Hidden Values on Wine Lists

Doesn’t everyone want to be a star? To have that “aha” moment? You are seated at your table for eight in the main dining room. You are ordering a bottle of wine to be shared with your tablemates. You want to pick something that gets people saying “Wow! That’s good!” without breaking the bank. What do you do?

Here are a dozen “hidden value” areas you will find on most wine lists, either at sea or on land. These wines should be available on Cunard (my favorite line) and most ships with a big wine list.

Sparkling wine:

  • Prosecco. It’s the official sparkling wine of Italy. It’s gained market share at the expense of champagne because it’s a lot cheaper and it tastes good. Once it’s in the ice bucket, people aren’t seeing the label, anyway.
  • Cava. It’s the official sparkling wine of Spain. It’s good value too. It’s produced in Catalonia, near Barcelona. Put another way, if you were in Barcelona and had a sparkling wine, this likely was it. That should get stories started.

Red wine:

  • Rioja. It’s a wine region in Spain. Very famous. Everyone has heard of it. There are four tiers based on how long the wine was aged. Whichever you choose, it should be a pleasant experience.
  • Cotes du Rhone. This wine comes from the southern part of France. It’s pretty hot there, so there’s not too much vintage variation. It’s primarily made from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, sometimes referred to as GSM. They produce a lot of it. It’s inexpensive and tasty.
  • Australian Shiraz. Here’s the grape the Aussies built their wine reputation upon. They do a great job with it. It’s very, very difficult to find a bad bottle. It comes at all prices points, so finding a reasonably priced one should be easy.
  • Argentine Malbec. For me, this is the ultimate fail safe wine. It’s almost impossible to get a bad bottle. (It happened to me at a pub in the Cotswolds, but that’s another story.) It’s tasty and you can usually find inexpensive selections on wine lists.
  • Australian Cabernet Sauvignon. The Australians do a lot of things very well. Simply put, they have identified the flavor profile Americans like and designed wines to meet the demand. You won’t find Yellowtail on shipboard wine lists, but if you’ve tried in, you know their Cabernet tastes good and is pretty inexpensive.

White Wine:

  • New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. This is the grape that brought New Zealand onto the international wine stage. They’ve got the right climate and do a great job with it. It’s tasty and reasonably priced.
  • Riesling. This is where Germany excels. They aren’t always cheap, but they meet a unique need. You will know people who “like their wines sweet” but won’t admit it. Riesling is described as “off dry.” Here’s another bonus: If standard table wine is 12-14% alcohol by volume, Riesling is often around 9-10%.
  • Muscadet. It’s French, so people should be impressed. It comes from the Loire Valley. It’s a great match with cold seafood, but much cheaper than Sancerre or Chablis. It comes in a tall, skinny bottle.
  • Australian Chardonnay. Just like they grabbed market share for everyday red wines, the Aussies do a good job on white wines too. In the US, Chardonnay is the most popular grape type in terms of acreage planted. The Australians took notice and got involved to compete on price. It tastes good. It’s inexpensive.
  • Provence Rose. This one isn’t white, but it’s close. Rose wine is produced everywhere, but its spiritual home is in the Cotes du Provence in Southern France. Now you are close to the French Riviera. One of the great aspects is the range of color! Red wines are red and white wines are a golden white, bur Roses can go from pale pink to an intense pink. Prices for the entry level versions should be surprisingly affordable.

You aren’t cheap! I know that! If everyone loves your selection, the wine steward might ask you: “Should I bring another bottle?” Choosing wisely to start keeps costs under control.

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