A sense of place–the sights, sounds, smells and spirit of a travel destination–can endear that area to a person forever. For wine lovers, there is no better way to cement that connection than to explore the world around those vines. As the wine market becomes ever more global, packed with offerings ranging from the most storied wine regions to the most offbeat, so does the wine traveller’s itinerary.
Whether your tastes lean toward the rustic climbing trails of South Africa’s Stellenbosch or a tour of a Puglian castle, this list promises outstanding travel experiences and unforgettable wines.
A cradle to the Italian Renaissance, Tuscany has fueled a legacy of art, science and traditions in Italy. But it’s more so remembered the world over for its striking array of wine offerings. Disparate regions cajoled on hilltop villages and numerous hamlets, makes Tuscany an idyllic setting, perfect for a wine tasting spree!
Without a doubt, the universally acclaimed Chianti wine is the most celebrated and the one to look forward to, when in Italy. Here you will find different versions of the wine tailored to suit various pocket sizes. But if you may, then do savor Chianti Classico for its world class prowess. Other noted brands include the Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano from the respective regions of Montalcino and Montepulciano. Of these conventional wines, Brunello di Montalcino is the one that receives most accolades.
Tuscany offers a similar diverse range in sights and scenic beauty. It is majorly comprised of two – art cities like Florence (capital), Siena, Lucca and Pisa and the myriad countryside where you can escape to castles, villas and vineyards. You will find ample options for leisure and accommodation in apartments, special holiday homes, farmhouses and villas to stay.
The cities of Florence and Pisa have the major airports – Florence Airport Amerigo Vespucci (four kilometers from the center of Florence) and Pisa International Airport Galileo Galilei (1.5km south of Pisa city centre). From here, to move in and around Tuscany, it is conveniently interlinked by trains and buses at frequent intervals for major cities. Renting a car would be advisable, if you plan on to explore the cruder, rustic areas. In addition to the flamboyance of the architectural frescos, you could also go thermal bathing in the hot springs of Saturnia, Maremma.
Just as a wine graces beautifully with time, so has Tuscany evolved to be a thorough gourmand experience for the wine connoisseurs, with time.
The French have introduced the world to the art of fine dining. If anyone knows, a proper French meal or dinner embodies five different courses to be served successively. Of which both the wines, red and white, make up for crucial elements. Arguably, the most wine producing nation – quantitative as well as qualitative – for France wine is a culture; equally for the affluent and for the not-so-affluent.
Provence-Alpes-Cote d Azur, abridged to Provence, is France’s leading wine region, and a leader in the production of Rosé wine. Rosé literally translating to pink! Originally, the wine was mild, both in color and make, but the evolution over years and pertinent demands in flavors have made Rosé wine only bolder. The Rose wine is dry, light – as opposed to being sweet – and a perfect, delightful companion for an afternoon brunch of bread and cheese.
Of course, the region also produces its variant of red and white wines. But you know what they say, when in Rome do as the Romans. It’s only plausible to relish in the crimson effervesce of the Rosé wine, here. Rose Wine is light on influence, inexpensive and one with a strong lineage to back with. Estandon is believed to be the oldest brand in Provence, possibly dating several centuries back. The next in the list has powerful Hollywood connection – the Château Miraval – by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, in collaboration with the famous Perrin family of Château Beaucastel. To mention a few others on the fingertips would be Whispering Angel, Esclans, Les Clans, and Garrus; all by the Chateau d Esclans estate.
The red wine of Bandol region is particularly of great highlight since it’s one of the most internationally recognized wines, distinguished for its dark red hue and rich flashes of cinnamon, vanilla, black fruit and leather; typically taking ten years to mature fully.
On the backdrop of a snaking coastline, Provence region assures bountiful watery experiences. So if you’re a beach lover, this makes for a perfect holiday destination to swear by. More so, the Provence region inhabits few of the glamorous cities in France. Marseille, Cannes, Toulon, Nice, Avignon and so on. Make sure if Cannes is on your bucket list, then you do plan a holiday around the famed Cannes Film Festival, for the obvious reasons. What counts even more breathtaking are the unending stretches of lavender fields and the vineyards galore!
