Building an Onboard Wine Collection

17 August 2010 By Peter Grogan

As with boats, so it is with booze on boats; it’s perfectly simple, “the bigger the better.” Big bottles, big glasses, big flavours and big budgets are the way to go when you're provisioning.

The whole world of wine may be moving towards lighter, fresher, more subtle accents these days, but bold is what you want on a boat. This especially applies when disporting the guests on deck, where, in even the slightest breeze, half the pleasure of wine can literally be blown overboard. We get as much pleasure out of wine, if not more, through its aromas as through its taste, even if we’re not always aware of it.

This is where big glasses shine. If your guests are like me and spend as much time sniffing their wine as actually drinking it, offer them something they can get their whole face into. Riedel make the best glasses - choose from the “Vinum” range for parties and keep the quivering-thin “Sommeliers” for casual evenings with the best bottles on board.

For reds, you want lots of Rhône grape varieties, especially Shiraz, as well as big zinfandels and the best Argentine Malbecs, which can all stand up for themselves in a blow. For Bordeaux, onboard drinking is one of the few times when I'm likely to put my money on uber-wine critic Robert Parker's recommendations. He favours the kind of up-front, “fruit-bomb” styles we're looking for over the subtler accents more likely to find favour with, say Jancis or the Wine Spectator.

As for whites, again finesse has to take second place to power. The “less-is-more” Chablis take on chardonnay just won't be able to make itself heard, or tasted, in a gaggle of big-hair Californian, Australian and even Southern Burgundy versions, especially from Pouilly-Fuissé. Another tip is not to over-chill chardonnays like these and risk losing all those buxom, vanilla and butter aromas.

Another good choice for whites are aromatic grapes like sauvignon blanc and Riesling, especially from the New World, which are also less sensitive when it comes to the question of chilling. Perfumed grapes like gewurztraminer, Muscat and viognier come into their own out of doors, as well.

For rosé, it's best to choose grapes that make big red wines and Portugal is my current source of choice – given that grapes like touriga nacional and tinta roriz make Port in their day jobs, it's hardly surprising the pinks have plenty of stuffing.

Big bottles always lend a buzz to any bash. As far as names and sizes go, a magnum is equivalent to two standard bottles; a double-magnum is four (and is called a jeroboam in Champagne and Burgundy, while in Bordeaux that's the six-bottle size) so it's all perfectly straightforward. Of the heavyweights, an imperial is eight; a salmanazar is a dozen; a balthazar sixteen and a nebuchadnezzar is a hard-to-handle twenty.

But it’s probably best to stick magnums...unless you're tied up.