Picture yourself cruising the Atlantic, seated at a beautiful table on the 12th deck of Oceania’s Riviera, one of the most luxurious cruise ships at sea: spectacular views, sparkling Riedel stemware, wine aficionado’s seated around you, a seven course menu starting in front of you. This is Oceania’s “La Reserve” co-branded by Wine Spectator, the special wine-event venue with featured wine dinner. Oceania won Travel & Leisure’s Top 5 Cruise Line for Food & Service designation.
Oceania’s executive chef is preparing the first course while the knowledgeable sommelier is describing the first set of wine/food pairings at your table. A choice of 3 wine pairing menus is available to you: Discovery, Explorer, and Connoisseur. Each course pairing is explained and paced to give you the optimal “savoring” time. During our experience some of the imaginative pairings included: Pumpkin Ravioli and a Columbia Valley Viognier, 72-Hour slow braised short ribs with a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Seared Kobe Beef and an Italian Veneto Amarone Reserva, Raspberry caramelized Mille Feuille with Madagascan vanilla cream paired with a Loire Valley, France, Bonnezeaux dessert wine.
In our interview, Oceania’s wine director, Oana Monac Macieira, said that Wine Spectator staff helps select the wines for the “La Reserve” experience. Oceania’s wine directors and chefs also match all the wines onboard with the cuisine for each of their specialty restaurants: Toscana, Jacque’s, Red Ginger, Polo Grill, Waves, Terrace Café, as well as the Grand Dining Room. Interestingly, Oceania’s Vice Chairman, Bob Binder, owns a Napa Valley winery and one of his wines, the Silver Trident Cabernet Sauvignon, is a featured selection. Oana further noted that for some cruises, local and exotic wine selections would match the destinations visited.
Riviera’s specialty restaurants have convenient reservation policies. As a suite-holder we had the opportunity to book earlier than other, but all cruisers can make several restaurant reservations in advance. However, in our actual experience we added more reservations at the last minute directly during the cruise with the central concierge or with the restaurant maître’s d’s.
We noticed that cruisers enjoy the Oceania option of choice – going to the specialty restaurants at no additional charge or enjoying the beautiful main dining room and casual restaurants. I enjoyed the choice to join a larger group table or just enjoy the two of us dining alone. This was refreshing since the old fashion cruise dining policies dictated that you were “locked in” to a set table for an entire cruise. The restaurant wine directors still knew your preferences and know if you are have an unfinished bottle ready in their cellar (a great idea for reducing the “by the glass” prices and upgrading your wine choices.)
Our experience was exceptional. As a side benefit, we met other wine enthusiasts who became our go-to Happy Hour friends for the two-week cruise. As veterans of nine cruises now, we agree with the Travel & Leisure ratings: Oceania easily has Top Wine Bar at sea.