There are two major international airports in the Provence area, interlinked to the domestic ones in Provence itself, and all of France thereby. One international airport is at Marseille, Marseille-Provence, and the other at Nice, named Nice-Cote d’Azur. The interconnectivity of trains is fast and most reliable here in France while, if the localities are to be believed the best way to experience Provence is by road or on bicycle. The network of roads and highways is easily navigable with a village at every ten minutes.
When in Nice, spare a day to stop by the neighboring petite country Monaco, to be simply enthralled.
Though wine flows through all of France, one shouldn’t forget to visit the Champagne-Ardenne region! Why? The name itself is suggestive, for the Champagnes!! Yes, it was here that the birth of champagne took place. And since then, there’s been no looking back for champagne that has become synonymous to Royalty.
Champagne-Ardenne is a north-eastern region in France, close to Paris. To sum up on the region, it was always inhabited by the royal league. Since, most of Champagne is countryside with fortified structures at intervals, it’s a fabulous trip to live the medieval era all over again. The region is amassed by many ponds and lakes, so for those enjoying fishing this might well be a complete travel package!
Champagne wine is the most savored sparkling, bubbly wine all over the world. Here, there are multiple ways in which the Champagne is made. Each style giving it’s distinct flavor to the wine. Brut, very dry but best quality; Extra-Dry, a little sweeter than Brut; Sec, this one’s medium-dry and is usually for parties and Champagne-breakfasts; and Doux is the sweetest, a dessert-style champagne – All these makes are acknowledged on the labels. One shouldn’t worry about the brand, because you can directly tour the vineyards and savor champagne firsthand. You can opt for specialized champagne tours that’ll take you to the finest vineyards and wineries around.
The former capital of Champagne-Ardenne, Reims should not be missed seeing. There you have the famous Reims Cathedral, plus exotic underground cellar visits to better understand the process of Champagne-making. Troyes has this 13th Century Gothic cathedral decorated with fine stained glass. Three major rivers – Seine, Marne and Aube – pass trough la Champagne so you’ll have an option of river sailing, here.
Since Paris is the closest major destination here, you can land at Paris and then catch a bus or rent a car to Champagne-Ardenne. Accommodations are pretty sustainable both in terms of money and home-styles. Make sure you relish the cheese delicacies with champagne accompanied.
Napa Valley, California
Set in the Bay area of California, Napa Valley is the massive wine-producing region in USA, counted in one of the world majors for wine destinations. It was very recently in 1970s that the Napa Valley was recognized for its world class wine production, and since then it has quickly climbed the stairs of phenomenal success and recognition worldwide.
There’s not much hullabaloo over the brands of wine here. Except, that wines here are distinguished on the basis of which county the grapes were from. The commonest being the Napa County. The others in the list are Sonoma County and Mendocino County. Most wineries here in Napa Valley produce wines of multiple grape varieties, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon being the most celebrated ones. Most wineries charge few dollars less for simple tasting, but those like the Reserve room tastings offer samples of expensive wines for a steal.
What one needs to understand here, is that Napa Valley is a popular tourist destination world over. As such excessive crowds will inevitable. More than 3 million visitors crowd the valley each year, with the summers and the ‘crush’ periods from Septembers to Octobers being the crowd pullers. As wine is the flavor of the region, great food had to come complementary with it. Napa Valley sports several gourmet spots around. Some expensive, some sober. But the food otherwise is of high quality without a doubt. Of course, you’ll find a major influence of French cuisine and that’s nothing to be complained of. Notable hotels to name a few will be V. Sattui, Oakville Grocery in Oakville and Bouchon.
Other tourist attractions should have the Napa Valley Wine Train on your list. It’s an excursion drive familiarizing with the much admired vineyards and wineries en route from Napa to St. Helena. The picturesque outskirts of the Valley are a special lure to this drive. For those seeking some exhilarating adventure, Napa Valley offers bike riding into the valley while for those looking forward to recoup their senses go for a bath in the hot springs or simply go crazy with the mud baths. Yosemite National Park is another spot to visit too.
