I love wine. I dream about wine. My wife tolerates my enthusiasm for drinking and collecting wine. Yes, I am a wine fan. On our recent voyage on Cunard’s Queen Victoria, I had the opportunity to interview Vellen Mootoosamy, the Chief Sommelier.
The Wine lists on Cunard are excellent. What is new for 2023? What are you doing differently? When we had our discussion, the Queen Victoria was starting the 98-night world cruise. As the ship circles the globe, it visits regions within countries famous for their wines. New Zealand is a good example. This country produces world class Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs. The ship will try and feature these wines to enhance the passenger experience.
Cunard voyages feature sit down wine and food pairing lunches, which are one of my personal favorites. On the first night, when the wine steward approached our table, one of my first questions was “When is the wine and food themed lunch? Can I buy a ticket now?”
A new feature on the world cruise is a walk around wine tasting. Cunard World Club Platinum and Diamond level members are familiar with the organized tasting where groups of guests are walked from table to table to taste a wine, learn about it and sample cheeses. There are usually five wines. In 2023 Cunard has added a reasonably priced grand tasting featuring about a dozen wines from six countries, each poured at a “country table” featuring one red and one white wine. The countries chosen are not “the usual suspects.” They are from countries producing fine wines that are off the radar. Switzerland and Israel are two examples. The food served alongside the wines is a step up too. The cheese platters are replaced by canapes in abundance. The guests who signed up walk around from table to table, sipping, learning, talking and tasting. If the motion of the ocean makes you uncomfortable, the staff will be glad to sit you at a table and serve you.
How do you manage to price certain wines so attractively? I know my wine prices. On every voyage we order a bottle of Chateau Musar, a Bordeaux style wine from Lebanon. It’s famous and hard to find. In the US, it costs about $60/bottle before tax. The ship’s price is about the same. We also order the Macon Verze, a white Burgundy from Domaine Leflaive. It retails about $70/bottle. The ship charges about the same. How does Cunard manage to keep the prices so low? Vellen Mootoosamy, the chief sommelier explained Cunard has people in the home office who buy for the fleet. They have developed long term relationships with certain partners who provide attractive pricing.
Not everyone is ordering $70 bottles of wine on vacation. The ship offers a large selection of wines under $50/bottle and quite a few under $40/bottle. The wine fan on a budget can find plenty of attractive, tasty wines to provide variety over a several week voyage.
Has Cunard ever considered a multi course wine and food pairing dinner? Yes. During the world cruise they are planning an eight-course chef’s table dinner, pairing different wines with each course. The event will extend beyond the sit-down dinner itself and will include a separate wine cellar tour, highlighting the logistics of how fine wines are stored at sea and transported to the respective dining rooms as needed. This will be aligned with a galley tour, so guests can see how the multiple courses are prepared.
Fine food attracts lovers of fine wines. What is the procedure for passengers who bring wines from their home cellar or bring back wines from wine producing regions they visit? Cunard allows passengers to bring a bottle or two per person when they board the ship. The logic is they have a special wine they would like to enjoy at a special occasion. (Passengers are not allowed to bring quantities of liquor or beer onboard. This is explained in the passage contract.) Passengers might buy special wines in ports like the Canary Islands or mainland Spain, with the intention of enjoying them with meals. This can easily be accommodated in the dining room. Cunard charges a $25 corkage charge to serve your wine tableside. There is no charge for enjoying your wine in your stateroom. (You are not allowed to bring your own wine into lounges or other public areas.)
How does the Cunard drinks package work? There are several variations including one for hot drinks like coffee and soft drinks, but the one I inquired about was for alcoholic beverages. Drinks packages are bought by the voyage segment. You pay a flat daily rate and this includes all drinks you order at or below the $13.00 price point. There is no extra service charge or tipping. If you prefer to order wine by bottle, the package provides a 20% discount up to the $150/bottle threshold. Bottles above $150 are priced as marked.
Some guests prefer to buy wine by the bottle, not by the glass. The ship also offers the Captains Package and the Commodore’s package, allowing you to choose a certain number of bottles from a selection of wines discounted respectively at 10% and 15%.
What other benefits would you like to talk about? Wine fans might order a bottle of fine wine but choose not to consume the wine in one dinner seating. One of the services we offer (for wines $250 or higher) is the use of a Coravin wine preservation system. This portable device taps into the wine via a needle inserted through the cork, keeping the bottle sealed as wine is poured. Guests can enjoy a bottle of fine wine over several means instead of needing to finish it during one meal.
I left our interview knowing Cunard knows the line attracts wine lovers and offers many ways to make their voyage memorable.
Photos by Bryce Sanders
Many thanks to Cunard Line
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