Bob Ecker, a well known Napa, California based travel/wine writer and wine judge examined the wines presented aboard popular, luxury All Inclusive Cruises. Here is his detailed report.
Wine and the Luxury Lines
All inclusive luxury cruises are about enjoying the very best of cruising without worrying about extra fees, bills and tips. Luxury cruise lines really do try and please their cruisers and typically the all-inclusives offer top notch cuisine, a good variety of dining options, entertainment, educational opportunities, gorgeous presentations and stellar service.
But what about wine?
Are all-inclusive complimentary wines adequate, good or even superb? Are there enough choices for the luxury traveler? Since the price of a bottle of wine can vary greatly, do the all inclusive cruisers get what they expect when it comes to wine?
Here is what is actually offered and some suggestions on how to enjoy the best wines onboard.
First of all, cruisers must realize that although their cost for an upscale all inclusive cruise may be expensive, the lines still do have to be extremely cost conscious in what they provide. The free caviar at the Sunday brunch isn’t cheap and neither is the fine champagne offered in your room, such as that fabulous bottle of Cuvee Louise by Pommery in a Silversea suite. Both the quality and quantity are factors that the cruise lines consider. For instance, for every person who enjoys a two glasses of complimentary wine at dinner, there are probably others who are enjoying eight to ten glasses per day. When it comes to paying as you go as on standard cruises, this isn’t a problem yet since the all inclusives have to plan ahead and wine can be a wild card. So like many businesses, cruise lines look for value in presenting excellent wines while keeping their costs down. This might translate into purchasing lesser known bottles from smaller, yet-in-the-know, wine regions. For instance, famous Bordeaux might be nice, but a ship alternatively may provide a hearty red blend wine from France’s Languadoc region. Instead of a high-priced Napa Cabernet, one might enjoy a fine complementary wine from California’s Livermore Valley. There might be surprises, like wines from Lebanon, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Canada, Uruguay and even Long Island. Be adventurous – after all if you don’t like it, try another. It’s free. Never really tried rose wines? How about the eminently delectable Domaine Mas Neuf Ros├®, from Compagnie du Ponant’s wine selection. A fine rose wine is well suited to a gorgeous day by the pool at sea.
Crystal Cruises usually has about 20 complimentary wines on any given sailing. The overriding philosophy is to offer good quality and variety, with a nod to regional producers where possible. The T├¬te de Cuv├®e Domaine Laroche is a classic lovely Chardonnay offered on all Crystal vessels.
Next, find out what is available. Each specialty restaurant, along with the main dining room will be tailoring wines toward the cuisine being served; i.e., French, Italian, Asian or Steak house. Seadream Yacht Club’s complimentary wines have been selected at tastings. The wines represent a selection of old and new world varieties and are selected for their taste and quality. The wines do vary according to voyage regions and availability. Chefs and sommeliers will attempt to create successful food-wine matches but keep in mind that, as a guest, you can try and select any of the all inclusive wines served anywhere onboard. You may have to wait a bit, as they source the bottle from elsewhere, but it is important to know that if you don’t care for one or more of the wines there are plenty of other choices.
Wish for something different? You just have to ask.
The restaurants and bars onboard do have a pre-chosen selection of wines and would prefer that most cruisers follow their well thought out suggestions. Remember, if the offering doesn’t suit one’s taste, they will find a wine on the all inclusive list for you, guaranteed.
Silversea Cruises offers the excellent Banfi Centine, a Super Tuscan (Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend); a medium bodied fruity wine with lasting finish that goes well with pasta and other dishes at La Tirazza, the Italian Restaurant. Onboard sommeliers are an excellent resource to find out about the wines on the all inclusive list. Ask about the wine’s region, style and body. Is it a blend, if so, of what? Your waiter, sommelier or friendly bartender will be happy to help.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises carries over 40 wines on their collective all inclusive lists so cruisers will definitely find wines to their liking. One to seek out on Regent’s list is the Estancia Reserve Pinot Noir, from California’s Santa Lucia Highlands. It’s a sumptuous and well balanced new world style Pinot that will pair very well with varied types of cuisine.
What about wines for a special occasion? You might want to spring for an expensive, exclusive or rare find. Here the ships have you covered, as they all carry scores and in some cases hundreds of exclusive wines, champagnes and premium spirits. This list is often called Connoisseurs list, a La Carte, Premium or similar. These lists will include some very expensive wines, but not all. Actually the prices charged for higher-end wines on most vessels are quite reasonable and in many cases less than those charged in a top-flight land-based restaurant. Again, ask your sommelier for suggestions. However on these voyages it is estimated that less than 20% of passengers opt for these wines and the all inclusive lists can be as satisfying. Save your extra money for a first class flight.
Ships may also be collecting and offering wines from the regions they are visiting.
Seabourn Cruise Line also offers a selection of wines with limited production. In addition, on sailings where Seabourn visits popular wine-producing regions, they feature wines from those areas, such as and including Australia, New Zealand, France and more. Special wine tastings, local wine programs and wine dinners are frequently featured (for an added fee) on these types of cruises.
What about bringing your own special bottle from home aboard? Most ships do let you bring special bottles aboard without a corkage fee and will even arrange for special storage if desired. Bring one if you like. Conversely if you’ve loved a wine sampled aboard, definitely ask your sommelier or even your butler for information about procuring that wine back home. It will not always be available.
All in all the all inclusive luxury cruises offer cruisers an excellent way to enjoy wines with meals, on their own, in your cabin or with newfound friends onboard. Take a little time and tasting through them all, or at least the ones of interest. Better yet, gather up a few new friends and make it a wine tasting party.