Napa Valley doesn’t have any direct landing facilities, so you will have to get down at one of the closest airports in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose or Sacramento. Renting a car to Napa Valley from one of these cities is the only viable option to explore this region. Special limousine tours from San Francisco to Napa Valley can also be availed.
Hunter Valley, Australia
Hunter Valley, in the state of New South Wales, is the premier wine producing region in Australia. Like most wine-producing places, Hunter Valley too boats of quaint scenic beauty, with rich and never-ending stretches of vineyards. The region’s most iconic offering in the list of wines is the Hunter Valley Semillon, a white wine that is crisp and dry, with a mild lemony, grassy tang. But when fully matured, it has a natural zing of honey and vanilla to it. Other famous wines making it to the international list are the Chardonnay and Shiraz. The Chardonnay is a white wine that is found everywhere in Australia but almost every producer has his own punch of varying degree given to it. Shiraz is another notable, but red wine from this region.
Barossa Valley, Australia
Australia has more than one wine destination to savor. To the south of Australia lies the Barossa Valley – our next prospective wine region on the list. About an hour’s drive from Adelaide, Barossa Valley has carved a niche for itself in the wine destination regions of the world, with myriad wineries here having ‘Cellar Doors’ offering free wine tastings clubbed with purchasable food and beer.
The Barossa Valley is heavily influenced by the German culture, the strokes of which can be seen in their housing style! This Germanic influence is also overshadowed in the style of wines produced here. Since its initiation, the Barossa Valley has been notably identified for its production of Shiraz wine, and as such sidelined for its lack of its variety. But it was only until the 1980s that the Shiraz was universally acknowledged for its exclusivity and branded as the Barossa Shiraz, a red wine amalgamating rich chocolate and spices.
Because of its extensive and untouched legacy, most wineries here in the Valley are 100-150 years old. With the kind of German food served here, it’s advisable to have a glass of red wine, and only red wine, to complement it. Of course the age-old, vintage cafes and dining restaurants should be a major attraction for most visiting this place. The residents of Valley have started celebrated a week-long Barossa Valley Vintage Festival to demarcate the prominence of the Valley in the global wine industry. The event is organized biannually and draws wine enthusiast from all over the world. Another festival named the Barossa Gourmet Weekend, a two-day food and wine celebratory event, is held in August every year.
As mentioned before, the city of Adelaide is the nearest major hub to the Barossa Valley. Adelaide airport has both, international as well as domestic flight terminals. So either ways, once you land in Adelaide you could hire a taxi or take a bus to the Barossa Valley. By car it shouldn’t take you more than 60 minutes to reach the Valley en route through the scenic beauty offered by the breathtaking Adelaide hills comprising of eye-soothing farmlands, orchards and gardens.
Marlborough Region, New Zealand
New Zealand is home to the most coveted grape variety, Sauvignon Blanc. The climatic conditions and the prolific soils have set the stage perfect for a delectable wine production that will be revered throughout the world.
The tiny land boasts of over 40 cellar doors here and an extensive gamut of wine varieties. You can go for the resident red wine which is a blend of many grape varieties like the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc. though these wines do not exhibit any particular fashion of taste. The other style of wine is more peculiar to this region, produced from the Pinot Noir grapes and called by the same name. It is a fruit-driven red wine, whose greater quality wines are more subtle, with earthly flavours. The other make styles are white wines made from the quintessential Sauvignon Blanc type.
Strikingly, this New Zealand region has more on platter in terms of natural aura and one sure can’t miss talking about the Marlborough Sounds. Marlborough turns out to be nature’s gift to humanity with a vivacious mix of birds and dolphins gracing the waters. It also supports a number of water sports like kayaking, sailing and it’s a birdwatcher’s paradise and a nature lover’s haven.
Commuting to Marlborough is easy from Blenheim Airport, Woodbourne. In and around the New Zealand the public transport seems minimal. So it’s only suitable to rent a car.
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