A Gastronomic Escape in Italy: A deVine Club Wine Dinner at Royal Cliff

Mrs. Panga Vathanakul, (3rd right) MD of the Royal Cliff Hotels Group with her team and special guests. (l-r) Sukrit Thanusutiyaporn, Malisa Lutzi, Grip Areecharoenlert, Pimolpat Thanusutiyaporn, Gloria Jones, Thibault Sellier, Jens Schmidt, Colin Hastings and Chan Vathanakul.

The deVine Club, the exclusive wine club of the Royal Cliff Hotels Group, hosted a wine dinner titled, “A Gastronomic Escape in Italy: Discover the Land of Villa Montecastello” on Saturday, December 2, 2023. The event was a celebration of the exquisite cuisine and wines of Tuscany, featuring a four-course set menu prepared by Royal Cliff’s talented chefs, Peter Held and Nick Vonk, and their culinary team, along with premium wines from La Rasina winery, offered by the wine supplier Cornerstone.

The evening commenced at The Bar of Royal Cliff Beach Hotel, where guests enjoyed deluxe canapés and Prosecco Spumante Extra Dry D.O.C. Tosti, a refreshing sparkling wine from Veneto. The bar’s ambiance was festive and welcoming, where guests mingled and chatted with each other, while listening to the soothing music of a live band.

The guests were welcomed by Mrs. Panga Vathanakul, the MD of the Royal Cliff Hotels Group, who expressed her gratitude for their continued support and loyalty to the deVine Club. She also introduced Mr. Jens Schmidt, the director of La Rasina winery and the owner of Villa Montecastello, a luxury farm stay in Tuscany, as the wine speaker of the night.

The exclusive dinner was served at the Royal Grill Room and Wine Cellar, an elegant restaurant that offers a superb selection of steaks and seafood, as well as an extensive wine list. The restaurant was transformed into a cozy and intimate setting, where the tables were adorned with white tablecloths, silverware, and wine glasses. The guests were seated according to their preferences, and were greeted by the friendly and attentive staff.

Thibault Sellier (left) Manager of Royal Cliff Hotels Group & PEACH, welcomes the guests as Marco Mantengoli (right) owner and winemaker of La Rasina winery, shares his passion and expertise about the wines of Tuscany.

Mr. Schmidt shared his passion and expertise on the wines and the region of Tuscany, as well as his fascinating journey as an architect, a farmer, and a winemaker. He graduated as an architect from a university in Germany, then pursued his passion for stone architecture and stone restoration in Italy since 1992. In 1993, he purchased a 1000-year-old ruin and meticulously restored the historic site using only local materials. In 1996, he began producing one of the world’s best olive oils on the Montecastello farm, which brought him in touch with the ‘young rebels of farming and winemaking’ in Tuscany. These young rebels were advocating for the use of indigenous varieties over international grapes and organic farming methods instead of conventional farming.

In 1997, he was hired by La Rasina as the Wine Director and still holds this position today. Continuing his journey in the Wine Industry, from 1998 to 2001, he worked for Matura, a well-known winemaking firm in Tuscany, overseeing the growing demand for indigenous wines and handling all foreign communications. In 1999, his olive oil, Primo Olio, won the Gold Medal at the Los Angeles County fair, which brought him in touch with many well-known American chefs and the restaurant world. In 2005, he opened the hospitality side of his own farm business at The Villa Montecastello, a place where many well-known chefs chose to travel to in order to hold cooking and wine classes.

Jens also gave an insight into the history and philosophy of La Rasina winery, which was founded in 1978. La Rasina is known for producing high-quality wines that reflect the terroir and the tradition of Montalcino, especially the Brunello di Montalcino, one of the most prestigious and sought-after wines in the world. He explained the characteristics and the production process of each wine, as well as the best food pairings for them. He answered questions and comments of the guests, who were eager to learn more about the wines and the winery.

The first course was a warm appetizer of seared miso marinated barramundi fish, served with sweet potato puree, pickled fennel, turnip, and white wine sauce. The dish was paired with Sanice Vernaccia di San Gimignano Reserva D.O.C.G. Cesani, 2020, a crisp and aromatic white wine from Tuscany, made from the Vernaccia grape variety. The wine had a floral and fruity bouquet, with notes of apple, pear, and citrus, and a mineral and almond finish. The wine complemented the delicate flavor and texture of the fish, as well as the tangy and sweet elements of the sauce and the vegetables.

Diners enjoy the exquisite cuisine featuring a four-course set menu prepared by Royal Cliff’s talented chefs. (Bottom right) A glimpse of the Royal Cliff’s exclusive wine cellar, where over 36,000 bottles of exquisite wines from around the world are stored.

The second course was a soup of double boiled duck consomme ravioli, filled with porcini mushrooms, and garnished with focaccia crisp and black olive tapenade. The soup was paired with Brunello di Montalcino D.O.C.G. La Rasina, 2013, a full-bodied and complex red wine from Tuscany, made from the Sangiovese grape variety. The wine had a ruby red color, with aromas of cherry, plum, leather, and spice, and a smooth and velvety palate, with fine tannins and a long and elegant finish. The wine enhanced the rich and savory flavor of the duck and the mushrooms, as well as the crunchy and salty contrast of the focaccia and the tapenade.

The main course was a grilled Australian beef flank, served with caramelized beet puree, fried polenta, zucchini cannelloni with pepperonata, buttered baby carrots, and port and balsamic reduction. The dish was paired with Brunello di Montalcino Riserva il ‘Divasco’ D.O.C.G. La Rasina, 2012, a powerful and intense red wine from Tuscany, made from the Sangiovese grape variety. The wine had a deep garnet color, with aromas of blackberry, currant, tobacco, and chocolate, and a rich and structured palate, with firm tannins and a persistent and harmonious finish. The wine matched the succulent and tender flavor of the beef, as well as the sweet and earthy notes of the beet and the polenta, and the spicy and acidic balance of the pepperonata and the reduction.

The dessert was a chocolate and hazelnut panna cotta, served with caramel sauce and berry compote. The dessert was complemented by Verneccia di San Gimignano D.O.C.G. Cesani, 2022, a sweet and luscious white wine from Tuscany, made from the Vernaccia grape variety. The wine had a golden yellow color, with aromas of honey, apricot, and candied fruit, and a smooth and balanced palate, with a refreshing acidity and a long and pleasant finish. The wine contrasted the creamy and nutty flavor of the panna cotta, as well as the caramel and berry flavors of the sauce and the compote.

The wine dinner was a success, as the guests enjoyed the exquisite food and wine pairings, as well as the informative and entertaining presentation by Mr. Schmidt. The event was also a great opportunity for the deVine Club members to socialize and network with fellow wine enthusiasts, as well as to discover the land and the culture of Tuscany. The guests praised the flair and the excellence of the whole event, and expressed their appreciation to the Royal Cliff Hotels Group, the deVine Club, Cornerstone, and La Rasina winery for organizing such a wonderful wine dinner. The deVine Club is looking forward to hosting more wine dinners in the future, featuring different cuisines and wines from around the world.

Mrs. Panga Vathanakul together with her team and the outstanding kitchen crew stand for a group photo as Jens Schmidt beams after receiving a token of appreciation from the Royal Cliff management.