Crestes Priorat and 2017 Ángeles de AMAREN Rioja. From Italy we enjoyed two Antinori special, but very different, wines from Chianti Classico – 2018 Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Tignanello Vineyard and 2018 Badia Passignano Gran Selezione which is representative of the new (2014) Chianti Classico category above Riserva.
France’s offerings came from the Southern Rhone with three selections from Château de Beaucastel in adjacent areas and all from the 2019 vintage: Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Château de Beaucastel Coudoulet Côtes du Rhone (just across the road from the Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate) and Perrin Gigondas.
All seven wines were demonstrative of their origin and presented a broad range of aromatic, flavor and textural components. There were many favorites among the group and no one wine was singled out as the “best.” A true expression of the quality of Old World Reds and our individual vinous preferences.
The next day, our friend Chris Esposito arranged a small personal guided tour in Holyhead, Wales. As we hiked a steep cliff overlooking the sea and South Stack lighthouse, our guide explained the rich history of the area. From there, we traversed the countryside and stopped in the small fishing village with the world’s longest name (58 characters) – Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch – on our way to enjoy an authentic Welsh Rarebit lunch at Pant Du Vineyard and Orchard accompanied by cider and wines from the property. A majestic scenic drive through the slate hillsides of Snowdonia in Northwestern Wales took us back to the ship.
Dublin was our next stop and we decided to explore this legendary town with our friends the Pudumjees. We strolled past Trinity College and stopped at a few local shops to get the flavor of the area. Then on to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for an emotional and educational self-guided tour. We decided on lunch at The Brazen Head – Dublin’s oldest pub established in 1198.
Here we dove into local traditions at the historic bar enjoying pints of Guinness, bangers with mashed potatoes, and the “mandatory” fish and chips. Lunch concluded with a tasting of Irish Whiskeys personally selected by our spirited (no pun intended) bartender.
Our next stop was Belfast, Northern Ireland and an in-depth tour of this very unique city with a complex history and a unique personality. We found our guide’s enlightening comments regarding the strife and conflict often associated with Belfast very sobering.
After returning to the ship we again met in Chartreuse for our wine pairing dinner. When originally planning this dinner on Crystal, I decided to theme it on Italy with a focus on Piedmont and Montalcino. However, when changing our cruise to Regent, I learned the fine dining restaurant best suited for the dinner was the “very” French Chartreuse.
But, my mind was set on Italian wines. With Bernhard’s assistance, we were able to craft a menu highlighting the best of Chartreuse paired to my selections from Italy. The chef enjoyed the challenge and I was appreciative of his efforts to make “When Italy Meets France” a success and something memorable.
As the group gathered, we were treated to the ship’s selection of Champagne Charles Heidsieck Monopole with passed hors d’oeuvres featuring a trio of salmon blinis, steak tartar et caviar and terrines de foie gras au Sauternes. Our first course was a masterpiece of Dover sole with lemon, capers and beurre meunière paired to the bright yet deeply complex 2019 Pio Cesare Gavi.
Col d’Orcia led the second course with a duo from their highly acclaimed estate in the hills of Montalcino. The 2019 Banditella Rosso di Montalcino, with its engaging acidity and youthful charm contrasted to the depth, richness and complexity of their flagship 2017 Brunello di Montalcino. Here, as with the main course that followed, I was looking to contrast two principle wines from the same variety (Sangiovese in this case), but with very different aromatic, textural and flavor profiles.
We chose a beautifully prepared filet de veau with braised endive, grape chutney and walnut-veal jus to pair with the wines of Col d’Orcia Each wine paired to different elements of the dish and both showed beautifully.
Our main course highlighted the wines of Pio Cesare from Barolo and Barbaresco paired to tournedos de boeuf, truffle royale, brioche, seared foie gras and sauce Pèrigourdine. This was a very complex dish that brought out the very different characters of a bold and rich 2018 Pio Cesare Barolo and the somewhat more feminine style of the 2018 Barbaresco.
