10 Top Europe Wine Regions for Cruisers

by Lena Katz

10 Top Europe Wine Regions for Cruisers

by Lena Katz

Whether you are sailing the Mediterranean or floating down the winding rivers of Germany, a cruise can get you to Europe's most famous wine regions — as well as smaller regions where you might just discover your new favorite varietal. The best part? Shore excursions will take care of the transportation, so you are free to imbibe when a walk through the vines takes you straight to the tasting room. From the legendary French countryside to the telegenic Adriatic, here are 10 wine regions to visit now — and the ships that will take you there.

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Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France / MM
Vineyard in Bordeaux, France
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1. Bordeaux, France

Perhaps the most famous wine region in the world, Bordeaux has multiple ports, including Bordeaux (of course), Blaye, Saint-Emilion, and Cadillac. The area is home to the legendary Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines with names like Lafite, Latour, and Margaux, as well as stellar Sauternes dessert wines such as Château d’Yquem. But you don’t have to break the budget to drink well in this region. Shops and cafés offer lovely but lesser-known local bottles at prices any cruiser can afford.

One to try: Dip into a new cheese and wine cellar and take cooking lessons from French gastronomy experts on the all-inclusive Scenic Diamond, renovated in 2017 with larger cabins and interior spaces. Or see both the Seine and the Bordeaux region on a 14-day cruise on the newly launched ship from Uniworld, S.S. Joie de Vivre, an ornately decorated ship inspired by the Golden Twenties in Paris.

Perhaps the most famous wine region in the world, Bordeaux has multiple ports, including Bordeaux (of course), Blaye, Saint-Emilion, and Cadillac. The area is home to the legendary Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines with names like Lafite, Latour, and Margaux, as well as stellar Sauternes dessert wines such as Château d’Yquem. But you don’t have to break the budget to drink well in this region. Shops and cafés offer lovely but lesser-known local bottles at prices any cruiser can afford.

One to try: Dip into a new cheese and wine cellar and take cooking lessons from French gastronomy experts on the all-inclusive Scenic Diamond, renovated in 2017 with larger cabins and interior spaces. Or see both the Seine and the Bordeaux region on a 14-day cruise on the newly launched ship from Uniworld, S.S. Joie de Vivre, an ornately decorated ship inspired by the Golden Twenties in Paris.

Solutre Rock in Burgandy, France
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2. Burgundy, France

To many wine lovers, the elegant and outrageously expensive Pinot Noir reds of this region are the ultimate expression of what wine can be. (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, anyone?) Great wines have been produced out of Burgundy for more than a thousand years, and Chalon-sur-Saône — the gateway to the region — is a popular stop on Rhône and Saône itineraries. Centuries-old wineries and beautifully preserved medieval villages are dotted throughout the countryside — tempting you to head out, explore, and sip. Yes, there are wonderful affordable wines here. Try the famous Kir cocktail, with crème de cassis (black current liqueur) and local white wine.

One to try: You can sail through the wine-rich South of France on a new ship from Emerald Waterways — Emerald Liberté — which has a cinema, al fresco dining, and an indoor heated pool with a retractable roof.

To many wine lovers, the elegant and outrageously expensive Pinot Noir reds of this region are the ultimate expression of what wine can be. (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, anyone?) Great wines have been produced out of Burgundy for more than a thousand years, and Chalon-sur-Saône — the gateway to the region — is a popular stop on Rhône and Saône itineraries. Centuries-old wineries and beautifully preserved medieval villages are dotted throughout the countryside — tempting you to head out, explore, and sip. Yes, there are wonderful affordable wines here. Try the famous Kir cocktail, with crème de cassis (black current liqueur) and local white wine.

One to try: You can sail through the wine-rich South of France on a new ship from Emerald Waterways — Emerald Liberté — which has a cinema, al fresco dining, and an indoor heated pool with a retractable roof.

Winery in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France
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3. Rhône, France

France's Rhône is a vast wine region with many small appellations, one of the most charming being Châteauneuf-du-Pape. You can easily visit this area via shore excursion from Avignon or Marseilles and stroll the quaint streets of the storybook town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape to discover fine bottles of the rich, red Grenache-based wines of the region in humble little shops for knock-down prices. A tip: Many of the wineries that allow organized cruise tours are on the massive side. Seek out the smaller wineries, where you’ll find the real local color.

One to try: Borrow a bike and explore Lyon, Avignon, and Arles on Amadeus River Cruises' newest ship, Amadeus Provence, which launched in spring 2017. The price may be budget-friendly, but the wine is unlimited.

