Finding Bargains on the Cruise Ship’s Wine List

I love wine. When we sail, our wine bill represents the majority of our onboard spend. FYI:  During a seven-night cruise, if we can keep our shipboard account under $1,000, I consider it a victory. If you enjoy wine, like us, here are eight ways to find bargains on the ship’s wine list (or at restaurants back home.)

Wine is often classified by grape type or varietal, as they say in the wine trade.

  1. Chardonnay. It is said to be the most popular white wine on Earth. Who hasn’t said “I’ll have a Chardonnay?” If you are ordering seafood, it’s a popular choice.

Good value:  Australia does a fine job, producing tasty, reasonably priced chardonnays.

Avoid expensive:  The White Burgundies from France are among the most prestigious and expensive in the world. Meursault, Puligny Montrachet and Chassagne Montrachet are regions producing great wines. They often have three digits to the left of the decimal point.

  1. Pinot Noir. It is said to be the world’s most popular red wine with a light bodied style. It goes quite well with grilled salmon. Many meat dishes can be paired with it.

Good value:  New Zealand does a spectacular job with the pinot noir grape. These wines should be tasty and relatively reasonable.

Avoid expensive:  Burgundy, specifically the Cote d’Or (Golden slope) is home to some of the most expensive red wines. Flipping through the Red Burgundy section of the wine list, you will see regions with names like Gevrey Chambertin, Volnay, Beaune and Pommard. It is rare to find anything under $100/

  1. Sauvignon Blanc. This is a lighter style wine that goes very well with salads, especially on a summer day.

Good value:  Everyone agrees New Zealand does a spectacular job. It is their signature wine. They produce a lot, so the prices can be reasonable.

Avoid expensive:  There are few Sauvignon Blancs with very high price tags, but Sancerre is one of France’s most popular wines. Because of its familiar name, it tends to be expensive on wine lists.

  1. Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the varietal you would think is the world’s most popular. It has great name recognition. It is perfect with hearty meat dishes like grilled beef.

Good value:  Australia does a good job at reasonable price points. Washington State also produces good wines at reasonable prices.

Avoid expensive:  Napa Valley cabernets from California have a well deserved reputation for quality. Many are called cult wines, which gives a clue to their pricing.

  1. Sparkling wine. This is the wine that has built a reputation for celebration and glamor. Winning race car drivers shower each other with it. Ships are christened with it. It features in almost every Christmas movie you see on TV.

Good value:  Prosecco is the Italian version of champagne. It sells at a fraction of the price. Spain’s entry into the field is known as Cava.

Avoid expensive:  Only wine grown and produced in the champagne region of France can call itself Champagne. The French are strict about that. Anything on the wine list in the Champagne category will be expensive.

  1. It’s a grape made famous in Australia and known as Syrah in France. It is full bodied and goes great with steaks.

Good value:  The Australians produce a lot of wine!  They make good version of Shiraz at all price points.

Avoid expensive:  In France, Syrah is the “King of the Rhone” region in the south. Hermitage and Cote Rotie are two regions producing great, yet expensive wines.

  1. Rose wine. This category was not taken seriously for years. It has been known as “sunglass wine” because you drank it on the beach. It has become fantastically popular over the past 10+ years.

Good value:  Rose wine is made everywhere, but it’s spiritual home is the Provence region of France. They make plenty of it. Look for wines with “Cores du Provence” on the label.

Avoid:  We are not including the word expensive here. Avoid White Zinfandel. It is a sweeter wine made primarily in California. It’s moment has passed, yet some people unsure about drinking wine tend to gravitate towards it. It’s inexpensive.

  1. Merlot. This is a popular, soft, easy to drink red wine. It goes great with meats.

Good value:  Merlot in the dominant grape in Saint Emilion wines from the Bordeaux region of France. Saint Emilion can be both reasonable and impressive.

Avoid:  Again, we are not using the word expensive. Because it is widely grown around the world, there are plenty of cheaper versions that aren’t that great. The expensive wines of the world using Merlot as the primary grape, come from the Pomerol region of Bordeaux. You will need to look hard to find the world Merlot.

Let us look at one final category for reasonably priced wines:

Expensive Wines That Aren’t Expensive

Here are four categories it’s good to know:

  1. Chablis. It’s a white Burgundy from the northern part of this expensive region. It is made from the chardonnay grape. It is often a fraction of the cost.
  2. Riesling. This is the signature grape of Germany. They do a great job. It has never gained the popularity it deserves.
  3. Sauternes. It’s a region in Bordeaux known for producing sweet wines. This wine is ideal with dessert. It’s lack of mainstream popularity kept the price reasonable.
  4. Rioja. It’s the wine region associated with Spain. In my opinion, they are similar to red Bordeaux wines from France, but at lower price points.
  5. Malbec. This is the grape that put Argentina on the world wine map. Although it is also grown in France, it seems to thrive in South America. It is very difficult to get a bad bottle. They are usually very good value.

Yes, you can enjoy wine without breaking the bank.

Ed. Notes: CruiseCompete and its member travel advisors provide many curated cruise and land deals, offers and amenities on over 50 cruise lines with over 500 cruise ships sailing all around the world. Browse Cruise Ships and Cruise Lines

Sea Tales 2023 Family Cruise Travel Planner

Shore Excursions – Ports, Day & Weekend Trips




Leave a Comment

Trusted by over 1.5 million cruisers since 2003.
Get FREE access to members-only pricing.
There is a highly acclaimed way to receive multiple quotes from a site called CruiseCompete, where cruise specialists compete to offer you the best deal. The media sums it up for CruiseCompete:
Score Luxury Cruises at Bargain Prices” (The Street)
Best site for cruise deals” (The Wall Street Journal)
28 Best Travel Sites” (Kiplinger's) Multiple annual mentions
36 Web Addresses You Should Know” (The Washington Post)