A LIFE ON THE OCEAN WAVE!
I hadn’t realised before now, just how popular are Cruise Holidays. At the end of 2012 I was offered the position of Guest Speaker on The Braemar, one of the Fred Olsen fleet of Cruise Ships, for the beginning of April 2013. As you might imagine I was asked to do a series of talks and tastings about, and using, Spanish wines. You’ll not be surprised to learn that it didn’t take me long to gratefully accept!
Naturally I mentioned this to friends and suddenly I became aware that there are many who have cruised with the same Cruise Line and, of course, others too. In fact it seems to be a sort of club, with ‘cruisers’ delighted to regale you with their best, and occasionally their worst, experiences whilst cruising – and in all manner of places around the globe.
And such diversity too, for example: the Caribbean; the Norwegian Fiords; Australia; Iceland; South East Asia; Russia; and the Amazon. And that’s not counting those who’ve done ‘Round the World’ cruises that take about a third of a year!
Well, sitting in my cabin, several nautical miles off the coast of Andalucia (we’ve just left Malaga) en route to Cartagena, I can now say that I’ve joined the club! No doubt I’m preaching to many of the converted, but honestly you have to try this – it’s fabulous!
Fred Olsen doesn’t skimp. There is an amazing, rather comforting, staff/passenger ratio and the hundreds of crew members are all full of smiles and always pleased to help with any request you may have. It’s clear they are happy in their work. My cabin is luxurious and is in pristine condition every time Luzy, the Cabin Stewardess, leaves. It’s entirely my fault that the same cannot be said of its tidiness when she arrives twice a day – I’m not really domesticated yet! (She’s just this minute knocked on my door to wish me an enjoyable evening and slipped me a chocolate for when I return from dinner!).
The journey here was through Force 8, 9 and 10 gales in the Bay of Biscay with accompanying rough to very rough seas, and I quote the Captain. However there were no problems on board and the crew went about their business with the perfect blend of professionalism and happy bonhomie. Any possible passenger concern floated away on the breeze, well stormy gale actually!
And, talking of blends, there is a lengthy and well chosen wine list with many wine producing areas and grape varieties of the world well represented. I’m pleased to say that this includes Spain, claro, as well as Port from our neighbours over the border. I’m sure this is no coincidence – the theme of this tour is the Food, Wine and Romance of Spain.
So I had a number of wines from which to choose for the Wine tasting that I presented on the second sea day, after my first talk about Spain’s most famous wine producing area, DOCa Rioja. Lectures are normally held in the Neptune Lounge where there are not only perfect Powerpoint facilities (yes I’ve gone all techno now, you know!) but also a team of technicians whose job it is to set up everything and ensure that all runs smoothly, all with a cheeky sense of humour and huge smiles too!
Incidentally DOCa stands for Denominación de Origen Calificada. Rioja was the first, currently of only two, to be given this extra stamp of approval as recognition of decades of excellence in Spanish wine production. The other DO to achieve this revered plaudit is Priorat, now of course DOCa Priorat. Surely DO Jerez must be next?!
I’d been asked to do five talks, plus an extra thrown in at the last minute. Now, if you read this column regularly you’ll know that summing up Spain’s wonderful wealth of wines in just 6 sessions is nigh on impossible. So it was clear that I had to give an idea about how good Spanish wines can be and at the same time encourage passengers to experiment.
I’ve said it many times before, and now I’ve said in the Atlantic Ocean, Spain is a great place to experiment with wines. It’s easy to get into a vinous rut by finding a wine that you like, and sticking to it. I understand the psychology, of course – if you know you like a wine why go off piste and possibly be disappointed? Yes, it’s true you might not, at first attempt, find something the equal or even better than your usual tipple. But the likelihood is you soon will do, in fact I’d say it’s a certainty. And here’s the beauty of it, here in Spain it won’t cost you much!
So with my brief set in stone I considered the Braemar Wine List, which is common to all the restaurants and bars throughout the ship, and I came up with the following which we tasted whilst being tossed about on the ocean waves, but without a care in the world!
Sailing off Galicia at the time it would have been almost rude of me not to select an Albariño! Castro Martin Albariño Sobre Lías from DO Rias Baixas is a super, fresh and tasty aromatic wine, representative of this excellent, prized white wine grape variety. Add to this the fact that the wine has enjoyed time resting on its lees (the sediment left after fermentation and made up of dead yeast and tiny particles of grape flesh) which gives the wine a certain creaminess too, and hey – you have an excellent start for an ocean-going wine tasting event.
In true wine tasting style we next turned to a Rosado wine from way over east, to the aforementioned Rioja. Bodegas Marqués de Cáceres is of course a famous Rioja winery, represented in supermarkets and wine merchants alike. Their rose petal coloured and scented rosé wine is made with Tempranillo, darling of Rioja, and Garnacha, another of the favourites of the area. Raspberry and Strawberry notes abound with that lovely rose, bay another name!
Of course in the modern age, that bastion of quality Spanish wine, Rioja, has plenty of competition – and one of the principle leaders of the opposition is DO Ribera del Duero to the west and of course the source of the River Duero which, if our vessel had been somewhat smaller, we could have sailed to via Portugal’s Douro which of course drains into the Atlantic.
This area boasts the equal most expensive wine in Spain (Pingus, approximately 1,000€ per bottle!). Emilio Moro’s Finca Resalso is somewhat more realistically priced. This Roble/Semi-Crianza 2011 red is a glorious deep and dark red with some purple notes giving away its young age. The nose is super, dark blackberry and blackcurrant notes with a touch of vanilla and cinnamon coming from the four months it’s been in oak. A wine with some time on its side which, in six or nine months, will have lost its slightly green tannin allowing the fruit to come to the fore.
A talk about Rioja has a natural link with a wine from the same area and what better bodega than the second oldest in the region? The Marqués de Riscal founded his winery in Rioja a few years after the Marqués de Murrieta. Both pioneers had, independently, visited Bordeaux and fell in love with the wine. Both, also independently, determined to make wine of similarly high quality on the other side of the Pyrenees. Rioja, and a legend was born.
The 2007 Reserva is made with Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo and has been aged firstly in American Oak for twenty six months and then in bottle for a minimum of two years. Its aroma is pure Rioja – a fine and well judged balance between vanilla oak and rich fruit. Drink now and enjoy!
Finally, it would also have been dreadfully discourteous of me to have ignored one of Portugal’s most valued products, Port. Graham’s Late Bottle Vintage 2007, which Braemar’s restaurants and bars aboard have priced so generously, is a super, rich and vibrant, almost opaque, fortified wine. Its aroma is sensuous, on the palate it’s full of opulence and it loiters with intent for a long time after swallowing!
PS Please call me for details of the super Bodega/Cultural visit I’ve organised for the 22nd May – it’s going to be a great day out with a visit to one of the best examples of Art Nouveau in Spain, Casa Modernista in Novelda; and then to Bodegas Heretat de Sicilia where we have a tour, tasting and lunch – with wine of course! Please e-mail/call 629 388 159 asap as places are limited.