Wine O’Clock on a Windstar yacht

Start with an alkaline-rich terroir…employ sur-lie aging and bâtonnage…follow with malolactic acid conversion, et voilà! A chardonnay, dense and complex, its minerality preserved, and one of my favorite white wines. It is, of course, easy to enjoy a glass of white wine from Burgundy without knowing these things. But during Wine O’Clock on our Windstar yacht, the fun facts of winemaking magic behind the lovely Pouilly-Fuissé before me were there for the taking. It was an “aha!” moment.

When Tom and I signed up for a tasting with sommelier Justin McAuliffe, we were intrigued. Would our experience on the Icons of Southeast Asia cruise measure up to the amazing series of wine-intensives on our Mediterranean cruise a couple of years ago? Had those sessions forever ruined us for anything less focused, less intense?

We need not have worried. We would not be sampling wines from a single country, as we had on our cruise along the Spanish coast. Instead, we would sample some very good wines from Europe and California and learn how winemakers had achieved varying styles and flavor profiles. And we would meet other passengers with a love of good food and wine.

Chasing the grape: In Ticino, Switzerland, vineyards sometimes come complete with a castle.

What’s the theme?

It’s a natural to tour a wine-producing country or region via the wines made there or to try the wines of a specific winemaker. This Windstar tasting was a bit different: our sommelier’s goal for a series of three tastings on the Windstar yacht–one session each for sparkling, white, and red wines—was to have us see and taste distinctions in terroir and wine-making processes. Taken together, the wines we tasted presented a range of flavor profiles for each type.

For Tom and me, the sessions were also invitations to consider some of the wine regions we know in a new light. We would learn more about the marvelous cavas we’ve enjoyed from Spain’s Penedès region. And we would see how the open-vat fermentation used for small-batch production of premium wines in Alentejo, Portugal, and other wine regions works its magic.

Cava production according to método tradicional in Penedes, Spain
Open-top fermentation of premium wines in Alentejo, Portugal

How many wines on the table?

After attending quite a few wine tastings, we have found, in general, that six to eight tastes are about right. Any more, and you’re looking at a professional-level exercise, where the nuances can be hard for many people—at least for Tom and me—to detect.

On the Star Legend, we arrived at our tables to find a collection of five glasses on a placemat at each seat. As the wines were poured, we settled in and had a chance to chat with other participants. Our tablemates told us about their wine club back home in the US, which works much as my book club in Portugal. Members propose wines to try, share the expense, and enjoy sampling them with food, and in the company of friends. Great idea!

Justin explained how our session would go, and asked for any specific wishes or questions we might have brought to the tasting. He shared with us his philosophy that tasting wine should be fun and memorable. There would be no hard and fast tasting regimen. Rather, he encouraged us to try the wines in front of us in any order we wished.

Enjoy, experiment, appreciate and relax!

–Peter Tobler, Director of Hotel Operations, Windstar

Why these wines?

The wines we sampled were good examples of both style and price ranges, although we learned the approximate prices only after we had compared them. Each one had a distinct flavor profile, which helped us appreciate and value the range of wines in each session—whether sparkling, white, or red.

Justin introduced the characteristics of the wines and talked with us about the methods used by the winemakers to achieve their signature styles. Some of us knew more about winemaking than others, but his informal presentation, glass in hand, soon had us all speaking the same language. After we’d tasted all the way around the placemats, Justin polled our reactions. Everyone had clear favorites, which was the point—and the pleasure—of the tasting. The wines, varying in body, power, and strength, also offered comparisons in terms of sweetness, acidity, and tannins.

French oak or American: What’s your preference?

Do you enjoy trying new wines? Wine Folly offers an overview of basic wine characteristics that can help you find your favorites.

Spoiled for choice on a Windstar yacht

A wine tasting on a pleasure cruise can be as educational as the sommelier wants to make it, but it must be an enjoyable experience, as well. Justin’s engaging personality, his passion for the grape, and desire to communicate what he knows to a discerning audience, were evident. We were all there to be both entertained and informed, and to share the experience. Wine O’Clock on the Star Legend was a good way to taste a little, learn a little and enjoy the company of our fellow passengers.

As we cruised along the coast of Vietnam, the Star Legend’s sommelier teamed up with Windstar executive chefs to offer wine pairings for a wonderful pho luncheon and other specialty meals. In the evenings, he helped guests select the best wine to pair with gourmet food selections in the AmphorA, the yacht’s main dining room.

Justin even helped us order the best dishes to accompany a special bottle of wine we had brought on board. For a corkage fee, we were able to reminisce about our discovery of a dynamic young winemaker in Thailand over a bottle of her best wine, and with great food.

Windstar is the official cruise line of the James Beard Foundation. This year’s culinary-themed cruises feature James Beard-recognized guest chefs and sommeliers. These days, foodie travelers with the boutique line are truly spoiled for choice!

Wine on the horizon for Windstar yachts

Windstar’s wine list is going global, reflecting both New- and Old-World regions and showcasing the individuality of appellations and terroirs. The program includes wine tastings led by experienced sommeliers—generally one to three tastings, depending on the length of the voyage—for a nominal fee.

Canadian Justin McAuliffe is the first of a team of sommeliers hired to expand the Windstar wine program. The sommeliers rotate among four Windstar ships, including the line’s three all-suite yachts: Star Breeze and Star Pride in Europe, and Star Legend in Asia, and this summer season, in Alaska. The team will introduce a range of wine-centered activities, from chef-sommelier collaborations to culinary-themed shore excursions to local wineries and restaurants, and more. 

When the Star Legend arrives in Alaska later this month, guests will be offered kayaking adventures by day, followed by culinary and wine indulgences each evening. That’s a pairing Tom and I would love to try!

 *  *  *

We were media guests of Windstar Cruise Line, traveling on the Icons of Southeast Asia cruise from Bangkok to Hong Kong.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

you MUST enable javascript to be able to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.