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A French wine tasting


Q: I will be in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France, next month and would like to visit a winery for a tasting. Where can I find information about which vineyards are open to the public? Are reservations required?

A: There are more than 300 vineyards around Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and most of them are open to the public year-round. Reservations are needed only for large groups. There is no charge for a visit, but tasting will cost from about $2 to $8 a glass, depending on the wine. A list of wineries is available from the tourist office at Place du Portail, 84230 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France; call

The grape harvest takes place in mid-September; its official beginning, which depends on the weather and other variables, is marked by a dinner called the Ban des Vendanges at the Cellier Pontifical beneath the Chateau des Papes, with tickets costing between $40 and $60. At this writing the date for the dinner had not yet been set. For more details and reservations, contact the Federation des Producteurs, 12 Avenue Louis Pasteur, 84230 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France; call

Among the better-known wineries that permit visits and tastings are these two: Clos des Papes, 13 Avenue Bienheureux Pierre de Luxembourg, Chateauneuf-du-Pape; call Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe, 3 Route de Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Bedarrides; call

Q: Is there a standby organization I can write to for last-minute spaces available on cruises?

A: Most travel agencies that specialize in cruises can handle bookings on short notice, up to a few days before departure and in some cases even the day before. If your motivation is price, however, you may not want to wait until the last minute. In the past two years, cruise discounting has proliferated, with special deals being offered months in advance of departure dates. Waiting to make a booking on a particular ship can even backfire: If a discount has been introduced well in advance of the sailing, it may even sell out.

If do you wait until close to your departure date -- the so called "late booking" period is generally considered 60 days before departure for the Caribbean or Alaska, 90 days for the South Pacific or the Orient -- you can often still get good deals on the cabins that are left. Your choice of ships may be somewhat narrower than it would be otherwise, and the top and bottom-priced cabins will probably be sold out.

Fall cruise departures are often discounted, and this fall seems to be shaping up as an especially good season for bargain seekers.

Here are two other agencies that specialize in cruises and can handle last-minute bookings.

The Cruise Line, 4770 Biscayne Blvd., PH 1-3, Miami, Fla. 33137; (800) 327-3021 or (800) 777-0707.

This 9-year-old company has a last-minute line at Ext. 610. Callers can also speak to an agent. Among the deals available in mid-August were an inside cabin on a seven-day Crown Princess Caribbean cruise out of Fort Lauderdale for $598 a person, based on double occupancy, with three October departures; air fare is extra. A 14-day cruise from Hong Kong to Bangkok on the Pacific Princess, departing Nov. 9, was quoted beginning at $1,695 a person, excluding air fare.

Spur of the Moment Cruises, 411 N. Harbor Blvd., Suite 302, San Pedro, Calif. 90731; (800) 343-1991 or (310) 521-1070.

This company is a 10-year-old clearinghouse with a 24-hour line describing offerings, (310) 521-1060. About a third of the company's business consists of bookings made on relatively short notice. Offerings on the special line in mid-August included an 18-day cruise from Rio to Tampa in late November for $2,389, including air fare from major cities, and a seven-day cruise from New York to Eastern Canada and New England for $839, excluding air fare, with two departure dates in September. Prices are for each of two people sharing a cabin.

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