Wine and Superyachts
Wine and yachting go hand in hand like sunsets and cocktails, or suits and Savile Row. One of the superyacht stars at this year's Monaco Yacht Show was an ode to this perfect pairing. Tankoa's 50m M/Y Vertige, designed by Francesco Paszkowski, is named after her French owners' favourite label and features a striking wine cellar.
"Vertige’s owner loves music, to spend quality time with family, friends and business contacts aboard his boat and, of course, good wine," says Paszkowski. "Therefore, he asked us to find a solution to store wine onboard." Built along the hallway that leads from the main salon to the owner's cabin, Paszkowski explains that this retro, illuminated, floor-to-ceiling wine cellar can hold 300 bottles and is prominently positioned to enable the owners to select the evening’s vintages on their way to the main salon to greet guests, bottles in hand.
When it comes to storing wine on board though, not all yachts are outfitted with dedicated cellars of this calibre. "In my experience, not many superyachts have proper wine storage facilities," says David Rabaud, a professional sommelier with World Wine Services. "Most of the wines are still held on shelves, in simple wine fridges or worse, in the galley." For Rabaud, the idea of a luxury yacht without a dedicated wine cellar is as absurd as a three-star Michelin restaurant without one, but it is all-too-often the norm. "We do still come across yachts where the excess wine is being stored under the beds," agrees Tom Bradshaw, managing director at Abercrombie Fine Wines. "But thankfully, the vast majority of larger yachts now tend to have one or more dedicated wine fridges on board, and some have customised wine cellars that are designed to showcase the owner’s collection. M/Y Ulysses, for example, has one of the most stylish wine cellars I've seen."
The science of wine storage and maturation means that superyachts are far from ideal hosts, making suitable storage key. When wine is subjected to fluctuations in temperature, light, vibration or movement, its molecules move and collide; some stick together, become heavier and sink as sediment, while others break apart, which is a fundamental part of the evolution of flavour in a maturing wine. On a yacht, the maturing process is accelerated and ultimately the flavour is affected.
According to Bradshaw, whites, rosés and Champagnes are the best wines to have on board as they tend not to have sediment and are consumed at a young age. However, delicate wines, such as drier rieslings, sauvignon blancs as well as almost all rosés in these varieties, will suffer very quickly from accelerated ageing and are best provisioned on a trip-by-trip basis rather than stored on board.
Thankfully, as one of the few white wines that benefits from bottle age, the perpetual superyacht favourite Champagne is fairly seaworthy and robust, the trademark thick, dark glass bottle also helping to protect it. Rabaud stresses that when it comes to this sought-after luxury tipple, it pays to look beyond the more high-profile labels. “Crew worry that if they pour an unknown label, customers will think they are trying to give them a cheap sparkling wine,” he says. “There are some excellent, less famous champagnes that the real connoisseur will appreciate.”
Bradshaw advises avoiding older vintages, like top-end reds. "Take a 20-year-old claret, for example," he says. "This will, by nature, be more fragile than the younger wines. The sediment will have been thrown, so to speak, so more susceptible to temperature fluctuations and movements within the yacht. Of course, this is over the longer term. Older wines that are kept in good storage conditions for up to 18 months there should be no problem." He observes that first growth Bordeaux and the 'Super Tuscans' (a variety of high quality reds from Tuscany) are always popular on yachts, and has also witnessed an increase in the amount of red Burgundy being ordered.
Ultimately, if you want to be less restricted in your wine repertoire on board, dedicated storage is not just nice to have; it is a necessity. "Finding an industry standard wine cooler that fits with the general arrangement of a yacht provides a major challenge and often results in the need to create a fully custom cooler from scratch," say the team at Winch Design, who have designed wine cellars for many projects, including one just off the main dining area on the recent 85m Lürssen, M/Y Areti. "Most aged wines need to be kept at a constant temperature and out of direct sunlight, so with Areti, we used glass that filters UV light alongside decorative blackout curtains. The owners enjoy entertaining guests and personally like to serve them so [the wine cellar] alongside the personalised wine bottles adds a real element of intimacy."
Central to both the wine cellars on Vertige and Areti was seamlessly combining function and form. "Constructing [Vertige's] cellar was a bit of an engineering feat because the different compartments contain wines that have to be kept a different temperatures," says Paszkowski. "The owner’s real passion is for whites, but he also stocks reds and wants them all stored correctly." According to Bradshaw, the ideal storage temperature should usually be around 10 to 15°C: "not in the engine room, where I found one large sailing yacht keeping their wine!" Over the years, he and his team have worked with some of the leading yacht designers to assist them in the technical elements of customised wine cellars, advising on such aspects as temperatures, bottle angle and movement.
Whether you have a cellar or not, both Rabaud and Bradshaw agree that it is always advisable to order wine to be delivered by a reputable supplier to the yacht at the latest possible time. They are able to source the wines from the world's best cellars where temperature and humidity are kept constant and at the optimum level, and then efficiently transport the desired bottles to a yacht in the quickest time, in the best conditions and at exactly the right temperature, ready for guests to pop the cork at sea.