Nigella Lawson, the sensuous and celebrated British chef once said: “I never taste the wine first in restaurants, I just ask the waiter to pour.”
She’s a brave woman to be investing her faith in the sommelier, but high end restaurants around Australia – think Attica in Melbourne, Sydney’s Quay or Franklin in Tasmania – employ these god-like figures to ensure the flavour of your meal is enhanced by the very best drop in the house.
It’s their job to pair each bottle with the perfect culinary companion. These special pairings are offered on chef’s tables or degustation menus.
It’s no different on luxury cruise lines – especially since many like Seabourn and Crystal have partnered with Michelin-starred chefs Thomas Keller and Nobu Matsuhisa, whose restaurants onboard come with advice from rock star sommeliers.
Other celebrity chefs like Jacques Pepin, the godfather of French cooking and who has had a long standing partnership with Oceania Cruises, simply pair with one wine. At the beginning of this year, Oceania Cruises revealed a special Dom Perignon menu.
Here are some of the delicate dishes, which have been paired with some special wines.
Oceania’s partnership with Dom Perignon has resulted in a decadent feast for just 24 guests that is only available on Marina and Riviera. Created by the culinary team at La Maison Dom Perignon in conjunction with Oceania Cruises’ culinary team, this is the first pairing of its kind. On the menu, the starter of scallops “Rossini”, mole negro with roasted pineapple is paired with a 2009 Dom Perignon while the black truffle risotto with aged parmesan is washed down with a 2006 vintage. The later courses like the seared wagyu beef sashimi style, sautéed arugula, blood orange-soya jus with caviar perlite calls for a Dom Perignon Rose 2004. To finish this decadent meal, dessert is Sakura tea or ‘Geisha flower’ ice-cream with lemon caviar. And you’ll be sipping a 2009 Dom Perignon with that. The experience, which started from the January 2019 voyages, is priced from USD$295 per person.
The line which is famous for its partnership with Thomas Keller, one of the most celebrated chefs in America, has a restaurant on Seabourn ships called The Grill. This restaurant, modelled after a rich and hearty American steakhouse, has some delicious pairings. Offered in the restaurants of Chef Keller, is a whole roast chicken seasoned with thyme jus. Paired with a beautiful bottle of Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley winery, Kosta-Browne, the light and fruity flavour compliment wonderfully with the hearty dish. While at Seabourn’s main dining room, The Restaurant, the line’s head sommelier suggests pairing a hot coconut soufflé with pina colada anglaise pairs wonderfully with a Veuve Clicquot Rose Reserve from 2004 adds a balanced, delicate texture with a bright acidity and has a pretty palate of raspberry, spiced apple, biscuit and ginger.
Aboard Crystal’s luxury ocean, river and yacht vessels, wine is an integral part of the culinary experience, as the wine lists featured in the multitude of restaurants are a journey unto themselves. Helping guests navigate the extensive selection of vintages are the expert sommeliers, each certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers. The Crystal sommeliers love the opportunity to help, educate and inform guests about the different types of vinos onboard. Their exceptional food and wine pairing skills are showcased during the Vintage Room dinner where they present guests with pairings beyond traditional ‘rules’ of mixing and matching food like only pairing cabernet with beef and crisp whites with seafood.
Goran Sharlamanov, the head Sommelier on Crystal Symphony pairs a Shiraz Penfolds RWT, Bin 798, Barossa Valley, South Australia 2014 with a pink-roasted lamb rack with vanilla infused lamb jus, crisp potato gnocchi with oven roasted vegetables. So why? “Shiraz is a full-bodied, peppery and heady wine with flavours of sweet blackberries, cherries and plums. These intense qualities make it a natural match for weighty, rich meats — roasted lamb in particular — since the slight fattiness softens the robust, mouth-drying tannins,” said Mr Sharlamanov. “In return, the wine’s rounded fruitiness gently curbs the lamb’s earthy character. This wine is a proven beauty of pure Shiraz polished by French oak. Intense floral and pepper aromatics accompany a rich, meat and spicy cassis fruit opulence, finishing on a satisfyingly savoury note.”
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No doubt 2020 will go down in cruise history as the year of the pandemic – a once in a generation event. And this year’s Cruise Passenger Readers’ Choice Awards will reflect it.