ON THE WINE ROAD: Of ships, sommeliers and the sea

“From plane to sea, it was plain to see this past fall’s cruise was a fantasy come true”…

By Michael Venezia
Photography by Patti Venezia and Kathryn Ingall

“Cruising” comes from the Dutch work “kruisen,” which means to cross. While pirates were searching for treasure ships to plunder, they would sail in a zig zag pattern moving through the shipping lanes. Obviously this form of sailing was not done on schedule, so many years later yacht owners borrowed the word and applied it to any carefree pleasure voyage.

Our recent seven-day New England to Canada Discovery Cruise aboard the MS Rotterdam was filled with many wine adventures both onboard and at ports of call.

We set sail from the port of Boston after spending exciting time on the evening of Oct. 7 at the Black Rose Pub watching the Boston Red Sox go down in defeat to the Cleveland Indians and the Clemson Tigers overwhelm Boston College on the football field. We were surrounded by professional baseball and college football on multiscreen TVs while enjoying Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay with Guinness battered fish and chips: Pub food and a glass of wine in this high energy Boston public house.

Early Saturday afternoon we joined several hundred guests bound for a maritime adventure. Once aboard we discovered that our Neptune Suite stateroom was stocked with a French Sparkling Wine called Luc de Valmur. Made in Burgundy and tank-fermented, this refreshing Brut was a fitting way to begin our land and sea odyssey with Holland America’s house bubbly.

Saturday evening dinner was enjoyed in the Pinnacle Grill, the fine dining room aboard the MS Rotterdam. I was introduced to a glass of Sokol Blosser Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2014 from the Willamette Valley in Oregon by our sommelier. The bright ruby red wine gleamed in the glass and its balance of red fruit flavors, earthy overtones, and subtle French oak veneer was a fitting compliment to the grilled loin pork chop served with caramelized onions and apple compote.

Our first port of call was rainy Bar Harbor, Maine. The ship’s tenders were lowered and cahors-black-wine-rgbmany brave and hearty souls crossed the choppy bay to the dock. Although my wife, Patti ,and I were prepared for inclement weather, many passengers were compelled to purchase foul weather gear and rain slicks sold in souvenir shops along the quai.

We enjoyed a lunch of New England clam chowder and lobster rolls at the West Street Café with glasses of Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, one of America’s most popular wine brands, found in many of America’s restaurants. The richness of the lobster and the creaminess of the chowder balanced very nicely with this outstanding barrel fermented wine.

Sourced from estate grown fruit along the California coast from Santa Barbara, Monterey and Sonoma, this wine over delivers, and is widely distributed.

During the evening the seas of the North Atlantic became angry and the wind grew fierce.

Our navigation deck cabin was very comfortable but we pitied those whose staterooms were on the lower decks. Wind gusts accelerated to more than 40 miles per hour and when we arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia the howling and whistling wind pelted against our waterproof doors of our stateroom patio.

Although the overnight motion of the ocean caused many guests to remain in their cabins, Patti and I braved the elements and headed out on an offshore bus excursion to the famed lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove.

By the time we arrived, the remnants of Hurricane Matthew turned up the wind volume and the rain lashed the windows making visibility difficult. What I could see was a dramatic landscape, and a tempest tossed sea with this timeless fishing village in steel gray relief.

By the time we returned to the ship our captain announced that to protect passengers and crew, we would remain in port until Matthew headed east out into the Atlantic. Although the remnants of the hurricane were many nautical miles away, the wind made the waters very rough with weather conditions forcing our captain to keep the ship in the port of Halifax until the storm subsided.

At 3:57 am on Oct. 11 we finally set sail for Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. At 48 degrees north latitude, this famed island whose agriculture is dominated by potatoes, is now successfully sustaining vineyards. Blue skies, explosive fall colors and a very British personality welcomed us to this lovely island in the Canadian Maritimes. Circumstances never repeat themselves and we enjoyed playing the hand that life had dealt us.

After a motor coach tour of the island hosted by a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officer, we had a local seafood lunch at a restaurant called Lobster on the Wharf. I enjoyed a glass of PEIChardonnay infused with a delicate splash of local strawberry juice. Produced by a Portuguese wine growing family who immigrated to the Island in 1995, the wine was aromatically appealing with a balanced hint of a “strawberry kiss.”

Succulent–steamed Prince Edward Island Mussels and deep fried Malpeque Oysters were served with their famous potato salad and creamy coleslaw. Looking over the dock to the MS Rotterdam we enjoyed gifts from the sea and vine, appreciating the blue skies and calm sea.

