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A Mediterranean Cruise For Wine Lovers

Sipping–not shuffleboard–is the game on this boat

The thought of being held captive on a ship in the middle of the Ocean sounds like a sentence of confinement for many. But things have changed on the high seas, from luxurious amenities to exotic ports of call. Cruise lines are making customized itineraries for the likes of history buffs, arts aficionados and especially for the growing number of wine enthusiasts around the world. Such is the case with the Silversea Cruise Line. Organizing onshore winery visits, tastings and seminars with world-renowned experts, their itineraries combine the luxury of a cruise with visits to exclusive vineyards not normally accessible. Silversea’s Silver Shadow cruise liner, which my wife and I had the pleasure of calling home for 10 days, was a floating resort complete with a spa, exercise facility, several dining options, an extensive wine cellar with 15,000 bottles (sommelier, too), pool complex, Internet café, libraries and special history lectures by a guest scholar. Our on-site wine instructor for the cruise, Stephanie Putnam, winemaker of Napa’s Far Niente vineyards, was available to guide us through the unique wine regions we would explore. In addition, she hosted an onboard winemaker dinner and conducted food and wine pairings. These gatherings gave us the chance to discover not only outstanding wines, but also the incredible diversity of our fellow voyagers. We traded wine stories and tasting notes with wine devotees from all corners of the globe: Hong Kong, Australia, Britain and South Africa, to name a few.

Turkish Delights And Greek Volcanoes

Our specialty wine cruise on the Silver Shadow (with a maximum of 285 passengers) began in Istanbul. Before boarding ship, we had a free day to visit mosques, wander the Grand Bazaar and sample the local cuisine and wines of Turkey. While Istanbul proved to be daunting for the uneducated Turkish wine detective, we were able to locate a few quality retailers (Bade Wine Shop, KAV Sarap Butik and La Cave Wine Shop) with the help of local guides and the Internet. Some reliable wine producers to look for include Doluca, Kavaklidere and the Cankaya whites of Ankara. Turkey is just beginning to recognize the potential of exporting wine, so there is little formal regulation, like France or Italy, for example. As an Arab country, located at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, wine is not typically served with the meal. Alcohol is permitted, but consumed rather in the form of spirits. Reeki, a type of Ouzo, Greece’s potent licorice-tasting alcohol, is popular, as are the local beers, which are quite good. Leaving Turkey behind us, we neared the Greek island of Santorini, where atop a volcano we sampled some unusual wines at Boutari vineyards. Here, a unique varietal called Assyrtico is grown in “baskets.” The grapes grow on the ground with the vines wrapped around the bunches in the shape of a basket to protect them from the drying effects of the strong winds on top of the volcano. The varietals, including Aidani and Athiri, exist almost nowhere else on earth. Later, we would visit the Sigalas winery of Oia, Santorini, a progressive vineyard that uses some trellis systems (support structures for the vines) in addition to the baskets and produces award-winning reds as well as the island’s traditional whites. The Santorini Sigalas VQPRD white is the finest Greek wine I’ve had the pleasure to taste—great body, open fruit and rich volcanic minerals.

At Your Beck And Call

Service on the Shadow can only be described as “personal, with flair,” with French-influenced menus to suit any palate. Head sommelier Pascal Morel selects four wines to be served with each meal. Latour, Château Laborde, Antinori, Wente, Mondavi, Raymond, Viña Errázuriz, Banfi and Bradgate are just a sampling of the labels. From light options to six-course extravaganzas, all are prepared to order and of excellent quality. Optional themed meals are held throughout the ship and under the stars. “Our mission is to deliver whatever dining options the customer desires,” says Morel. “Special requests for food or wine are always welcome.” Some of our favorites included pan-fried veal medallions with hazelnut sweetbreads, a Hawaiian lemon-ginger scallop in pineapple sauce, veal calf’s liver with raspberry vinegar and onion compote and a great entrée of frogs’ legs risotto with garlic butter and tomatoes. Guests who wish to celebrate an occasion or simply splurge can reserve the special dining room, La Champagne, with yet another menu and a special for-purchase vintage wine list from some of the top producers in the world: Haut- Brion, Latour, Ornellaia, La Romanée, Sassacaia, even Yquem were onboard. On Silversea, the wine experience does not wait for a port of call. An all-suite ship, its room fridges are stocked daily with complimentary wines and other beverages of your choice. And in the Silversea tradition, an unlimited supply of champagne by Philipponnat is available.

Now That’s Italian!

Three of our stops on the cruise were in Italy. The first allowed us to explore the southern Amalfi coast, where most of the wines are Sicilian, and they also have fantastic lemon and melon liqueurs. Silversea offered an exclusive luncheon at the legendary Hotel Positano for 20 passengers. The property was spectacular and the food served on the patio above the sea was good southern Italian (prosciutto, melon, pastas), but the wines were nameless but very good local reds and whites. Here, it’s all about the view. The second Italian port proved the highlight of the tour for wine lovers. A small group was offered a trip to the Super Tuscan villa of Sassacaia in Bulgari. This is the only domain to garner its own Denominazione di Origine Controllata or DOC—an area with an established set of legal rules for growing grapes and producing wine—and the prices to match. In a private tasting, the director of Sassacaia, Paolo Valdastri, described the composition of this Super Tuscan. Sassacaia makes only one wine—a blend of about 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 percent Cabernet Franc. During our visit, we tasted two vintages, an ‘84 and a ‘99, both powerful, deep and almost purple with multiple layers of fruit. We also were treated to a visit through the decidedly lowtech but charming winery facility. But don’t expect to leave with a few bottles— you can’t buy wine at this exclusive estate. The third stop was Portofino, situated on the Italian Riviera, where we visited three picture-perfect waterside villages. Chiantis were mostly featured here—at spectacularly high prices, as was most everything (the Euro makes purchases very expensive). Buy them at home and save. While a wine cruise may not be for everyone, the combination of wine events, history and luxury can be a great trade-off. With views changing constantly, affording spectacular scenery, you’ll never find a more civilized or relaxing way to experience them all.

Silversea Cruises     www.Silversea.com [1] (800) 722-9955

Greek wines of Santorini   www.boutari.gr [2] (click British flag for English version)