I still remember the taste of the braised short rib with the Silver Trident Cabernet Sauvignon – amazingly tender combined with layers of fruit and spice in the wine, an all-star pairing in my book. It was only the second night of my cruise with my wife, Jodi, and my daughter, Cara, and we were enjoying a celebratory night at La Reserve by Wine Spectator aboard Riviera. Our longtime friends, the Tellones and Tarquins, were dining with us and celebrating milestone anniversaries. It seemed like the perfect way to kick off our cruise together since so much of what we enjoy together is good food and good wine.
As the staff presented us with one incredible course after the other – a lobster and mascarpone pancake, foie gras and creamy pumpkin ravioli – we traded stories of our adventures and old times shared. My friend Dino pulled up an old college photo us and our big hair and goofy grins took us straight back to Cal before I transferred to Nebraska. We reminisced about vineyards we’ve toured in Tuscany and tequila estates we’ve visited in Mexico. We toasted to continuing adventures we knew we’d have on this cruise. We also shared stories and photos of our grandchildren back home – yes, we’re all proud grandparents now. Time flies.
In fact, it was after my days with the L.A. Rams when my passion for food and wine really took root. I became more and more interested in the California wine culture and decided to try my hand at making wine. In 2010, I started my home vineyard in the foothills of Orange County and began planting vines. I’m of Italian descent so I was drawn to this region’s rolling hills – they seemed perfect for a vineyard. My favorite varietals tend to be Italian, so I decided to grow Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to make a blend that’s a Super Tuscan. It was a family effort and we’re proud of it, so we named it after our daughters — Caressa J. for Venessa, Jenna and Cara.
Now, whenever my wife and I travel, we love to get to know the culture through its local food and drink, so we had several wine tastings and special culinary adventures lined up. Tonight was opening night – and boy was it a hit. Another memorable wine of the evening for me was the 2011 Valsanzo Vall Sanzo Crianza from Ribera del Duero – leaving Spain that evening, it was perfect. Fresh and round, it paired perfectly with the scallops and Spanish ham. And the courses gave us so many more ideas for the gourmet dinners we do and how to pair the dishes with the best wines.
It was a few years back when we started a gourmet dining club. My wife, Jodi, loves to cook and so do several of our friends, so it sort of just unfolded naturally. Now the hosting couple decides on the menu for the evening, picks recipes for each couple to prepare and share. We’ve made everything from osso buco and risotto Milanese to beef Wellington. It’s no secret that the wine has always been the foremost part of the meal for me, while Jodi likes to plan the meal and then choose the wine. So of course, one of the highlights of the evening for me was when the Senior Executive Chef, Alban Gjoka, confirmed my intuition – that you can – and perhaps even should create meals around the wine you want to drink. That’s a moment I’ll remember, and be sure to remind Jodi of!
By the time we reached the raspberry caramelized mille feuille, we were having such a good time reminiscing and telling stories that none of us were ready to leave. Other tables wound down their evenings at La Reserve and headed back to their rooms. We were the last table to leave that night, and we still had the rest of the cruise – and so many more great dining experiences – ahead of us aboard Oceania Cruises.