Cruising For Some Splashy Wine Deals

One of the best Cabernets from Sonoma Valley. PHOTO FROM ROBERTO VIERNES

One of the best Cabernets from Sonoma Valley. PHOTO FROM ROBERTO VIERNES

I’ll bet you would never guess what restaurants have some of the best prices for their wines.

I am always looking for the best deals, whether on T-shirts, my cell phone service carrier or certainly wines with my meal in restaurants.

And do I have a great deal for you.

OK, here is a hint: These restaurants rarely stay in the same place very long. Here is another hint: You have to pay to get in. Last hint: They float.

Well, if you have not guessed it yet, it is on a cruise ship.

I just returned from a Caribbean cruise, where I spent five nights culling the selections of the ship’s cellars. I even went to a wine tasting. No, not as the speaker, but as a guest, although I surely would have enjoyed hosting a wine tasting on a cruise ship — more to come on that later.

This was not my first cruise, but I was sincerely impressed with the prices on the wine list.

As I am privy to the wholesale prices of wines in Hawaii, I easily can calculate the markups on the wine list, and they ranged from a mere double to 2.5 times the cost of the bottle. Compare this to the average three or four times markup for lower-priced wines, and two to three times markup for higher-priced wines in a typical resort restaurant and many corporate as well as independent dining establishments. This goes not only for Hawaii but also abroad.

The size of the cruise ship’s list is typically not large, this one having perhaps fewer than 100 selections. I’m sure the size of the selection depends on the size and class of each ship, so you can tell I was not on the QE2.

What is nice about most ships is that despite whatever venue you dine in, you can have virtually any wine from the master list of the ship’s cellar in any of the restaurants.

Here is a hint for you as well: If you see a bottle of wine you are interested in and do not think you can finish it in one seating, you can purchase the bottle at your meal and the staff can have the unfinished bottle delivered to your stateroom. Or you can ask them to hold the bottle for you for your next meal at that restaurant, with the option to have them deliver it to your next meal at another restaurant. (These policies vary with cruise lines, but if the cruise line has any desire to keep their guests happy, there should be no problem.)

Cruise lines do not allow you to bring alcoholic beverages for consumption on board, but they are more than happy to have you purchase and consume theirs, and anything that would help you do so is in their best interest.

Getting back to the “deals,” check out these: A bottle of Caymus Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is listed for $95 on the ship. The same bottle has a suggested retail price of $69. I have seen it in a Hawaii restaurant for $140 per bottle.

And it is not just for big-name wines. A bottle of Bertani Secco Valpolicella goes for $32, where I have seen it for $45 locally.

The best deals are actually on the high end. A bottle of 2006 Michel Picard Charmes Chambertin (Grand Cru) was $139 — you would be hard-pressed to find a bottle of Charmes Chambertin for less than $150 a bottle at retail.

How about a bottle of Penfolds Grange for $545? You are basically paying retail for an awesome bottle of wine in a restaurant. I know, not exactly in my price range, but for someone for whom it is, that’s a great deal. Belle Glos

Las Alturas Pinot Noir for 50 bucks is more in my range.

So the next time you go cruising, on top of all the fabulous destinations you will visit, you now have even more to look forward to.

Bon voyage!

Recommendation: 2010 BR Cohn Olive Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($55) This is a really lovely Cabernet and one of the best from Sonoma. It fills the glass with beautiful black and red fruit essences without being jammy. There is a definite note of chocolate here and a profound complexity. Great with any grilled red meats and blue veined cheeses.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier.
Twitter: @Pinotpusher