Vol 2 No 14…to North Africa and back (Days 1-3)

What is a culinary and wine cruise? It can mean a number of things. On Windstar Cruises, it means a small ship, 300 passengers with 195 crew (three of whom we knew from our cruise two years ago down the Dalmatian Coast from Venice to Athens – and they remembered us too!). We were on the Wind Surf, the largest sailing vessel in the world but miniscule in relation to the two behemoths we were berthed between when we boarded in Lisbon. Pardon my saying so but going on a ship with 5,000 passengers is my idea of hell. Just getting on and off is a nightmare to me.

The cruise was co-sponsored by the James Beard Foundation and Windstar, their first cruise of this type (they have two more scheduled this year from Lisbon to Dublin and a return voyage). If they are anything like this one, they cannot be beat!

It was billed as having a world class chef and wine expert aboard. That can mean a lot of things including…wine snob. We also were to have three regional wines with each meal – I assumed a two-ounce pour of three wines and you could buy a bottle if you liked one. I assumed wrong! It was all you wanted of anyone, and it started the first night out, not just when we reached Spain two days later. It began with a wine tasting of the three wines we would have later with dinner: Burgan’s Albariño 2014 (an old standby of mine and usually around $14). It is the big cousin of Martin Códax, which is now owned by Gallo; the second was a Rioja Crianza, La Montesa, young and with a slight taste of brambles; last was Finca Villacreces Ribero del Duero. As good as the wines were, these were the lightweights of the trip. The next day was spent at sea as we cruised to Tangiers, Morocco, it’s fifth largest city. The days activities began with a talk on the James Beard Foundation by Kris Moon, director of charitable giving and strategic partnerships of which Windstar is just one. I was so impressed by the foundation that when Kris suggested I join as a professional member I did, especially since they are doing a dinner in Minneapolis in September. This was followed by a culinary class by Michel Nischan, a well-known chef, who showed us amazing ways to cook fish that even fish-haters loved. Also aboard was Michael Sabourin, Windstar’s corporate chef.

Next came the wine seminar and any fears I had of a ‘wine snob’ were immediately alleviated. Our guide was Steve Olson, an amazing man who teaches a course in wine at Cornell University, partners in two restaurants in New York, is a partner in a Mezcal company, Del Maguay, and no it doesn’t have a worm in the bottle! Neither is it harsh and I prefer it to many tequila’s. Steve is not a somme, but he is a sommelier, teaches a class that is for professional bartenders only to be certified which is becoming important in New York…no moves like in Cocktail, just how to mix a perfect drink…isn’t that what WE want? Steve’s experience, after opening two restaurants in the U.S. was in Paris, where I believe he was the first American ever to be hired by Taillevent and allowed to work the floor! Check out his website at akawinegeek.com

We docked early the next morning. with a beautiful view of Tangiers. I had always thought the Casablanca was the one to visit but it is Morocco’s largest city and much of the movie Casablanca was filmed here instead. We took a tour of the old city and the Casbah, which was a huge fortress complete with cannon. The city is multi-denominational with Muslims, Jews, and Christians who all get along. A compromise was reached where the only alcohol is in the old city which appears to work well. Both Barbara Hutton (Poor Little Rich Girl, and the Woolworth heiress who was married nine times each to royalty of different nations), and Malcolm Forbes owned a home here where he celebrated his 90th birthday with a lavish party…died the next year. Make note of that, seniors!

Our guide was Mustafa, in full Muslim dress. He explained many of the traditions and took us through the marketplace. The only flaw was when he steered us to shops where he obviously got a commission. Still it was a great tour and interesting.

In the afternoon, Steve held another wine tasting, this time with Tio Pepé Fino sherry, which I must confess I have not been fond of but found it goes very well with seafood; Trillon, white wine from verdejo grapes in Rueda, close to Ribero del Duero; and a Toro, a red wine (tinto) from along the Douro west of Ribero, called Numanthé. We got underway early so we could pass Gibraltar at sunset which we nearly accomplished. It is a heavily traveled shipping lane so we passed ahead of schedule but at least before it got dark and docked in Malaga following a great dinner and our usual three wine dinner. Spending the night at sea, we docked early the next morning…once again behind two behemoths that beat us to port. Some years ago we had driven from Seville down to Cadíz and along the coast to Malaga where we ate on the beach but never got to see the city because we wanted to see the Andalusian hill towns, all in white before we got to Rondo, home of bullfighting. We were on our way to Grenada to stay at the Alhambra which is incredible if you ever get the chance (Parador de San Francisco). This proved helpful as we didn’t have to take the bus tour there which is over two hours each way. Instead, we roamed Malaga on a tip that the best restaurant there was El Pimpi (I kid you not!). It is a sprawling restaurant with cozy rooms but we chose to eat on the terrace overlooking the Roman amphitheater…spectacular.

The wine tasting after we got underway featured a Rafael Palacios Louro Godello and is like an albariño on steroids, the vines are stressed due to steep granite hillsides , over 100 years old and an elevation of 3,000 feet (note the altitude relative to most other vineyards which are normally below 2,00o feet but this is Spain which is to Europe as Gibraltar is to Spain…a big ROCK!; a Casa Castilio El Molar made from Garnacha; and last a Hacienda Monesterio Crianza, made by mega-producer Protos in Ribero, from 100% tempranillo. Note that all of the wines we tasted are available in the U.S. something Steve made sure of and which was appreciated since what’s the point of finding a wine you like but can’t buy?

Next: Almeira, Cartagena, and the island of Ibiza


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