Both wines emanate from Pio Cesare’s estate vineyards in their respective growing areas and are 100 percent Nebbiolo. Their stylistic differences evolve from their varying soil types and climatic conditions. Another interesting pairing that demonstrated an ability to feature two related, but different, wines with a dish that brought out the best character of each.
Dessert took us back to Col d’Orcia with their 2016 Pascena Moscadello di Montalcino. A late-harvest (not botrytised) White Muscat that traces its history in Montalcino back to the 17th century when it was considered “divine” and referred to as the “sweet nectar of the Gods.” The pairing here was a crispy apple tart with vanilla ice cream. Though somewhat simple at first glance, it elegantly brought out the contrasting character of the Pascena’s luscious expression as well as its complementary and refreshing acidity.
Pairing the classic wines of Italy with the traditional cuisine of France at first seemed challenging, but with the cooperation of Chef Suraj, everything worked. The dinner became a centerpiece of conversation by our guests and culinary staff during the balance of the cruise.
The next morning found us in Waterford, Ireland where we immersed ourselves in its Viking history (much like Iceland) and its position as one of the key ports of the ancient English wine trade. During the Hundred Years War (mid-14th to mid-15th century) between England and France, Waterford played a key role as English wine imports shifted from France to Portugal.
Part of our tour of the “Viking Triangle” consisted of an underground tunnel that extended through much of the city where ancient wine vaults were maintained to house barrels for aging and blending before shipping to England and beyond. The architecture, history and character of the city was new to many of us and certainly a bonus.
Guernsey was our next stop and the day was filled with new adventures as we wandered the streets, gardens and visited “The Little Chapel” in the picturesque countryside with our friends the Sherwoods. After our late afternoon return to the ship, I hosted the final tasting, “La Mèthode Traditionnelle Outside of Champagne,” in the Veranda restaurant. Here we tasted two wines each from Franciacorta (Northern Italy), Corpinnat (the unique quality oriented “breakaway” group in Spain’s Cava region) and Dorset (Southern England).
Method Traditionnelle wines are produced in the classic Method Champenoise style where the second fermentation (producing the bubbles) occurs in the bottle. By international agreement, the term Champenoise cannot be used for wines produced in this manner outside of Champagne. So, Method Traditionnelle has been adopted for those wines produced elsewhere, although in many cases other local terms are also used (e.g. Metodo Classico in Italy and Cremant in other regions of France).
From Marchese Antinori’s Tenuta Montenisa estate in Franciacorta we sampled their Rosé (Pinot Noir) and Cuvée Royale (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc). Recaredo of Corpinnat showcased indigenous varieties of Spain’s Catalan region with their 2017 Terres Brut Nature (Xerel-lo, Macabeu and Parellada) and 2018 Serrel del Vell Brut Nature (Xerel-lo and Macabeu).
Bride Valley Vineyards (founded by the late iconic visionary Steven Spurrier) in Dorset rounded out the tasting as we enjoyed their 2018 Blanc de Blancs (Chardonnay) and 2017 Brut Reserve (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier). Six different wines from three distinct growing areas with each expressing an individual pedigree and stylistic profile. This tasting proved that wines made elsewhere in La Méthode Traditionnelle can hold their heads high and stand on their own alongside the best examples of Champagne.
Our last stop before a final day at sea that would bring us to Amsterdam was La Havre, France where some in the group ventured on to Paris and we elected to visit Normandie for an educational and tasty visit to Château du Vreuil in Les Jourdaina in the Calvados region. While taking in the breathtaking property we were also treated to samples of their treasured Calvados. From there we traveled to Deauville and a return to the ship.
Our last night aboard the Voyager was spent docked in Amsterdam where we enjoyed sparkling wine on a cruise of the city’s extensive canals. We disembarked the next morning for a two-day visit with friends in this remarkable city highlighted by a walking tour through the historic neighborhood of Jordaan and countryside tours of windmills and canals.
With our time in Iceland and aboard the Voyager, old and new friends came together for a shared adventure that left a lifetime of memories. Who could ask for more?!
Share your experiences with other readers by commenting on this article with an e-mail to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Allen Balik, a Napa resident, has been a wine collector, consultant, author, fundraiser and enthusiast for more than 40 years.