In the latest extravagance at sea, Oceania Cruises has introduced a six- course Dom Perignon dinner that pairs three vintage champagnes with a remarkable chef’s tasting menu.
The meal, during voyages on Oceania Marina and Oceania Riviera, is a splurge at $295 per person, plus gratuities, but the price is equaled by the decadence of the menu and the opportunity to drink amazing champagne.
For those of us who sip sparkling wine mostly as a ceremonial toast or an occasional aperitif, this Oceania Cruises dinner is a revelation of tastes. Not only do diners drink from generous pours of three Dom Perignon vintages — from 2006, 2009 and a special 2004 rosé — but also taste a series of ingredients in a chef’s menu that was designed to pair and interact with these champagnes.
I experienced the two-and-one-half-hour presentation aboard Oceania Riviera earlier this year. Chefs and waitstaff explain the best sequence for drinking and eating during the six courses.
Each of the three champagnes is paired with two courses. We would start with a sip of champagne without food, followed by tasting a specific combination of food from our plates and drinking the paired champagne.
We paid attention to the changes of flavors and senses in our mouths as the bubbly and food merged like ingredients in a science project — only this endeavor included such specialties as rich foie gras, lobster, and gold leaf atop black truffle risotto.
Scallops with foie gras, accompanied by a deep flavored mole, and roasted pineapple joined the 2009 Dom Perignon for the first course.
In the second course, Brittany blue lobster, yellow curry broth and coco foam awaited the 2006 vintage, as did the third course, the black truffle risotto with aged parmesan.
Out came the 2004 Dom Rosé for a course of very rare sashimi-style Wagyu beef, sautéed arugula, blood orange-soya juice, and French caviar.
The rosé also was paired with the fifth course of French cheeses, served with a black currant-pepper paste and thyme flower, which provided a powerful punch when the pepper met the champagne.
The Dom 2009 returned for a final course of Sakura Geisha flower tea ice cream and caviar-like lemon pearls.
The menu was created by the cruise line’s chef, Franck Garanger, and Moët Chandon/Dom Perignon chef Marco Fadiga. The meal, served in the small La Reserve dining room on Marina and Riviera, is limited to 24 passengers, so reservations in advance of your cruise are highly suggested, either through travel agents or directly with Oceania Cruises.
Oceania, which is known for serving some of the best cuisine at sea – the cruise line brags that it is the best, because it spends the most money per passenger for food – has one-upped the rest of the industry with this first such Dom Perignon champagne and food pairing on a ship.
“You will think about this experience 20 years from now,” said Bernard Klotz, who is culinary director for Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas.
“It’s a new concept, exclusive, spectacular,” said Bob Binder, president and chief executive officer of Oceania Cruises. “We created this dinner to be sophisticated, memorable, a little bit decadent.”
All told, the experience is more than a little bit decadent. Pairing fine wines with special meals at sea. Though this particularly culinary experience is unique, it’s part of an ongoing trend of sophisticated wine-pairing dinners offered aboard a number of cruise lines.
Crystal Cruises, for instance, does extraordinary, intimate wine dinners in its Vintage Room on both its two ocean ships and five river ships, with rare wines paired with gourmet food. On the river ships, the dinner, offered on select nights, is $290 euros (about $330), for an intimate eight-course dinner with fine wine pairings (the capacity is 12 on Crystal Mozart and 10 on the other ships).
On my sailing earlier this year on Crystal Bach, cruising in the Upper Rhine River, the wines included Dom Perignon, Puligny Montrachet and Opus One, matched with top quality ingredients including foie gras and fresh oysters with caviar.
On the ocean-going Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, dinner in the Vintage Room is $250 per person for up to 12 guests and involves six or seven courses paired with fine wines. On occasion, an Ultimate Vintage room Dinner is held with “incredibly rare wines” and food prepared by a visiting celebrity chef, “priced accordingly.” There are also lunch wine offerings on both the ocean and river ships.
On Azamara Club Cruises, the Chef’s Table features five-course wine degustation menus for up to 14 diners, hosted by a senior officer or guest speaker. Themes include Italian, French and Cuban cuisine, all with carefully paired wines ($95 per person).
On six Silversea ships, including the 596-passenger Silver Muse that is the line’s newest ship, Le Dame by Relais & Chateau is a specialty restaurant featuring fine ingredients such as foie gras, caviar and Perigord duck, carefully paired with wine ($60 per person cover charge).
Oceania Cruises also does other food and wine pairings at La Reserve by Wine Spectator, including an elegant six-course La Cuisine Bourgeoise, which pairs wines with dishes inspired by the line’s Master Chef and Executive Culinary Director Jacques Pépin ($112.10 per person). All the experiences including champagne are only on Riviera and Marina.
David Molyneaux writes regularly about cruising news, tips and trends at TravelMavenBlog.com. His cruise trends column is published monthly in U.S. newspapers, including the Miami Herald, and on Internet sites, including TheTravelMave