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Great wines on a great voyage: how luxury ships outdo each other with their wine offerings

Wine connoisseurs do not want to miss out on enjoying top wines on a cruise. The ships in the luxury segment outdo each other with their range of fine and rare wines, wine events and wine service.

A shipping company's advertisement lists the skills a sommelier should have to work on board: fluency in English, excellent wine knowledge, preferably according to the WSET Level 3 training standard, excellent knowledge of the harmony of wine and food, service orientation, exceptional communication skills. And the ability to lead teams "in a culturally diverse and dynamic environment".

Guests on board should also experience something special when it comes to wine service on their cruise. This can also be seen in the wine lists of the top ships. The wine list of the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection includes around 200 different items. The rarities on the menu will make your mouth water: Château Lafite is available as a 2015 and 1990 vintage, there are four vintages of the DRC monopole La Tâche (2015, 2005, 2003, 1999) and also the Pomerol high-carat Pétrus (2016, 2009, 2000, 1990). You can enjoy Corton-Charlemagne by Louis Latour, Opus One, Solaia or Château d'Yquem by the glass. There aren't many restaurants on land that offer such a range either.

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The "Europa 2" from Hapag-Lloyd Cruises even has 550 different references on its menu with 150 different champagnes alone, including Krug Clos du Mesnil, Dom Pérignon "Plénitude" P2 and Roederer Cristal. The selection of still wines ranges in price from 30 to 6,000 euros a bottle, with names such as Mouton Rothschild, Leflaive, Leroy and Klaus Peter Keller.

The Crystal Cruises shipping company, which also specialises in the top segment, offers 220 items in its "Waterside" restaurant, including gems such as Bâtard Montrachet from Etienne Sauzet, several vintages of Romanée-Saint-Vivant from DRC, all five Premiers Crus from Bordeaux, Barbaresco Sorí Tildin from Angelo Gaja, Nicolás Catena Zapata from Argentina, or fine sweet wines from Kracher, Château d'Yquem and Royal Tokaji.

The ships of Seabourn Cruises are somewhat more modest, but from the point of view of price and enjoyment they are quite coherent with a range of wines that includes Chablis Grand Cru Les Blanchots from Laroche, Meursault from Louis Latour, Chateauneuf-du-Pape of both colours from Château La Nerthe, Amarone from Bertani or Mas La Plana from Torres.

© The Ritz Carlton Yacht Collection

Winemaker on board

The luxury class providers not only attach great importance to their wine selection, they also know the value of wine for entertaining guests on board. For example, the Norwegian Hurtigruten line recently left 1700 bottles of an English sparkling wine at the bottom of the Arctic sea, raised the treasure in May and is now serving it on the ships, stories included. Almost all providers in the upmarket segment also offer wine pairing seminars, tasting courses or even vertical tastings and master classes. The lines pay particular attention to the combination of food and wine; for example, the Evrima ship from the Ritz Carlton Yacht Collection is currently focusing on Israeli cuisine and wines from Israel.

Top winemakers are also welcome guests on board. "Black Print" cult winemakers have already been on board the Europa 2, for example. Markus Schneider or even Günther Jauch (von Othegraven) as a guest at Crystal Cruises have, among other bottles Christian Moueix (renowned Pomerols and Dominus/Napa). Gerhard Kracher and Roman Niewodniczanski (Van Volxem) have presented their wines on board, and even Jancis Robinson has been won over for a wine seminar.

Regent Seven Seas offers Doug Frost for its Wine & Dine evenings - one of the few people who also hold the titles "Master Sommelier" and "Master of Wine". Seminars with Aurélio Montes from Chile or Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy from Mouton-Rothschild will soon be available on The World. The Norwegian line presents Rob Mondavi Jr, Antonio Hidalgo (Sherry La Gitana) and Languedoc star winemaker Gérard Bertrand in the "Meet the Winemaker" series.

© Jack Hardy

Condominium at sea

The MS The World offers the most extensive and probably also the highest quality wine list at sea. Beverage Manager Marinela Ivanova, who worked in Germany at the "Schlosshotel Bühlerhöhe" before joining The World in 2008, has an extensive wine list with 1400 references from 19 countries. Thanks to the Coravin system, 40 wines alone are also served by the glass. With the champagnes, the menu also includes vintners' champagnes alongside the major brands, for example from Pierre Gimonnet, Larmandier-Bernier, de Sousa, Egly-Ouriet. The land of milk and honey continues with Burgundy and Bordeaux, such as Meursault Les Perrières from Leroy, Clos de la Roche from Ponsot and even a Corton-Vergennes, which was bought especially for The World at the auction of the Hospice de Beaune.

From Bordeaux, the list includes seven vintages of Lynch-Bages, three vintages each of Lafite and Mouton, four vintages of Haut-Brion and all other top-class wines with one or two vintages. The bitter truth, however, is that you can't simply book a trip on The World. The ship does not define itself as a cruise ship, but as a "private residential ship". This means that you have to be (or become) the owner of one of the 165 studios or apartments on board to benefit from this offer. According to the agency in charge, studios are always for sale for prices between two and 15 million US dollars plus the annual costs of maintaining the ship.

© Hapag Lloyd Cruises

Cheaper providers have their own laws

A review of numerous other wine lists shows that the quality of the wines on tap drops very quickly when you move away from the absolute top suppliers. With many of the price lists, even in the upper mid-range, it is quite obvious that purchases are made primarily according to margin. Drinks packages are also frequently offered, which represent a kind of flat rate for wine consumption on board. The vast majority of these offers are clearly not recommended. At least Norwegian offers a "Premium Plus" package in this genre, which includes some acceptable to good wines, such as Eroica from Washington (Loosen/Château St. Michelle), Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Malbec or Dow's Quinta do Bomfim Port.

A guest of a mid-range cruise ship interviewed by Falstaff said that he often found the wine bar on board deserted despite 5,000 passengers. But nothing is so bad that it doesn't have a good side: one item of champagne stood out from the overall mediocre offer; a bottle of Dom Pérignon 2012 was on the menu for 120 dollars. Significantly below retail price.


Ulrich Sautter
Ulrich Sautter
Wein-Chefredakteur Deutschland
Aakriti Dhawan