Join Crystal Insider Joe Kita as he visits the wine cellar aboard Crystal Serenity, fully stocked (as in 34,798 bottles) for its 94-day World Cruise.
I’m following Crystal Serenity’s head sommelier Mario Silva through the main dining room, where the wait staff is primping napkins and adjusting place settings before lunch. He turns left then right, and we enter the gleaming galley, so bright and clean I could use a pair of sunglasses. Mario stops momentarily in front of a silver machine that looks like a miniature car wash.
“This is just for cleaning wine glasses,” he says proudly, as if pointing out a family member. “Very special.”
Mario heads deeper into the galley, which is quiet, as if taking a collective breath before the next service. Then he leads me down one steel staircase after another. I’m no longer sure where I am – Deck 4? 3? But maybe that’s intentional. He’s escorting me to a part of the ship few guests ever glimpse, perhaps making sure I won’t be able to retrace my steps.
I trail him down a wide corridor and suddenly we’re in front of a large steel door. It could be the entry to a bank vault, or even the Gate of Heaven itself. (As it turns out, both descriptions aren’t far off.)
Mario, who is dressed impeccably in a dark suit with a maroon tie, summons a crew member, evidently the keeper of keys in the provisions department. He unlocks the door and pulls it open with some effort. As Mario and I step inside, crisp 60-degree air envelopes us. Noticing my eyes widen, Mario smiles and says, “Yes, we have everything in here.”
Welcome to Crystal Serenity’s wine cellar, the source for the 34,798 bottles currently served on the ship. The inventory encompasses some of the finest (and rarest) vintages on earth. Although the entire space is about 100 square meters, it feels much smaller because the cases and storage shelves stretch from floor to ceiling and prevent any expansive views. We must turn sideways to negotiate the aisles.
“That’s the California section over there,” he says with a wave of his hand. “The wooden cases to your right are all French, and way back in the corner is the Champagne.” (Inventory for the bubbly is a bit low, though, after the holiday guests toasted with 340 bottles on New Year’s Eve.)
I squeeze past an entire pallet of Prosecco and spot the signature black boxes of Dom Perignon and an equally impressive stack of Veuve Clicquot in its gold case that fittingly resembles a treasure chest.
And there are definitely some treasures down here:
1988 Chateau Haut Brion: “A first growth,” says Mario. “We have several different vintages. A magnum is valued at $2,100.”
2005 La Tache: “Very small production from Burgundy and one of the most famous wines in the world, $6,495.”
1988 Petrus: “From Pomerol in the Bordeaux area, $2,795.”
1998 Screaming Eagle: “Full bodied cabernet from Napa, done by Heidi Barrett, $3,750.”
2009 Chateau Margaux: “Outstanding vintage – $1,850.”
During a World Cruise, Crystal sources more wines from countries on the itinerary, so many cases from Chile and Argentina are already in the cellar and more will be coming. And since much of this World Cruise will be spent in the warm climes of Central and South America, more white wines are in stock, ready to be served cold to refresh sun-soaked guests.
Mario, who hails from Portugal, has spent 22 years as a sommelier with Crystal, and now heads a team of 12 sommeliers on Crystal Serenity. Of course, during that time he’s seen wine tastes come and go. “Wine is like fashion,” he says. “It’s always changing. Many years ago, everyone was drinking white zinfandel and now, if we go through a case a month, that’s a lot. What’s most popular today is Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, which is one of our complimentary wines, and the jammy, fruit-forward cabernets from California such as Vina Robles.”
The inventory in the ship wine cellar is computerized so Mario and the ship’s food-and-beverage manager know exactly how many bottles are available at any given time. One of Mario’s biggest jobs is reviewing the Main Dining Room menu a day in advance and choosing complimentary and for-purchase wines to complement it. Then, he requisitions the number of bottles he estimates he’ll need (typically 165 per 750 guests), and they’re brought up from provisions to a smaller cellar located between the Dining Room and Crystal Cove. (Tastes, Prego and Silk Road also have small cellars for easy access during peak serving times.)
So out of all these wines, does Mario have a favorite?
“Masseto,” he replies without a moment’s hesitation. “It’s 100 percent merlot from Tuscany. It’s called the Petrus of Italy. We have it on board for about $1,200 per bottle.”
Add that to my “things to try” list.