Here is a rare chance to rub shoulders with the "Superstar Winemakers" of Napa Valley at sea
Silversea to Host Top Winemakers
Wine classes onboard cruise lines are nothing new. On some ships, they're cash cows, where guests pay to learn and sip. On luxury vessels, however, such instruction and tastings are complimentary. Sometimes, the lecturers are distinguished winemakers who are passionate about their craft and have made a huge mark on the wine world. Or, they are smart educators who excel at communication. And sometimes, they are both. This is the type booked on some of the 11 voyages of a Wine Series on Silversea Cruises.
Wine is a wonderful thing. Even if your knowledge is slim, appreciation can be magnified by the tiniest of lessons. In a perfect world, a wine educator at sea will not drone on about alcohol percentages, new or old oak casks and other technical facts that the average cruiser may not know or care to know.
However, on a luxury ship, guests tend to be more sophisticated, with greater exposure to the finer things in life, including premium wines. A good lecturer, however, never takes that for granted. The instructor will offer information for every level student and enhance the wine experience as a whole for all. And since wine appreciation is so intertwined with cuisine - particularly on a cruise - the expert should help guests understand which grape goes best with which dishes for maximum pleasure.
Silversea Cruises, with five small ships and two expedition vessels, is an all-inclusive luxury line. Voyagers are privy to a wide array of quality wines at no extra cost (and gratuity-free). Bottles hail from vineyards around the globe, from Chile and Argentina to New Zealand and France. I have found such sails a terrific way to try wines with which I was unfamiliar and make exciting new discoveries.
For the 11 Wine Series cruises on Silversea, a few stand out to me. One is with Tor Kenward, founder of Tor Kenward Family Wines in Napa Valley, California. I met Kenward many years ago, when he was a senior executive with Beringer Vineyards, a California winery that Kenward aided in pushing to the forefront of the industry - particularly for its Reserve and single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons.
As a winemaker and marketing expert, Kenward is extraordinarily articulate and relentlessly focused on being the best. Back in the day when French wines were considered far superior to American, Tor Kenward was a leader in developing and promoting exceptional homegrown wines that stood up to Europe's finest.
After some 27 years with Beringer, Kenward left the company and founded TOR Kenward Family Wines with his wife Susan. The company specializes in single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays. His wines are highly regarded, scoring big points on charts created by major wine publications such as Wine Spectator. Not surprisingly, such artisan wines don't come cheap. His Cabernet Sauvignons can run about $150 a bottle - if you can find one.
These wines are primarily sold via the company's web site's mailing list (torwines.com). Surf the Internet and you'll find a few wine and spirits shops carrying some bottles. A 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon for $149.95, for instance, for which only 150 cases were produced. Or a 2010 Mast Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, scoring 94 points (on a scale of 100) from Wine Advocate, for $79.95.
Only 300 cases were made. Those are small productions, by the way. Big wine producers may produce 1000s of cases per bottling, rendering them 180-degrees from exclusive. With a minimum of cases produced, such wines leap up the scale of exclusivity.
Tor Kenward's extraordinary wines are priced to match their finesse. These are revelatory wines, rare wines that make new statements with each sip. I can't think of a better introduction to such outstanding wines than with Tor Kenward, who can explain what makes them so special and how to best enjoy them.
His sail is Voyage 5312 on Silver Spirit (my favorite ship for its numerous and diverse dining rooms), heading from Venice to Istanbul May 10 to 18, 2013. Special tastings and lectures with Tor Kenward - perfectionist that he is - are destined to delight.
The second sailing that intrigues me is Voyage 1314 on the newly renovated Silver Cloud, sailing May 9 to 16, 2013 from Barcelona to Monte Carlo. This cruise features Pam Starr, co-owner and manager of Crocker & Starr Winery, another boutique company that produces world-class wines.
Pam Starr partners with Charlie Crocker; they resurrected an 1870's winery with more than 100 acres in Napa Valley with a commitment to sustainable and organic farming techniques. Their philosophy is to combine cutting-edge winemaking tools with Old World philosophy and New World fruit.
They create Cabernet Sauvignon at the level of first-growth Bordeaux (as the grape is known in France). Crocker & Starr grow five Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot) on their estate.
I don't know Pam Starr, but I certainly know plenty about her. She is a winemaker with extraordinary passion for her craft and many years experience in the field. I hear nothing but praise for her ability to communicate with guests and to educate in a relaxed environment.
And oh, the wines. Cruising with Starr is a fabulous opportunity to taste these estate-grown, handcrafted wines, which are near-impossible to acquire. Some bottlings, like a 2010 Cabernet Franc, had just 238 cases produced and are sold out until Winter 2014. Like most exclusive wines, they are primarily offered to clients via the winery's online mailing list (crockerstarrwines.com), and occasionally, bottles pop up on wine lists at America's leading restaurants.
If you're looking to try a Crocker & Starr wine at home, you'll note it's easier to find the winery's Sauvignon Blanc, which can be found online at some wine store web sites for less than $30 a bottle. But those estate reds? $60 to $70 a bottle for a Cabernet Franc. For top-scoring wines, like the Bordeaux-style blend Stone Place, expect to pay about $90 per bottle. The winery's Cabernet Sauvignons usually run about $100 a bottle.
I'd love to learn from Pam Starr, so highly respected in the wine community, on this Silver Cloud May sail. And, naturally, to taste such delicate, sophisticated wines with someone who knows them in a way no one else can, would be a cruise highlight.
Lyn Farmer, a seasoned wine expert, is scheduled for three voyages; two in September and one in December (Voyages 3328, 3329 and 1334). I've attended a few of his lectures onboard Silversea and came away impressed. He is highly knowledgeable and able to communicate well - especially to novices. His easy style makes wine education so accessible and appealing.
I love Domaine Serene Vineyards & Winery, based in Dundee Hills, Oregon. I could drink their elegant, complex Pinot Noir any day. The winery founders, Ken and Grace Evenstad, will sail on Silver Wind May 30 to June 8, 2013, from Rome to Venice on Voyage 2316. 2010 Pinot Noir Two Barns Vineyard and 2010 Pinot Noir Jerusalem Hill Vineyard are wonderful wines that retail online for about $85 (domaineserene.com).
Domaine Serene wines are easier to purchase, both at wine stores, online and at restaurants. Still, they are top-drawer and the Evenstads are a gracious couple who should both entertain and educate onboard Silversea.
There are few experiences equal to tasting and learning about a wine than doing so with the winemaker. Especially wines that are nearly impossible to procure. Trust me, these cruises - if a luxury sail is on your radar and you are interested in wine - are offering a taste of oenophile heaven. ( silversea.com)