As the winter cruise season launches, bookings for spring and summer sails across Europe steadily rise. From renovated barges and nimble yachts to mega-ships, wine lovers are spoiled with options. “Wine has been an enormous growth area for cruises, and the lines are adding programs all the time,” says Chris Gray Faust, managing editor at

Cruise Critic

. “Examples include the wine-focused theme river cruises run by European line

AmaWaterways

, the

Wine & Spirits Education Trust

(WSET) courses run by

Cunard

, and the growth of food and wine culinary cruises by lines such as

Seabourn

,

Windstar

and

SeaDream

.” In other words, there are multiple ways to enjoy wine on your next high-seas adventure.

The Best Wine-Focused Itineraries

There are two types of sailings that course through wine regions: river and open water.

Rivers

Long the arteries of the Old World, rivers helped fuel the swift and robust rise of Europe’s wine trade. How else could the exquisite fortified wines from inland

Douro Valley

have reached Porto and then England and beyond? Today, wine lovers can choose from a variety of itineraries that traverse the atmospheric curves of the Rhine,

Rhône

, Seine, Danube and even the Columbia River in the United States. Keep in mind, however, reduced snowmelt from European mountains have caused water levels to lower, creating occasional cancellations or disruptions in certain areas, with buses often used between destinations. Ask your tour operator for updates and purchase travel insurance.

AmaWaterways

offers the full package, from great regional itineraries and excursions to interesting onboard programming. AmaWaterways’s wine cruises usually feature a North American winery host, which gives guests access to Old World (on shore) and New World (on board) wines for comparison. During the day, guests are immersed in local wine regions with tastings and tours hosted by winemakers. Back on the boat, the guest winery hosts dinners and leads discussions. AmaWaterways has more than 60 wine cruises planned for 2019, which include “Taste of Bordeaux” and “Enticing Douro.”

Avalon Waterways

offers several wine-themed departures in 2019 along the Danube, Rhine, Rhône, Saône and Seine. Featured programs include “The Blue Danube Discovery for Wine Lovers,” “Burgundy & Provence for Wine Lovers,” “Grand France for Wine Lovers” and “Rhine & Rhône Revealed for Wine Lovers.”

Uniworld’s

Connoisseur Collection sailings cover the best of

France

, with specific departures for

Paris

& Normandy,

Burgundy

&

Provence

, and

Bordeaux

. The trips include excursions to famous restaurants, vineyards, truffle farms and other wine and culinary points of interest. For example, in Bordeaux, guests visit the

La Cité du Vin,

an interactive museum devoted to wine.

Viking

also traverses Europe’s rivers and offers occasional winery visits in

Portugal

, France,

Germany

and

Austria

. Quality and intensity of programming, as well as access to regional wines on board, varies by ship and itinerary. Generally, Viking’s offerings are better suited for wine beginners. Rather than float aboard a river boat, you can also cruise by

barge

. Antique canals meander through Europe’s countryside and lend themselves to such travel. Once used for cargo transport, these barges serve as floating boutique hotels along the preserved waterways. The refurbished ships are perfect for groups of 2 to 22 passengers seeking a wine program that takes them through places like the

Loire

, Burgundy or

Alsace

. Book at

Barge Lady Cruises

. River cruises aren’t solely the domain of Europe. In the

Pacific Northwest

,

UnCruise Adventures

highlights wine regions along the Columbia and Snake rivers. Sailing roundtrip out of

Portland

, the program visits four American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), accompanied by a sommelier and guest wine experts.

Open Seas

While a multi-country itinerary across the Mediterranean doesn’t immediately conjure visions of vineyard picnics, in fact, many of its great cities are tucked into storied wine regions. Consider

Barcelona’s

proximity to

Priorat

and

Penedès

(the region most known for

Cava

), or the ease of reaching Provence from Marseille. And just about every Greek island makes local wine, not to mention the great vineyards of the Antipodes accessible by boat.

Oceania

will be hosting sailings with Food & Wine Trails in 2019. Good food has always been a pillar of this luxury line, and now, in partnership with

Food & Wine Trails

, it will offer 11 wine-focused tours through the Mediterranean:

Tuscany

and

Santorini

. The Tuscany cruise includes a half-day trip into the fabled region. First, guests will visit the medieval walled town of Suvereto, then head to super Tuscan estate

Tua Rita

for a tour and multicourse lunch with wine pairings. The Santorini itinerary includes a similar day-trip with stops in the white-washed villages of Oia and Fira, follow by a tour, tasting and lunch at

Boutari

winery. Going a nautical mile further into far-flung ports, superluxury cruise line Seabourn sails to

Australia

,

New Zealand

,

South Africa

and

Morocco

, and it offers a number of wine-related shore excursions in each country.