France's Rhône is a vast wine region with many small appellations, one of the most charming being Châteauneuf-du-Pape. You can easily visit this area via shore excursion from Avignon or Marseilles and stroll the quaint streets of the storybook town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape to discover fine bottles of the rich, red Grenache-based wines of the region in humble little shops for knock-down prices. A tip: Many of the wineries that allow organized cruise tours are on the massive side. Seek out the smaller wineries, where you’ll find the real local color.

One to try: Borrow a bike and explore Lyon, Avignon, and Arles on Amadeus River Cruises' newest ship, Amadeus Provence, which launched in spring 2017. The price may be budget-friendly, but the wine is unlimited.

Antica Bottega Toscana in Arezzo, Italy
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4. Tuscany, Italy

Shore excursions from the port of Livorno in Florence will take you into the heart of one of Italy’s favorite wine regions, known for its Sangiovese-based Chiantis and Bordeaux-blend Super Tuscans. For wine fans, this is your opportunity to taste big, bold Tuscan reds in the motherland, while surrounded by atmospheric towns and captivating landscapes. A typical food and wine excursion might also include an olive oil tasting and a visit to a local butcher.

One to try: Holland America's sophisticated, 2016-built Koningsdam sails roundtrip from Rome, stopping in Livorno as well as Barcelona and Marseille. After sampling the region's grapes, you can carry on tasting on board, and even blend your own bottle of red, too.

Shore excursions from the port of Livorno in Florence will take you into the heart of one of Italy’s favorite wine regions, known for its Sangiovese-based Chiantis and Bordeaux-blend Super Tuscans. For wine fans, this is your opportunity to taste big, bold Tuscan reds in the motherland, while surrounded by atmospheric towns and captivating landscapes. A typical food and wine excursion might also include an olive oil tasting and a visit to a local butcher.

One to try: Holland America's sophisticated, 2016-built Koningsdam sails roundtrip from Rome, stopping in Livorno as well as Barcelona and Marseille. After sampling the region's grapes, you can carry on tasting on board, and even blend your own bottle of red, too.

Wine tasting at Calem in Porto, Portugal
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5. Douro, Portugal

Port, Portugal’s famously potent fortified wine, is produced in this region in the northern corner of the country. The main town of Porto has come into vogue in recent years, offering great bargains, lots of local charm, and, yes, an endless supply of port. Head to the Vila Nova da Gaia on the other side of the Douro, though, where the big port houses have tasting facilities.

One to Try: Tell your butler to bring you another glass to sample from the region on the luxe Scenic Azure — everything is included in your fare, from alcohol to gratuities to excursions.

Port, Portugal’s famously potent fortified wine, is produced in this region in the northern corner of the country. The main town of Porto has come into vogue in recent years, offering great bargains, lots of local charm, and, yes, an endless supply of port. Head to the Vila Nova da Gaia on the other side of the Douro, though, where the big port houses have tasting facilities.

One to Try: Tell your butler to bring you another glass to sample from the region on the luxe Scenic Azure — everything is included in your fare, from alcohol to gratuities to excursions.

Wine barrels in Madeira, Portugal
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6. Madeira, Portugal

Also fortified, also sweet, and also Portuguese, Madeira is a wine that many Americans have yet to discover. And where better to do that than in its home? An autonomous region of Portugal, Madeira is an island group that combines European and Portuguese influences. Seek out cruises that stop in the port of Funchal, where you can sample the ruby-tinted wine that gives a rich sense of place from the first sip.

One to try: We recommend a classy, intimate ship like the newest addition to Oceania's fleet, Oceania Sirena, which stops in Funchal on two-week cruises through the Mediterranean. 

Also fortified, also sweet, and also Portuguese, Madeira is a wine that many Americans have yet to discover. And where better to do that than in its home? An autonomous region of Portugal, Madeira is an island group that combines European and Portuguese influences. Seek out cruises that stop in the port of Funchal, where you can sample the ruby-tinted wine that gives a rich sense of place from the first sip.

One to try: We recommend a classy, intimate ship like the newest addition to Oceania's fleet, Oceania Sirena, which stops in Funchal on two-week cruises through the Mediterranean. 

Tractor in vineyard near Split, Croatia
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7. Dalmatia, Croatia

Much like Portugal, Croatia produces delicious, inexpensive wines that you’ll probably never taste Stateside, but that you’ll think of fondly forevermore. Croatian red is fruity, velvety, and full-bodied. The crisp white goes perfectly with seafood, especially oysters, which are a staple in Split, a waterfront city on the Dalmatian Coast.

