We’ve all heard the quotes about ageing and wine – nuggets like: “Men are like wine – some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age”; or “I am ageing like fine wine – getting more fruity and full-bodied”. But as most of us know, older does not always mean better when it comes to wine. A fruity, bright Vinho Verde from Portugal is made to be drunk young and zesty; and in Beaujolais there is actually a race between producers to get wine made, bottled and served to customers fastest (it’s an astonishing 2 months from vineyard to suburban wine rack). Other wines might be suitable for ageing (a full-bodied red or a sweet dessert wine) but lack the quality in the basic product, meaning that it just get older, not better. But then you have the rare exceptions – like the 1837 Madeira that I recently tried, courtesy of P&O Cruises.
Let me backtrack a few steps. The occasion was an evening of canapés and fine wines to hear about P&O’s forthcoming plans, particularly those related to food and drink – and what better place to talk food and drink than Hedonism Wines, a Mecca for lovers of fine wines and spirits in London. In attendance were a number of food and drink journalists and bloggers, as well as two of the team of food heroes with whom P&O have teamed up to add sparkle to their food and drink offering aboard: the irrepressible Olly Smith and patissier Eric Lanlard, both of whom I had met during the P&O Britannia naming ceremony. Among the news snippets that P&O were able to share with us were the following:
- The P&O food heroes have put their stamp on the traditional British Christmas day menu in P&O ships’ main restaurants on board this year by offering a specially created starter (Atul Kochhar’s soft shell crab tempura with aioli and caper dressing; or James Martin’s butternut squash and lime soup with cinnamon croûtons), main course (Marco Pierre White’s roast free-range Norfolk turkey breast with a slow cooked leg and apricot Wellington, chipolata sausage wrapped in a pancetta blanket, duck fat roasted potatoes, Brussels sprouts, baby carrots, Grahams port and cranberry sauce and turkey jus), dessert (Eric Lanlard’s chocolate and Cointreau pudding with vanilla pod ice cream) and cheese course (regional British artisan cheese selection featuring a bonbon of Long Clawson Stilton served with fruit toasts and a port reduction – all chosen buy Charlie Turnbull).
- Food hero Eric Lanlard’s afternoon tea has been so well received and very popular on Britannia since her launch in March this year that P&O are now offering it on two more large family-friendly ships, the Ventura and the Azura. The tea is served in the stylish surroundings of The Epicurean restaurant, and costs about £15 per person. A Champagne tea will shortly be introduced as well.
- P&O have teamed up with Spark Media to produce Battlechefs, a new travelling cookery programme set at sea, with P&O food hero Marco Pierre White judging the cooking skills of 10 celebrities. Battlechefs will consist of 10 one-hour shows, which will be split into two five part series filmed across two Mediterranean cruises. The show will feature 10 amateur celebrity chefs who will take it in turns to command the Cookery Club kitchen on Britannia. Each cruise will host a self-contained competition featuring five celebrities, who will take turns to assume role of head chef and prepare a meal for the Captain and VIP guests, while each episode will follow the celebrities from port to port as they discover each location and the food grown and produced locally. The first series of Battlechefs will air on UK Watch in Spring 2016.
- P&O have also announced an exciting partnership with renowned chocolatier Paul A Young to join the shop for a limited number of cruises, offering passengers the chance to attend one of his chocolate masterclasses as well as guided shore excursions. Paul was aboard Britannia in December and will join Ventura in February for a chocolate-themed visit to Bruges, a chocolate masterclass and a hosted dinner.
But what about the fine wine, I hear you ask? As I mentioned, the wines had been selected by Olly Smith and contained some real corkers. We were welcomed by glasses of Krug Grand Cuvee Champagne, an elegant non-vintage bubbly with toasty notes balanced out by a lemony freshness. This was followed by a magnum of 2012 Montelena Chardonnay from the Napa Valley in California. I have never been one of those “anything but Chardonnay” wine drinkers. I love Chardonnay in every style from unoaked to sparkling to chewing-on-the-barrel wooded – but even I could see that this was a wine to convince even the most ardent Chardonnay-phobes. With no malolactic fermentation and minimal oak, it was a gloriously pure expression of the Chardonnay grape with none of the overwhelming creaminess that many people dislike. Next up we tasted a magnum of 1998 Barolo Cannubi Boschis Sandrone, a superbly rich and concentrated Italian red with toasted oak, spice, mineral and dark, ripe fruit flavors. But there was even better to follow: a magnum of 2005 Verité La Joie from Sonoma – a classic Bordeaux blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec which was given a perfect score of 100 points by critic Robert Parker (one of only about a dozen wines to achieve this). Despite a hefty 14.7% alcohol, this is a superb wine with a nose of blackberries, fruitcake and notes of lead pencil and a rich, ripe full-bodied palate that fills the mouth without every being too overwhelming or tannic. Utterly delicious! But Olly was saving the rarest for last: a single bottle of Bual Reserve Oscar Accioly Madeira made in 1837 (the year that P&O was established) and one of probably only a handful left in the world. A bottle of this was sold at auction in 2014 for £1,600 so a hushed silence fell around the table as our tasting portions were poured. The colour was a beautiful clear amber and the palate was rich, nutty and surprisingly youthful – such a special treat!
The wines were accompanied variously by canapés (the smoked salmon with caviar and the crab tartlets stood out); an excellent selection of cheeses; patisserie from Eric Lanlard; and chocolates from Paul A Young. Charlie Turnbull’s selection of British cheeses was just superb and included some Wigmore (soft ewe’s milk cheese); Sharphams Cremet (a soft cheese made from a mixture of cow and goat milk); Goddess by Alex James (a creamy semi-hard cheese washed in cider brandy – my favourite); Swaledale goat (soft, creamy and enjoying PDO protection); Worcester White (an adaptation of Cheddar with a fabulous nutty flavour); Cornish Kern by Catherine Mead (a washed curd cheese similar in style to Edam but with its own distinctive flavour); and Blue Monday by Alex James (a wonderfully creamy and aromatic blue cheese). Eric Lanlard’s patisserie was as delicious as it was gorgeous – my favourites were a mini-bombe of blueberry mousse covered in a glistening layer of blueberry jelly on a biscuit base; and a pistachio financier. And of course, I can never resist chocolates from the hugely talented Paul A Young!
See the P&O website for more info on the Battlechefs programme or for more info on special food heroes cruises. Or have a look at what I thought of Britannia when I spent a night aboard for her 2015 naming ceremony.
DISCLOSURE: I attended this event as a guest of P&O Cruises but received no further remuneration to write this post. I was not expected to write a positive review – all views are my own and I retain full editorial control.
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