The best $30 I’ve ever spent on a Cruise ship

Okay, I might be exaggerating, but the $30 I “invested” (thank you George Lakoff for teaching me how to pick my words) on the two wine tastings I enjoyed on my last cruise were just great.   See Jo, I didn’t “spend” $30, I INVESTED it!

2014-12-04 12.26.12The first tasting was held on our first day at sea, and making it even sweeter was the fact that it happened to be my birthday.  The tasting was held in the very elegant French dining room, which just added to the flavor of the event.  The theme of this tasting was Old World vs. New World, so we were partaking of wines from Europe (old world) against wines from the U.S., Argentina, Australia and South Africa (new world).  For example, we compared a French Chardonnay (Laboure-Roi) with a Australian Chardonnay (Penfolds).

There were about 16 participants from around the world, and the wine managers from the two dining rooms on the ship were the hosts, each giving brief descriptions and overviews of the wines.  After sampling the hosts would ask for impressions and comments.  Here is where the education and enjoyment began.  The different interpretations of the same wine, sampled at the same time, were amazing.  I liked the old world wines while the guy sitting across from me, a businessman from Hong Kong, enjoyed the new world wines better.  Some couldn’t taste any difference at all, but everyone was sensing and tasting different stuff.

Now, some of the matchings I didn’t think made sense, like pairing off a Ruffino Chianti and Colores del Sol Malbec.  These are not comparable wines in taste, which in my opinion wasn’t a fair contest.  When I pressed about it, the host explained that he wanted you to taste the distinctive flavors of the wines, and how an Old World distinctiveness differed from the New.  I liked both of them.  The last pairing in this flight of wines was between two red blends: Marchesi de Frescobaldi, Italy, and red blend from Chateau St Jean, California.  The Italian was simply outstanding.

The second tasting was a week later after we have visited all but one of our ports, and we had two days at sea to relax and think about what we had seen. 2014-12-10 14.59.39 This tasting was held in the far less formal environment of the Spanish restaurant, with it’s big picture windows and Greek islands flowing past and our ship headed to Naples from Istanbul.

This was a “Progressive Tasting.”  I’m on guard at the very word “progressive” but in this case the term means tasting wine from the lightest to boldest.  We started with a Beringer White Zinfandel, which was very tasty to the shock of all participants.  Next was a Matua Sauvignon Blanc, a Bonterra Chardonnay, the Estancia Pinot Noir, a Penfolds Shiraz, and at the far end was Bonterra, an “organic” Cabernet Sauvignon which really needed help to get any praise.  Each wine would be sampled first on its own, second with a green apple, third with lemon, and last with Brie.

You have to try this on your own!  I’m telling you, you’ll be surprised.  The food will radically alter the flavor of the wine.  Sometimes the lemon would spice up the wine or flatten it, or ruin it altogether, while the apple calmed run-away tannins or added body to a weak wine.  The organic Cab would have been DOA if not for the Brie.  It was a blast to watch and hear the reaction of the participants.

Now let me tell you why I said this blog isn’t about the wine, its about WINE.  None of these wines tasted were “special;” they were at best $10 to $15 bottles that on the ship were $40.  Drinking wine at sea is even more expensive then at home.  I enjoyed pretty much all of the wines from the first tasting, but from the second I only really enjoyed the Beringer, Estancia, and Penfolds.  Making both events memorable though were the hosts and the participants.  The summaries, the explanations of the wines, and the setting of the themes were brilliantly done.  Frankly, I’d never thought of tasting the same wine with lemon, apple and cheese.  Now I’m doing it all the time.  So, if nothing else these tastings opened my mind to that experience.  The locations were pretty cool too!

As you may have noticed, the true joy for me was in talking with the people, listening to their stories and telling some of my own.  To the woman from Spain who was telling me about going to dinner at the home of a boyfriend and knowing the relationship was over when he put the Rioja Gran Reserva in the the refrigerator, I smiled wondering how the rest of that evening went.  The guy from Hong Kong who skips lunch to go to tastings at a yacht club, I hope to start the same diet.  And to the Australian couple who had never tasted wine before and wanted to give it a try, and afterwards couldn’t wait to get home and get going, I hope your first bottle was a good one.

I sat and talked with people well after the last drop of wine had been poured, smiling ear to ear as we conversed about our shared passion.  From time to time, the long-suffering Josephine would look into the room, turn around, and go.  I think she was happy for me, because for that brief time I wasn’t Griffy the minion, but Griffy on Wine, enjoying sunlight and water held together with love.

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