In my last column, I shared with you some experiences from our recent trip to Avignon and the Southern Rhone that was the first leg in our journey through the Mediterranean.
With that adventure behind us, our group of 26 wine, food and travel lovers was ready to embark on our second leg for a seven-day luxury “wine tasting” cruise of the Mediterranean. Our morning began with a walking tour through the old city of Avignon before meeting our coach for the picturesque drive to Marseilles.
Once arriving, we boarded the Crystal Serenity. The next seven days would feature several events where I selected and sourced the wines, including two tasting seminars and a four-course wine pairing dinner focusing on the wines of the Mediterranean and the areas we would be visiting.
During our stop in Corsica, I had the pleasure of arranging a private visit to Domaine Peraldi and a locally inspired multi-course wine pairing lunch at Le Bistro du Hussard in Ajaccio graciously hosted by Frosch [Travel].
Our trip was in the planning stages for more than a year. During that time, I was fortunate to work closely with St. Helena-based Diane Murphy Dunn of Crystal Cruises, Jeanne Sibley of Fine Wine Voyages and Frosch and Serenity’s Head Sommelier Tilmar Pfefferkorn in fashioning each event hoping to exceed the lofty expectations of our now 58-strong wine tasting group hailing from across the U.S. and as far away as South Africa.
As we sailed from Marseilles, our group was hosted to a welcoming Champagne reception in the Palm Court. The mood was festive as we shared glasses of Champagne, elaborate hors d’oeuvres and the anticipation of new wines, places and friends waiting for discovery.
A private section of the main dining room was reserved for the late seating where our group could dine each evening when not taking advantage of one of three specialty restaurants. Tastes featured a delightful small bites family-style menu on the upper deck. Prego offered an inspiring menu of superb Italian cuisine and world renowned Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s Silk Road and Sushi Bar pleased the palate with a sumptuous array of Japanese specialties.
Our first wine tasting seminar was on Day 3 after visiting Genoa. I chose the theme of “Compare and Contrast” to demonstrate three pairs of wines made from the same varietal but very different growing areas of the greater Mediterranean.
We explored Vermentino from Corsica and Sardina—two island bastions of this fascinating grape. The next flight was Tempranillo from two contrasting appellations of Spain—the well known Rioja and the somewhat lesser known Ribera del Duero. The final flight was centered on Grenache from the southern Collioure region of France and Garnacha from Spain’s Priorat.
After returning from an engaging visit to Portovenere the next day, we met again in the Palm Court for a Champagne reception, hosted by Jeanne, and then moved to the upper deck to relish our four-course wine pairing dinner centered on the wines of the Rhone from north to south.
We began with a 2008 E. Guigal Condrieu paired with a delicious white sea bass with sun-dried tomato and saffron. For the intermezzo dish, we savored a seared Magret Duck Breast with lentils, artichoke and fig accompanied by a beautifully balanced 2016 Le Mas De Flauzieres Terra Rosso from Gigondas.
You have free articles remaining.
The main course, “Duo of Beef” with celeriac and wild mushrooms, paired beautifully to a 2016 Pierre Gaillard Côte Rôtie. And to top it all off, the chef prepared a dazzling bittersweet chocolate “Chiboust” with blackberry sherbet and fresh raspberries as the perfect complement to our Domaine Madeloc “Robert Pages” Banyuls Rouge.
Corsica, the French island of Napoléon Bonaparte’s birth, is an interesting place to visit for the scenery, cuisine and stellar wines both from the north and south. However, several of the most widely grown varietals owe their heritage to Italy and not France since until a few months before Napoléon’s birth in 1769, Corsica was under Italian rule.
We docked in the southern port of Ajaccio, and our group traveled a short distance to Domaine Peraldi. There, we were greeted by founding family member and co-proprietor Charlotte Lemonnier for an inspiring tour of the winery and vineyards accompanied by a complete tasting of their seven wines.
The lead grapes of the Domaine are Sciaccarello (aka Mammolo in Italy) for the reds and rosés and Verementino for the whites. There is also a smattering of other Corsican varietals such as Neilluccio (more often seen in the north) that round out two of the blends. Each wine is produced in its own style and reflects an individual personality and its place at the dinner table.
Charlotte joined us for lunch at Le Bistro du Hussard where our host, Claire Costanino, assisted me in creating the menu highlighting several locally inspired dishes, each paired with a unique wine selection from the island. Two standout courses were the cappuccino-style soup of spider crab and lobster paired with the 2016 Domaine Peraldi Cuvée Clémence and the veal confit with smooth polenta paired with 2016 Domaine San Miguel Cuvée Alfieri Polidori. Quite a day that created many great memories.
On our last day at sea, just before docking in Palma de Mallorca, we experienced our final tasting that focused on “Exploring the Islands” with representative wines of Corsica (the north), Sardinia and Sicily.
When thinking of the Old World, the wines of the “mainland” regions of Italy, France and Spain often first come to mind. So I thought an exploration of the islands would provide a departure from the norm and a rewarding discovery of other wines now becoming more available on our domestic market at reasonable prices.
From Corsica, we enjoyed two wines (both very different), a Nielluccio (aka Sangiovese) from the north along with a regional blend from the east that both contrasted with the Sciaccarello from Domaine Peraldi we tasted a few days earlier. The traditional grapes of Cannonau (aka Grenache) and Cagnulari from Sardinia displayed an interesting pairing with both showing bright red fruits and balanced tannins.
The wines of Sicily are now gaining great prominence in the world market, and here we sampled the well-known Nero d’Avola that many felt was similar to Zinfandel and a blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Capppuccio from the newly reinvigorated Mt. Etna region.
I cannot thank Diane, Jeanne and Tilmar, along with the senior staff and crew of the Crystal Serenity, enough for all they did to make this wine, culinary and travel adventure such a success. And now on to Barcelona, Cava and Priorat in a couple of weeks for the third and final leg of our Mediterranean escapade.