What’s the wine like in Cuba? Wine tips for all-inclusive resorts.


Hey Craig…What’s the Wine like in Cuba?

When staying at an all inclusive resort in Cuba, do not expect an elite list of wines normally found in the Ritz Carlton for you will be disappointed.

But, believe it or not, you can get a decent glass of wine in Cuba. I try to never mention to the wait staff that I am in the wine business so as to see what they would normally serve. Depending on the resort or even the restaurant, the wine quality can vary greatly. In general, the à la carte restaurants (as opposed to the buffets) serve the better wines. Some resorts even have what they refer to as “premium” wines but you might have to pay for them and sometimes dearly, even if you have an all inclusive package.

Often, it is not worth it unless the all inclusive wine is horribly bad. They can charge upwards of $35 a bottle for a simple California Chardonnay (in our case Berringers) which can be purchased at home for less than $14 a bottle. We have found Californian and French wines are the most over priced. On that note, stay away from the “popular” and the “familiar” labels and direct your attention to the South American wines.

The key here is that the Chilean and Argentine wines are readily available to the resorts and usually at a good price so as they can make them part of their wine repertoire in the all inclusive package. South American wines are generally still one of the best buys when measuring quality and price no matter where you purchase them so it makes sense that the 5 star all inclusive resorts will tend to have them available without a surcharge. When the waiter comes around and pours you a glass of what they’re serving that day, simply try it and decide for yourself whether or not you like it. If not, ask what other wines they have. There’s always more of a selection than you might think. And you do not have to pay a surcharge for it.

We were pleasantly surprised when they first served us a Chilean Chardonnay for lunch. It was crisp, light and unoaked (even though I am an oak nut) – perfect for warm weather dining and a nice match with our breaded chicken. For dinner we asked what red wines they had available that were not an extra fee on our bill. We also asked the server their recommendation. We were poured a Merlot/Tempranillo from Argentina which was quite decent. Again, the South American wines were coming to the forefront. An Argentine Malbec was also one of my choices and was very pleasant as well. One evening we were served a Chilean Sauvignon that was a fine example of the varietal.

You will notice that I am not mentioning brand names for specific wines can be available one week and not the next. Each resort or chain can have their own brand which is usually purchased by them based on price and availability. For example, we stayed at the Melia in Varadero last year and quite enjoyed a Spanish red wine that was brought in from Spain where the company originates. Keep in mind that I have had $7 local European “table” wines that were far better than some $20 wines bought here in Canada. Therefore, the local country wines, whether from Spain or Italy can be quite good. The point here is to look at wines from the resorts country of origin. Domestic resorts tend to not have access to decent wines at decent prices therefore they charge a premium.

Also, choose your wine by varietal rather than brand name for it is easier to match the ‘food and the mood’ by grape type. This is why I say “learn your varietals” and their characteristics and general food pairings. You will usually have a larger selection of grape varietals than brands names. Many à la carte restaurants will have a small rack with the wine on display and our experience tells us that there can be anywhere from 4-8 different wines to choose from. Before being seated, I usually go to the wine display, have a gander, and then make a request to my server. I have yet to be denied my request.

How to bring home the Vino!

I often ask for a bottle of wine to take back with us to our room after dinner. Pirjo and I always look forward to returning to our balcony, listening to the surf and relaxing in our own private paradise while enjoying a glass of vino and talking about the days events. The staff is not always willing to provide you with a ‘traveller’. It is a trend that they do not wish to start for everyone will be asking for bottles to go.

Tip! I bring with me a couple extra plastic bags just for this occasion. The bag conceals the evidence and you don’t want to be obvious which could get the waiter in hot water. So be discreet and don’t ruin it for the rest of us. Tip well & Treat with respect! You’ll get more wine! After each meal I leave a couple Pesos ($2) on the table, sometimes more at dinner. The staff remember this and in turn remember you. Needless to say, treating the staff with respect sometimes is worth more than the cash. Always try to befriend the staff member that appears to be in charge for they are the one that ultimately makes the decision as to whether you take a bottle to the room or not. Ask when and what days their shifts are. I try to deal with the same person(s) since it builds a nice rapport. And when being handed a bottle “to go”, say thank you and shake their hand (sometimes with a $5 peso bill folded in my palm). The discreetness is what assures them that you won’t abuse this privilege. Drop by at the beginning of their shift as well before it gets busy. Bring some articles of clothing (in a plastic bag of course) for it is worth more than money and they don’t have to share as they do with cash. T-Shirts, baseball caps and to my surprise…bras were the hot item this year. We had a bottle of wine whenever we asked.

Bring your own ‘GOVINO’ glass!

The glasses provided in your room are rarely if ever built for imbibing a nice glass of wine. And if you manage to beg, borrow or steal a nice glass from one of the restaurants, they will be taken back each morning when your room is cleaned. The solution to the glass problem is bring your own. We brought 6 shatterproof “GOVINO” glasses and only came home with 2. They are not only great for wine, but beer, pop, juice and mixed drinks. GOVINO’s go wherever glass cannot. We also brought with us an “ICE BAG” which is a travelling ice bucket that folds flat – great for the beach or poolside. Roxanna, our bartender, wanted the ice bag so badly that I had to give it to her the day we left.

Bubbly means celebration! We enjoyed what was available even if it wasn't a Dom Perignon.

Champagne or Sparkling Wine?

Obtaining a bottle of Champagne can be difficult in most resorts so don’t expect a lot. If you do manage to acquire some, it will probably cost you an arm and a leg. As far as sparkling wine is concerned- it is just that – sparkling wine. It is usually sweet, not of good quality, but readily available. We were celebrating our 25th anniversary this year and of course had to have a little bubbly. We did not expect a lot from the sparkling wine but it did accomplished what we wanted…a cork “POP” and some overflowing bubbles. Life is what you make it, so we sipped and saluted and enjoyed what the bubbles help do best…celebrate!

Note: And by the way, always pack a corkscrew. The ones provided in the rooms are never really any good and there’s nothing worse than having a bottle of wine and no corkscrew.