Europe is a prime locale for wine cruises, especially the continent’s rivers, which bring passengers close to many storied vineyards and wineries.
The Mediterranean also is a favorite for such cruises, but full wine-themed cruises also are offered in regions where no wines are made, such as the Caribbean and Alaska.
A winemaker or winery owner often sails with the group, bringing his products on board for participants to taste. On del Rico’s cruise, for instance, Holly and Amy Turner of Three Rivers Winery in Washington state were in charge of the group.
Tastings on board wine cruises usually involve more than perfunctory sips. They may be vertical tastings (like the last 10 years of a wine), component tastings (trying out each component of a blended wine) or library tastings (retrospective samples), Martin said. “For example, we had tastings from each of 25 years of Chateau Montelena on a recent cruise.”
Shore excursions for wine-cruise guests are designed to enhance the total wine experience. “We have private tours, tastings and four- or five-course dinners at wineries ashore, usually with the winery owner or winemaker,” said Martin. Among wineries visited on Food and Wine Trails cruises are Domaine Janisse at Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France, and Azienda Sorrentino, on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius in Italy.
River cruisers in Europe have easy access to vineyards and wineries ashore. AmaWaterways’ wine cruise passengers, for instance, tour the Bergweiler Winery in Bernkastel on the Moselle River, the Loisium Winery at Krems on the Danube, and the Berg Rottland Winery at Rudesheim on the Rhine. Among other sites, Avalon’s wine cruisers visit Maison Bouachon, a vineyard in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region of France.
Depending on the particular cruise, Celebrity’s wine cruisers might visit such wineries as Chateau Giscours in Bordeaux, Chateau de la Grille in the Loire Valley of France, and El Fabulista Cellars in Spain’s Rioja region.
Visits like these may offer an opportunity to try uncommon wines. Guests on a Food and Wine Trails wine cruise on an Oceania sailing next year will tour the Ornellaia Winery in Tuscany, which received a perfect 100 score from Wine Spectator. And on her Oceania wine cruise, Julie del Rico got to taste a red wine called Sassicaia on a shore excursion to Bolgheri, Italy, and liked it so well that she searched back home until she found a restaurant that stocks it.
As wine buffs tend to be more affluent, most (but not all) wine-themed cruises are offered aboard upscale or premium cruise lines, among them Crystal, Silversea, Regent, Oceania, Azamara and Celebrity, as well as some European river lines.
There is no comprehensive list of wine cruises. Many travel agencies and some cruise lines offer them. Search the Internet for “wine cruises” and you will see dozens of offerings. Cruise lines themselves may not have information on wine cruises on their ships that were organized by outside groups.