From Stew to Sommelier

30 September 2009 By Di Thompson

Professional interior crew need to be confident in their sommelier skills – especially as many of the guests they host on board are experienced wine connoisseurs, some with a pricey cellar at home to prove it. Stews know the importance of making an impact on guests by pairing an excellent selection of fine wines with the cuisine served aboard their yacht.

Peter Panousis, the regional manager of Mezzanine Wines for Queensland, Australia, has more than 25 years’ experience in all areas of hospitality. He has owned and operated five-star restaurants, lectured on hotel management at Griffith University and is food and beverage consultant to several Gold Coast charter yachts. Panousis wrote the book on how to plan a menu, highlighting the details of matching international cuisines and fine boutique wines. (Check out for more information.)

“On food and wine matching,” Panousis says, “there are no strict rules, only traditions – and such traditions are always in the process of change.” However, he offers some general guidelines to keep in mind:

Dry before sweet; white before red; younger before older; lighter styles before fuller-bodied; chilled before room temperature.

Always serve wines at the appropriate temperature:

  • Sparkling: 4° – 8° C
  • White: 8° – 12° C. If a white wine is too cold, it will lose its flavor.
  • Red: 15° – 18° C. Reds should be neither too hot nor too cold.

    Decant aged red wines before serving. Ideally, they should be open 30 to 40 minutes prior to pouring.

    The general food-pairing approach should be to match the weight of the wine with the weight of the dish. Full-bodied wines will ruin finely flavored dishes. A delicate wine like a riesling or semillon perfectly complements a delicate dish such as scallops, oysters or prawns.

    Team the wine with the dominating flavor of a dish; for example, a spicy shiraz with a spicy Indian curry.

    Try not to limit yourself to the typical “white meat with white wine, red meat with red wine” mentality. A pan-fried Mahi-Mahi fillet may go well with an earthy, light-bodied red.

    Make sure to ensure the wine is sound for drinking by checking for any faults before serving:
    Sight – Young whites may have a green tinge. If this is the case, it may be too young to drink. An older white with a golden/yellow hue may have strong characteristics, unsuitable for delicate foods, so save these for heavier dishes. White wine should be clear and bright; any indication of cloudiness may mean it is faulty.

    Smell – Should be clean, fresh fruit for young wines. Older styles may have a more dull and lingering scent. An aroma of sulfur, acetate or mold means there is a fault with the wine, so do not serve it. Older wines under cork may have a musty smell that may “blow off” within a few minutes of being opened.

    Taste – This is traditionally done at table by one of the guests. However, if you suspect a fault with the sight and smell initially, taste-test a small sample yourself, checking any unpleasant chemical flavors, before serving.

    Have a reasonably large selection of wines on board in order to suit all people, dishes, occasions and levels of connoisseur expertise and offer alternate styles along with your main selection. Add wines that represent the best of the regions you are visiting. It may mean you will have to be very creative with your storage space, but it will be worth the trouble.

    While most charter yachts emphasize the prowess of their chef over the size of their cellar, pairing the right wines with food provides the finishing touch to a memorable yachting experience.