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2006 Black Opal Cabernet Merlot 

Somewhere in the Caribbean

When the woman seated across from you at dinner reveals she's a nurse at a Supermax prison, you've got a couple options. You can look at her beatifically, voicing your admiration to her for not only visiting the imprisoned, but also caring for them. Or you can do as we did and ask her to fill in the following sentence, straight out of the most offensive Mad-Libs book ever: "The craziest contraband I've ever discovered was blank crammed into a blank."

With nary a pause or flinch, she replies: "Four pens, a penis." And just like that, dinner has taken on an entirely new tone. Minutes earlier we'd found out that we had attended the same Fourth of July party as the other couple seated at our table — no small feat when there's more than 2,000 people aboard this ship, some who live as far away as Germany — but this is way more intriguing.

We're enjoying dinner onboard Carnival's ship Fascination and that pretty much describes our state of mind right now. There have been plenty of things that we've been fascinated by since we embarked a couple days ago: how people are walking around with their Bluetooths anchored in their ears when no land's in sight; the number of people who've paid $15 to sip drinks out of what looks like a wooden monkey head; the sea's sparkling spectrum of indigo to royal to turquoise blue; our new engagement ring that we still gaze at — somewhat puzzled — as though we're trying to figure out a particularly perplexing yet enjoyable algebraic equation.

We're a little drunk, thanks in part to our bottle of 2006 Black Opal Cabernet Merlot. We paid nearly $30 for it at the table (when we returned home, we found it regularly priced below $10 and was often recommended as an accompaniment to barbecue). But we've discovered that, when on a cruise ship and not paying with cash, pretty much every purchase can be rationalized with an, "Eh, that's not so bad." And this, we think, explains the monkey heads. And our wine. The Black Opal Cabernet Merlot is light and spicy, though not horribly complex, and the purply blend sloshes and quivers in the glass along with the rhythm of the sea.

Since we've been on the ship, we've met members of Can't Resist Our Wine, a group of women who are easily identified by their stumbling and Bedazzled ball caps with "CROWS" spelled out in glittery letters, as well as several people who work for Graber Window Furnishings and get an endless kick out of calling themselves "sighted blind people."

But back to the Supermax nurse and the pens: It turns out the contraband weren't whole pens, just their inner tubes, smuggled in as a means to apply ink tattoos. Well, hell! We would have gladly forked over $30 for the nurse's stories alone. Because $30, eh, that's not so bad.

Got a drink suggestion?

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