One to Try: We'd gladly tour the region (or any region) on Viking Sea — a dream with its bright, airy interiors and Scandinavian spa. For a more budget-friendly option, try La Belle de L'Adriatique from European line CroisiEurope.

Much like Portugal, Croatia produces delicious, inexpensive wines that you’ll probably never taste Stateside, but that you’ll think of fondly forevermore. Croatian red is fruity, velvety, and full-bodied. The crisp white goes perfectly with seafood, especially oysters, which are a staple in Split, a waterfront city on the Dalmatian Coast.

One to Try: We'd gladly tour the region (or any region) on Viking Sea — a dream with its bright, airy interiors and Scandinavian spa. For a more budget-friendly option, try La Belle de L'Adriatique from European line CroisiEurope.

Landshut Castle near Bernkastel-Kues, Germany
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8. Moselle, Germany

If you’re a fan of floral, food-friendly Riesling wines, this is your region. Most shore excursions from the historic town of Bernkastel-Kues on the Moselle River include a wine estate visit. But true oenophiles will want to arrange a customized tour to the area wineries. You can also wander through the town market and discover countless labels.

One to Try: Viking River Cruises' Scandinavian "longship" Viking Hild is one of the newest ships here, having launched in spring 2017 and sailing from Zurich to Paris with stops at Bernkastel-Kues and Mainz. Another new option? AmaWaterways' AmaKristina, which — in addition to kid-friendly "Beauty and the Beast" sailings created in partnership with Adventures by Disney — will host special wine-themed sailings that develop a rich flavor profile of the region.

If you’re a fan of floral, food-friendly Riesling wines, this is your region. Most shore excursions from the historic town of Bernkastel-Kues on the Moselle River include a wine estate visit. But true oenophiles will want to arrange a customized tour to the area wineries. You can also wander through the town market and discover countless labels.

One to Try: Viking River Cruises' Scandinavian "longship" Viking Hild is one of the newest ships here, having launched in spring 2017 and sailing from Zurich to Paris with stops at Bernkastel-Kues and Mainz. Another new option? AmaWaterways' AmaKristina, which — in addition to kid-friendly "Beauty and the Beast" sailings created in partnership with Adventures by Disney — will host special wine-themed sailings that develop a rich flavor profile of the region.

Vineyard outside Würzburg, Germany
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9. Franconia, Germany

A rather obscure wine destination (at least to Americans), the Franconia wine region is known for white wines made with Müller-Thurgau and Silvaner grapes. The historic town of Würzburg is a popular port on Main River cruises and is a great jumping off point to visit vineyards where the wine-growing tradition goes back centuries.

One to Try: You'll be surrounded by panoramic views of wine country on the new Avalon Passionwhich has floor-to-ceiling windows and a hot tub on deck.

A rather obscure wine destination (at least to Americans), the Franconia wine region is known for white wines made with Müller-Thurgau and Silvaner grapes. The historic town of Würzburg is a popular port on Main River cruises and is a great jumping off point to visit vineyards where the wine-growing tradition goes back centuries.

One to Try: You'll be surrounded by panoramic views of wine country on the new Avalon Passionwhich has floor-to-ceiling windows and a hot tub on deck.

World of Wine at Loisium in Langenlois, Austria
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10. Kamptal, Austria

Austria's crisp Grüner Veltliner whites have become popular everywhere in recent years, and this region produces some of the best in the country. Although its history spans centuries, the Austrian wine industry nurtures newer boutique operations with a progressive bent. Visit the town of Langenlois, where the juxtaposition between tradition and modernity achieves peak drama at Loisium, a subterranean maze-like experience. You can check out stone wine vaults, some of which are 900 years old.

One to Try: Sip your way through the region on Crystal Mozart (the first river ship from luxury line Crystal River Cruises) with stops in Linz, Melk, and Vienna.

Austria's crisp Grüner Veltliner whites have become popular everywhere in recent years, and this region produces some of the best in the country. Although its history spans centuries, the Austrian wine industry nurtures newer boutique operations with a progressive bent. Visit the town of Langenlois, where the juxtaposition between tradition and modernity achieves peak drama at Loisium, a subterranean maze-like experience. You can check out stone wine vaults, some of which are 900 years old.

One to Try: Sip your way through the region on Crystal Mozart (the first river ship from luxury line Crystal River Cruises) with stops in Linz, Melk, and Vienna.

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