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 programmes 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.
So if you're keen 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.
Picking up Best Dining in the Luxury category in the Cruise Critic Editors' Picks Awards (UK) 2018, SeaDream Yacht Club -- with its two boutique-style vessels SeaDream I and SeaDream II -- arguably leads the way with its outstanding wine programme.
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 and you'd like to learn more about its provenance, a SeaDream Wine Voyage is definitely for you.
Silversea places a strong emphasis on wine and, as part of its "Invictus" culinary enrichment programme, the line has carefully selected 50 world wines which form 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 revision 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-recognised WSET certificate and a lapel pin.
Cunard's wine programme 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 if you've expensive taste and a large wallet to match, it's 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.
Wine expert Olly Smith has worked with P&O Cruises -- a favourite line among British cruisers -- as one of the line's three Food Heroes since 2010. Overseeing The Glass House wine and tapas venue onboard Aurora, Azura, Britannia and Ventura, Olly has selected 38 wines for the menu and created pairing suggestions for dishes.
Olly appears on several sailings each year -- including Spain, Madeira and Canary Islands and Norwegian Fjords voyages -- leading wine tastings, wine-paired dinners, taking part in Q&A sessions and once-per-sailing "An Evening with Olly Smith" events. In port, passengers can sign up to take part in wine-themed shore excursions, such as visits to local winemakers and vineyards in Madeira and a brewery tour and tasting session led by the wine expert in Bergen, Norway.
P&O Cruises' next new ship, Iona -- the biggest-ever ship purpose-built for the UK market -- debuts in May 2020 and will continue the line's commitment to food and drink by offering 30 venues onboard, including seven speciality restaurants and 12 bars, including The Glass House. Homeporting in Southampton for its first summer season means Iona is a perfect fit for anyone looking for a no-fly option.
Celebrity has teamed up with Channel 5's "The Wine Show," whose hosts, Amelia Singer and Joe Fattorini, appear on select cruises. The line places a strong emphasis on wine, and claim that of all the cruise lines, it carries one of the largest and rarest at sea -- 300 labels and as many as 50,000 bottles. Some 2,500 of which are on display at any one time in the shimmering glass wine tower that takes centre stage in the main dining room on the Solstice-class of ships. 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 the aforementioned experts who have created 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.