By Don George
What happens when you put Crystal’s VP of Food and Beverage Operations, two Crystal Head Sommeliers, one Culinary Institute of America (CIA)-affiliated Master Sommelier and Professor of Wine, one veteran grape-grower and one acclaimed wine-maker together in a room in Napa Valley? An amazing blending of minds – and the creation of great wines.
That’s what I learned recently on a day in St. Helena, in California’s storied Napa Valley, touring and tasting with Crystal’s Toni Neumeister, Boris Aletic and Tilmar Pfefferkorn as part of Crystal’s annual Wine Summit. The Summit brings together some of Crystal’s top wine experts for a few days of wine visits and discussions with wine-makers and growers, which, this day, included Robert Bath, head of wine studies for the CIA and frequent Crystal guest expert and consultant.
The climax of my day was the aforementioned blending meeting at a gracious home in St. Helena. The purpose was to put the finishing touches on the signature 2015 Crystal C Reserve vintages of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The experts assembled around a long table in an elegant dining room with beautiful wooden beams, a wine-and-cork-colored Oriental carpet, a warming fire in a fireplace, and a soul-soothing view of vines just outside and lush green hills in the distance. Four glasses were placed in front of each expert, along with pens and pads for note-taking. The first wine, a 2015 Chardonnay, was poured. Glasses were raised and twirled, and the bouquet and color were assessed. Then glasses were tipped to lips and silence set over the room. Much serious swishing, tasting, and spitting ensued, with each expert jotting notes.
Questions were asked about the weather and the field the grapes came from. A lively discussion of the “fruit” ensued as the robustness of this particular area was discussed. “I really like the freshness,” one taster said. “I think we can drink this late spring, early summer,” another opined. “I wouldn’t add any oak. I wouldn’t make any changes,” a third enthused.
One by one, the wines were tasted and assessed, as lively discussion and laughter alternated with stretches of intense silence, swishing, scenting, sipping, and note-taking. The conversation ranged from the effects of rain and sun on the grapes, to the chemical reactions produced by a certain wine, to the ineffable art of getting just the right combination of tannins and textures. The dining room resonated with comments such as “I’d like to see riper, sweeter fruit in the ‘15,” “People love velvety,” and “I’d like a little more structure and a little more tannin.”
For me, the afternoon was a wonderful education with many rich lessons: One was the way that great wines are a marriage of art and science, of chemistry, palate, and a kind of soulful attunement to the grapes and the process itself. Another was how wine is a living thing that changes over time and how that truth is a fundamental part of the winemaker’s craft and art. The third lesson that emerged as I watched Neumeister, Aletic, and Pfefferkorn taste, assess, discuss, and delight, was the extraordinary passion, expertise, and commitment to quality that Crystal brings to the creation of its wines, a combination that bloomed over a delicious afternoon among the vines and wines of Napa Valley.
This passion and commitment are evident in the tableside discussions held between Crystal sommeliers and guests – from discerning connoisseurs to novice wine drinkers – each night in the ships’ elegant eateries. Those conversations about the line’s proprietary wine label and extensive selections of other wines on board are possible because of educational enrichment and the continued pursuit of excellence by the Crystal team.
Guests can experience their own wine enrichment during elaborate multi-course Vintage Room dinners aboard Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, or simply while enjoying dinner in the ship’s restaurants and in the Yacht Club aboard the new Crystal Esprit