Winery-Hosted Sailings Featuring Wine Experts and Educational Opportunities

SeaDream Yacht Club

, voted Best Luxury Small Cruise Ship of 2015 by Forbes, sells “Wine Voyages.” These feature enhanced cuisine and beverage selections in conjunction with guest wineries, where a representative from the producer conducts tastings and hosts dinner on board. For example, the nine-day

Lisbon

to Bordeaux program features famous Douro Valley winery

Niepoort

, while

Rome

to

Venice

boasts hosts

Ca’ del Bosco

from

Franciacorta

, or

Dievole

from Tuscany. If a trip across the South Pacific’s teal lagoons tops your wish list, don’t worry: you can still enjoy high-level wine programming while sailing around French Polynesia. In fact,

Paul Gauguin Cruises

, named after the post-Impressionist artist, has a series of winery-hosted sailings: from

Bogle Vineyards

in February, to

Napa’s Salvestrin

,

Whitehall Lane

, and

Peju

, back-to-back in July. Each will include tastings of the respective winery.

Silversea’s

series of Wine Voyages call on destinations with a dedicated wine ambassador, Lawrence d’Almeida in tow. D’Almeida, who’s on board up to 70 days per year, pours three wines during a 45-minute overview of topics like “The Nature and History of Wine, from Antiquity to 1970,” and “The Wine Revolution: The World of Wine since 1970.” There’s also a chance to take a Sommelier Certificate Course, and high-profile wine producers are invited frequently to sail and sip along. Looking to get schooled while you sail in style?

Cunard’s

partnership with WSET provides Level 2 training for guests on its flagship ocean liner

Queen Mary 2

. Education is also a component of some

Seabourn

sailings. Its cruises offer classes run by sommeliers for an additional fee. Gray Faust took a course and declared the experience “fabulous,” appreciating how food and beverage managers made sure participants received

Champagne

, not simply sparkling wine.

Great Onboard Wine Programs

Several cruise lines have made diversifying their wine lists and offering great bottlings a top priority. Silversea’s D’Almeida stocks serious Bordeaux, with many top labels landing on the cruise ships’ fine wine list or Connoisseur Wine package. Silversea offers, arguably, the largest selection of complimentary wines of any cruise line, with some 65 labels from around the world.

Princess Cruises

recently overhauled its wine program, as Doug Frost MS, MW has almost doubled available selections. “The previous list was somewhat reliant upon larger wineries and importers, says Frost. “The new list diversifies through the addition of smaller, lesser-known producers.” Wines to look for:

Raats Chenin Blanc

from

South Africa

alongside Foreau Vouvray;

Navarro Gewürztraminer

versus

Domaine Weinbach Gewurztraminer

; as well as

Château de Cruzeau Pessac-Leognan Blanc

,

Numanthia Termes

and

Angelo Gaja’s Ca’Marcanda Promis

. Enhanced wine and spirits packages are available on all SeaDream voyages. In addition to complimentary wines, SeaDream cellars are stocked with a varied collection of rare and popular high-end wines. Producers include

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou

and

Joseph Phelps

.

Norwegian

touts its award-winning beverage program that now includes selections via

Coravin

. Wines like

Château Pichon-Lalande

, Heidi Barrett’s Amuse Bouche,

“M” by Michael Mondavi

, and

Gérard Bertrand’s Clos d’Ora

can be sipped by the glass for a fee.

Crystal Cruises

offers a special dinner in its Vintage Room for a fee. Billed as a “one-of-a-kind culinary experience featuring some of the rarest wines in the world,” it’s offered on select sailings aboard both Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. Depending on the wines, dinners can run up to $1,000 per person. On these same ships, Crystal also runs theme excursions dedicated to food and wine with sommeliers who provide insights on the wines poured. Further nods to thoughtful curation include

Holland America’s Pinnacle Grill

, the line's Pacific Northwest-inspired steakhouse. A roster of Pacific Northwest wines complement the cuisine. According to Gray Faust, both HAL President Orlando Ashford and Group CEO Stein Kruse are big wine drinkers. In Seabourn’s restaurant,

The Grill by Thomas Keller

, the famed chef personally picked each label to match his dishes. And if none of the above satisfy your wine needs, you can always smuggle a bottle of Pétrus aboard to drink in secret on your balcony.