One of my more memorable cruises was designated a “wine cruise.” For the oenophiles among you, that will certainly sound enticing. But what exactly does it mean? In our case, we were joined by vineyard owners who served their own wine and hosted wine tastings right on the ship, while also experiencing the wines of the region. Delightful!
Throughout a wine cruise, you’ll have the opportunity to get off the ship and explore the wineries and wine hamlets along the famous rivers of Europe, while also being treated to wine education and gourmet food that pair well with the local vintages. You might sail through the northern and southern Rhone Valley (tasting Hermitage, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Cotes -du-Rhone), while also tasting the wines of your host winemaker (for example, a Sonoma County couple from Petaluma Gap wineries, an APA within Sonoma). It’s the best of all wine worlds!
Wine tasting on a perfect summer day in Rüdesheim or a downpour in Strasbourg -- it's all a great experience!
Wine the Austrian Way
While there are many wine-specific sailings and experiences from which to use in Europe, one particular one stuck out to me. For anyone who’s a fan of Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings, this is a must. During this immersive excursion, guests are introduced to the legendary Heurigers (rustic wine taverns) of Austria, where not only will they have the chance to sit back, relax and sip local wine, but to also soak up the regional ambiance.
Throughout this fun, festive evening, local winemakers serve their home-brewed, seasonal vintages, by the glass or in .75-liter bottles called bouteillens. Try Schankweine, tapped from a barrel; Sturm, fermenting grape juice; or Staubiger, a more bitter, almost-fermented grape juice).
The theme of the Heuriger is coziness - what the Austrians call “Gemutlichkeit” (similar to Hygge in Denmark and Norway). Soak up the wine with salads, breads, roasts, cheese and sausage in typical Austrian culinary style. And, of course, there’s music, from guitars and accordions, to violins and zinthers.
How do you know if you’ve stumbled upon a proper Heuriger? Look for the word “Ausg’steckt” on a sign out front and pine and fir branch decoration. You’ll find some of the liveliest Heurigers in Vienna’s 19th district, which is the wine helmet of Grinzing, while the more relaxing Heurigers are in nearby Nussdorf.
My friends and I enjoying wine tasting onboard the AmaSiena. Members of the crew
served us during the Wine Tasting 101 lecture.
Exclusive Wine Experiences
Premier cruise lines pull out all the corks (pun intended) when showcasing the wines of a particular region on a themed cruise. A few of the more notable inclusions I’ve seen are:
Headline speakers such as wine connoisseur Oz Clarke and International Wine Challenge’s co-chairman, Charles Metcalfe, British Master of Wine Tim Atkin, American wine expert and talk show host Robin Stark, Canadian wine expert DJ Kearney, and Australian Master of Wine Andrea Pritzker.
Daily wine tastings, pairings and fine dining, featuring (on some cruises) more than 400 wines from 23 countries.
Masterclasses and guided vineyard visits.
Visiting the Hospices de Beaune in Burgundy, home to a 60-hectare wine estate that produces prestigious wines that are auctioned off once a year.
A private tour of the vast underground cellar, and tastings, at Moet & Chandon.
Where to Wine
Of course, within Europe, you’ll have a wide range of choices, from the XXX to the XXX, but think off the continent as well for your wine cruise. Consider the Mississippi River, the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest and the Mekong River in Vietnam. Before heading out, brush up on your wine knowledge of the region, perhaps hosting your own little wine party with wines from that area. And don’t forget to invite your oenophile friends along on the cruise - it’s all the more fun with other wine lovers aboard!
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