From verdant western hemlock to dry desert sagebrush, a journey on the mighty Columbia River is like no other. For it's more than just pretty scenery; a cruise on the waterway dividing Washington and Oregon will have you floating figuratively in rivers of wine. Forget about needing a designated driver as the captain of the S.S. Legacy is at the helm for an itinerary that is aptly called, "Rivers of Wine."
UnCruise, the owner and operator of the S.S. Legacy, has come across a winning formula for those who love wine and for those who want to learn more about it. The building blocks start with sampling some of the best wines in Washington and Oregon. The learning curve is reinforced with an onboard sommelier and wine-maker who curate tastings designed to explore your tastes while enhancing your knowledge. The tasting palette is further stimulated through paired food and wine tastings for dinners onboard the S.S. Legacy.
By getting to know the region's wine through tasting flights, focused samplings that include both horizontal and vertical, and even blind tastings, it's possible to differentiate the flavours and notes you read about on labels. For example, the difference between earthy and muddled. Or minerality and steeliness. During the process, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a sommelier really can be your best partner in this endeavour.
UnCruise's 'Rivers of Wine'
I experienced Uncruise and its rivers of wine, from pinot noirs and chardonnays of Oregon, to full-bodied cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots of Washington. My seven-night cruise on the 88-passenger S.S. Legacy, built in the style of Victorian wooden coastal steamers of the mid-1800s, started and ended in the evergreen city of Portland, Ore. It proved to be most convenient for planning round-trip airfare.
It is an all-inclusive sailing with escorted tastings, tours, pairings and presentations from special hosts and wine experts throughout the week. Some are onboard experts who can be conveniently pestered for their knowledge to your heart's desire. The cruise also includes gourmet dining, unlimited wine, an open bar with premium brands including liqueurs for coffee, and a 24-hour self-serve liquor bar.
Drinking great wine with great food was an onboard nightly event. Our sommelier, Chris Arora, a dashingly handsome young Canadian who represents the best of a new breed of knowledgeable and friendly wine experts, gently coaxes and expands your database of oenology by mining your preferences and tastes. He was both approachable and encouraging rather than stodgy and judgemental, the latter being traits I often associated with sommeliers. Thanks to Arora, I now have a new-found appreciation for the role of sommeliers.
Arora picked great wines and paired with our dinner entrées. Over the course of the week, we complemented our premium wines with entrées such as halibut, salmon, king crab legs, pheasant, chicken and steak. We didn't stop there because Arora usually had a fortified wine or after-dinner liqueur to pair with our delectable desserts.
The cruise itinerary plows guests through five American Viticultural Areas in the Oregon/Washington wine region: Columbia Gorge, Walla Walla, Red Mountain, Columbia Valley and Willamette Valley. Along the way, I enjoyed the company of vintners, fellow wine connoisseurs and Arora, our onboard sommelier, who greatly enhanced my tastings through his tome of acquired knowledge and science.
As you sail the Columbia, Willamette, Snake and drive by the Palouse rivers, you learn about the unique terroir of the region and the local varietals. After a week, I emerged with a new-found appreciation of how stressed grapes are miraculously turned into that hedonistic delight designed to scintillate the senses and tweak our tongues.
One special night we had a vertical tasting, comparing various years of the same wine. Another night we discovered new-found delights with Zinfandel and Rosé wine, while yet another was dedicated to effervescence and bubbly.
Heritage and history
To round out our wine education, onboard heritage guides provide history, culture, geology and educational entertainment throughout the sailing. I soon learned the glaciated soils of western Washington and the Columbia Gorge are rich in eroded basalt, alluvial deposits and wind-blown loess.
All of them are compliments of the last ice age about 15,000 years ago, when the Missoula floods deposited silt and sand over the area. Today, the sandy and rocky soils are great for good water drainage, just what is needed to grow stressed grapes with premium, concentrated flavour.
Focus on Wellness
There's a focus on wellness with a hot tub, fitness equipment, yoga mats for morning sessions, and a complimentary massage for every guest. (Yes, you read that right). Wellness classes occur every morning on the top deck. For those who prefer cycling to nowhere, exercise bikes are available as are two hot tubs on the bridge deck.
Roundtrip transfers and baggage handling, port taxes/fees, interpretive shore excursions and onboard presentations, entry fees to national parks, museum, wineries, and other historical venues are all included. The only exception is that tips are extra and are charged at the end of the cruise, a standard practice for most river cruises.
if you go:
www.uncruise.com | 888.862.6881