Nautica diary: During our days at sea we explore the Italian wines and food

Day 10 & 11: Sailing the Indian Ocean

We had to think about whether the second wine tasting would be worth the $25 fee — a bump of $10 from the first tasting. We decided yes, but wondered if we’d regret the decision. We didn’t.

Nautica’s Cellar Master, Preslava Ilieva, a tall, string bean of a woman from Bulgaria who doesn‘t look to have reached age 30, had her audience spellbound within five minutes. Very knowledgeable about her subject, she instructed us on various elements of wine-grape growing, including soil, climate, vines, vineyard management, harvesting and year-to-year variability or vintage.

  Cellar Master Preslava Ilieva prepares to “uncork” a bottle of champagne with her sabre
Cellar Master Preslava Ilieva prepares to “uncork” a bottle of champagne with her sabre

But it was Preslava’s personal anecdotes that captivated us. After asking if anyone in the audience was from France — no one was — she contrasted two winery visits. At the French Grand Cru estate she and her fellow Nautica sommeliers were greeted by a man in a suite who spoke of the Chateau’s long history, the nobility who lived and stayed there, and the long wine-making tradition of the property.

For the Italian winery in Tuscany, they were picked-up in a van by an enthusiastic young woman in jeans and a tee shirt, stopped en route for a cappuccino, and then tasted wine around a long table in the garden, laden with food to share. The latter experience obviously touched her heart. She said the wine and food were shared with love, and believes the wines express it as well. She says Italian wines are her favorite.

 Chef Alban displays his Italian dishes at cooking demo
Chef Alban displays his Italian dishes at cooking demo

We’re beginning to think we’re aboard an Italian ship. The one ethnic restaurant aboard? Italian. The ship’s Executive Chef, Alban Gjoka? Italian. The General Manager, Raffaele Cinque? Italian. The ship’s Captain, Igor Bencina? Italian. And, even though the Cellar Master is Bulgarian, she confesses a preference for Italian wines. And so we say, Viva Italia!

As if to underscore this observation, Chef Alban’s cooking demonstration featured — you guessed it — Italian dishes. He showed a large, attentive audience how to prepare his elegant version of the classic caprese — tomato, mozzarella and basil salad. He calls it “Tomato Carpaccio & Sicilian Tomato-Basil Tatar with Creamy Mozzarella.” He also demonstrated “Zucchini-wrapped Jumbo Shrimp with Angel Hair Pasta al Limone,”and “Panna Cotta with Fruitti di Bosco.” Best of all, he promised to offer some of these dishes a bit later in the cruise.

 The Sampler Dessert plate at Toscana, Nautica’s Italian-themed restaurant
The Sampler Dessert plate at Toscana, Nautica’s Italian-themed restaurant

We have now been aboard Nautica 10 days, and had a chance to meet and talk with a sizeable, if unscientific sample of the passengers. A significant percentage are repeat Oceania cruisers — some multiple times. When we ask why, nearly all mention the food. With one exception only, they say Oceania (or Nautica) has the best food of any ship (or cruise line) they have sailed on. The one exception said they preferred Azamara, but even they allowed that the food aboard Nautica was excellent. And at least one other passenger said the reverse, that while they liked Azmara, they thought the food aboard Oceania vessels superior.

As admitted foodies and Italophiles we can be counted among the contented passengers aboard this vessel. And to think, we signed-up for this cruise based upon the itinerary.


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