Back aboard the Rotterdam a much deserved restorative nap was taken as the ship left port destined for Quebec City. The overnight sail reached port at 7 a.m. to a brilliant sunrise.

Our morning tour of this historical city which in the 18th century saw England and France fighting for colonial dominance before our American founding fathers declared independence. Patti’s French language speaking skills impressed our tour guide and we enjoyed exploring this Unesco World Heritage Site.

We felt very much at home in this magnificent city overlooking the St. Lawrence River.

The old walled city captures more than three hundred years of history and our lunch was enjoyed at the Bistro Sous le Fort, a French inspired restaurant in the heart of Vieux Quebec. Our server Laurie, easily conversing with us in both French and English suggested we try a dry rose produced from grapes grown in the province of Quebec.

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We were pleased with a classic French onion, gruyere and mushroom quiche. The lovingly prepared flakey pastry crusts were filled with the expertly prepared mixture. So delicious. We each enjoyed two glasses of the Vignoble de L’Orpailleur.

Produced from the cold climate North American grape called Seyval Noir, this well-structured rose had both floral and fruity notes which was both elegant and refreshing. Sturdy and silky, it had the alluring combination of red berries and fresh roses. At 12% alcohol it was easy to drink and deliciously food friendly.

Our last port of call was Montreal. In many ways this Franco-centric city is very reminiscent of Paris. The architecture, the winding streets, alleys and the vieux port mixes together this melange of the old and new world. Again Patti’s French skills charmed concierges and taxi drivers, in addition to restaurant and bar servers.

Our site in the Hotel Place d’Armes looked out over the central business district within a few meters walk of the place Notre Dame and its impressive Catholic cathedral. The trees adorned in their bright fall colors, the carved pumpkin jack-o-lanterns and early sunsets, created a mystical energy in this bilingual sophisticated city.

Suite 701, the Hotel’s restaurant and bar, provided us with several wine options to enjoy at lunch. A glass of steely Chablis from Chateau de Maligny 2015 vintage was called Vigne de la Reine or the vines of the queen. It was a regal selection.

On Sunday, Oct. 16 exploring Montreal was embellished by a driver guide name John McLaren. A Scotsman by birth, he now conducts private tours of Montreal and we benefited from his great knowledge and international business experience.

Retired from the cruise industry, he specializes in his professional guide focus to culture, history, language and politics. A late afternoon visit to the Jean-Talon market was an over-the-top sensory experience.

Our final night’s dinner was at the highly acclaimed restaurant Maggie Oakes in the Hotel William Gray along Place Jacques-Cartier. The stunning space is offset by the dramatic glass doored refrigerators where sumptuous cuts of AAA Alberta beef sit dry ageing until ready to grill. With a wine list and temperature controlled lockers to seduce you visually, the attractive staff is skilled at both food and beverage presentation.

Our starters of locally-sourced oysters with a delicate sauce mignonette and deliciously shredded horseradish, was followed by a beet root salad duo with arugula, roasted walnuts and burnt goat cheese. The seafood course was a roasted Atlantic Cod with celery root mash, carrots and black trumpet mushroom powder. Our 40-day dry aged rib steak served with a wild mushroom medley and grille market vegetables was perfectly cooked and the wine service was outstanding.

Our wine selections were suggested by our server, Stephanie, who presented at the table prior to dinner service a tasting of her favorites. A rare Bourgogne Aligote 2015 from Bouchard Aine complimented the saline ocean characteristics of the oysters while a Michel Chapoutier Marius Rose from the Languedoc complimented nicely the beet salad and roasted cod.

To accompany the medium-rare, dry aged beef a Chateau Les Bouysses Chalors 2013, worked nicely to counterbalance this rich and decadent cut of beef. Also known as the black wine of Cahor, it is produced from the Malbec grape in this ancient part of Southwestern France.

Deep in color, almost opaque with a concentrated black plum and roasted coffee aroma, rich on the palate, the tannins raised the rich texture of the well marbled beef to an exotic level. Primal and elegant, all at the same time.

The evening ended with a taste of cidre de glace, an apple ice wine style, produced from the Quebec region. Neige Premiere is the first Ice Cider on the market. Produced in Quebec and an artisanal beverage, each bottle is the result of hand picking and cidering 80 apples for each bottle. The cidre is a golden yellow color with crisp cider acidity and a ripe sweet apple flavor with a cinnamon kiss.

Exciting to taste these wines which are rarely found in the United States so close to the border. It’s quicker to fly to Montreal than California. Another wine adventure may be planned to Montreal in the spring to visit this great Canadian city and to enjoy its many gifts. It will be celebrating its 375th anniversary so the city will be in the spotlight. 

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