A crisp glass of Sancerre or a deliciously rich Chateauneuf-du-Pape with dinner? Yes, please. Indulging in fine wine on your cruise holiday is nothing new, though cruise lines are now placing more focus on wine to offer expert-led programs on land and at sea.
Lines such as Cunard, Silversea and SeaDream offer tailored itineraries with trips to celebrated vineyards to meet the winemakers, plus talks, tastings and pairings onboard with a focus on the provenance of the food and the grape. Other lines are focusing on their wine lists, making sure that interesting bottles are available at wallet-friendly price points.
So if you'd like to learn the difference between a Pouilly-Fuisse and a Pouilly-Fume (the former is made of Chardonnay and the latter Sauvignon Blanc grapes), indulge your inner oenophile with these six cruise lines that are serious about wine.
SeaDream Yacht Club
The luxury line SeaDream Yacht Club -- with its two boutique-style vessels SeaDream I and SeaDream II -- arguably leads the way with its outstanding wine program.
The line's wine director, Martin Arentz, creates a series of annual Wine Voyages that take passengers directly to leading winemakers. Sailings include complimentary wine tastings, a food and wine pairing dinner per voyage -- known as the Winemakers Dinner that is hosted by a representative from a visiting winery -- plus "Yachting Land Adventures" (shore excursions) such as truffle hunting and visiting a local market with the ship's chef that are added to complement wine tours.
Highlights include sailings in the Western Mediterranean, with passengers getting to imbibe in historic vineyards in France and Italy, while learning more about the varieties of wine produced there.
If you care about the origin of the wine you're drinking, a SeaDream Wine Voyage is definitely for you.
Silversea places a strong emphasis on wine and, as part of its "Invictus" culinary enrichment program, the line has carefully selected 50 world wines for its complimentary wine list. The line also has a team of expert sommeliers onboard all cruises.
Silversea offers a selection of wine-themed voyages throughout the year on different ships in different parts of the world, including Spain, Portugal, France and Australia. These are hosted by the line's Wine Ambassador, who is accompanied by leading vintners who share their expertise and introduce you to superlative varieties and vintages. In addition, there are onboard tastings and private tours to leading vineyards and wineries. If you want to get deeper, there is also an introductory sommelier course on offer.
With a strong focus on learning onboard, Cunard has really upped the ante when it comes to wine by offering the chance for passengers to gain a WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Level 1 and Level 2 qualification while at sea. WSET courses are aimed squarely at wine buffs with passengers obliged to complete an intensive three-day course of classes and exams.
All study material, a Champagne reception, commemorative photograph and a four-course pairing lunch in The Verandah restaurant on the final day of the course are included in the $325 (Level 1) and $625 (Level 2) fee. Those that pass also get to sail away with a globally recognized WSET certificate and a lapel pin.
Cunard's wine program also offers fleetwide fine wine seminars, tutored tastings, "Lunch & Learn" wine pairings, plus an annual "Voyage du Vin" sailing on Queen Victoria. The annual wine-themed cruise takes place in September -- prime harvest time in Europe -- and features talks and wine tastings led by world-famous experts such as Oz Clarke. If you have a varied palate, you're in luck as Queen Victoria carries an impressive collection of over 400 wines from 23 different countries, including the famed Chateau Petrus for those with a mega budget.
Upmarket Oceania Cruises offers special Champagne dinners with a brand synonymous with extravagance: Dom Perignon. The partnership involves a six-course tasting menu paired with Dom Perignon wines on the line's two O-class ships, Riviera and Marina.
The indulgent dinners take place once per sailing in La Reserve and sets passengers back $295 per person (plus 18 percent gratuity). But the quality of the wines and the excellent pairings make the cost worth it. Passengers will get to sample three vintage Champagnes -- 2009, 2006 and the Rose 2004 -- with two courses built around each wine. The unusual thing about Dom Perignon -- and what makes it so extraordinary -- is that it's only released in vintages, using grapes harvested in a specific year. And if the grape isn't up to scratch that year, a Champagne won't be released.
If the Dom Perignon menu is too excessive for your budget, three other wine pairing menus are available on alternative nights: The Discovery and The Odyssey ($95 per person) and The Connoisseur ($165 per person). A sommelier talks guests through each pairing while ensuring passengers are suitably lubricated throughout the dinner. And for passengers who don't want to commit to a full tasting menu with wine pairings, the restaurant also hosts wine tastings and seminars.
Celebrity Cruises places a strong emphasis on wine, and claims that of all the cruise lines, it carries one of the largest and rarest collections at sea -- 300 labels and as many as 50,000 bottles. Some 2,500 bottles are on display at any one time in the shimmering glass wine tower that takes center stage in the main dining room of each Solstice-class ship.
The line also boasts what is arguably the most expensive bottle on any cruise line -- a $4,000 Screaming Eagle from Napa, California. (The head sommelier rings the head office in Miami when one of these is sold.)
Celebrity hosts regular wine tastings and cruises timed to coincide with the harvest season in Europe, hosted by U.K. wine experts Amelia Singer and Joe Fattoni, (who can be seen on that country’s Channel 5 TV program The Wine Show). On these sailings, the line creates a series of special wine-themed shore excursions to complement the onboard offering. Passengers can visit vineyards in Spain, France, Italy and even Greece, journeying to the heart of historic wineries such as the Torres Estate near Barcelona.
Princess Cruises expanded its wine program in 2018, overhauling its main dining room wine list to encompass 142 choices from around the world -- most at price points under $50. The redesigned wine list, created to make it easy for even casual drinkers to find what they like, was built by wine expert Doug Frost, one of four people in the world to have both a Master of Wine and Master Sommelier certification. The list is also designed with the line’s ports in mind, so passengers can find local wines from where they are traveling.
Wine is also part of the focus of the line’s culinary-focused shore excursions, developed in partnership with Bon Appetit. Sample tours include an excursion in Sorrento, Italy, that pairs three pastas with three local wines or a trip to the vineyards around Ensenada, Mexico. (Baja California is a hot new wine region, worldwide.) And don't forget Vines, the line's wine bar that has interesting flights and wines by the glass; buy one and your nibbles are complimentary.