A holiday in wine country can be the perfect way to unwind. There is simply nothing like wiling away the hours with a glass of fine wine paired with some good, locally-sourced food. Today we run down five of our favourite areas from across the old and new world.
The gastronomic heart of France, Burgundy has a deserved reputation as one of the finest places to enjoy wine, food and a certain joie de vivre. The emphasis here is on slow food, bold reds and quiet, pretty towns and villages stuffed with produce from the surrounding countryside. Though some would describe Burgundy as “rustic”, such limiting descriptions speak only of pretension and do little justice to the engrained culture and atmosphere of a region where fine wine and choice dining is a way of life.
The main attraction in Burgundy is Pinot Noir, with the best grapes grown in the Cote de Nuits and the Grand Cru vineyards in particular. In the villages of Gevery Chambertin, Morey St-Denis and Vosne Romanee visitors will find an abundance of wineries and chateux offering a dizzying array of wares. What better to pare with the cherry and dark fruit noses than the wealth of pungent cheeses and hearty stews on offer?
Western Cape, South Africa
The Cape vineyards begin little more than half an hour beyond Cape Town and have been cultivated since the 1600s. Today it is the largest winemaking region in South Africa, with tourists flocking to visit its many estates. Unlike some better known wine making regions, the Western Cape is still eminently affordable, with tasting and pairing sessions from as little as 50 rand (approx. £3) and an abundance of accommodation.
Such low prices mean that guests are advised to travel independently, perhaps between the established Stellenbosch and Franschhoek valleys or further afield to the lesser-known, though not unimpressive vineyards of Swartland. Classics on offer include quaffable Chenin Blancs and rich, robust Pinotages, with more complex Bordeaux available with a bit of investigation. Food wise braised springbok is a perennial favourite, as is seared tuna.
Napa Valley, USA
Napa Valley has a rich agricultural heritage, however, today it is best known for its wine. The first vineyards were opened here in the early nineteenth century and within 100 years more than 140 wineries could be found in the area. Napa’s status as one of the world’s foremost regions was set in stone in 1976 when the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars won the ‘Judgement of Paris’, wowing judges in both the red and white categories.
Today Napa features more than 400 wineries, growing a myriad of grapes and attracting upwards of five million visitors each year. It is almost impossible to adequately list the rich choice of options available, rather guests are invited to find their own Napa Valley and explore the bounty it has to offer. Travelling along The Silverado Trail (parallel to Route 29) and stopping off at several wineries is a popular option. Some of our favourites include the Diamond Creek, Screaming Eagle and Sequoia Grove estates, all of which offer tasting and pairing options for a range of palettes.
La Rioja, Spain
Wineries in the Rioja region are historically family owned and operating, engendering a sense of tradition and a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere. Perhaps the best known is Marques de Riscal, which bought wine making techniques from Bordeaux and has since become one of La Rioja’s most successful endeavours, typified by their bold, muscular reds.
Red wine is definitely the main attraction in La Rioja, though a number of good whites are also on offer. The modernist Finca Allende winery has won many plaudits for its barrel-fermented white rioja (2009), which has an aromatic fruit nose, notes of vanilla and a rich pineapple taste. The Allende estate is also famous for its international blends, using grapes from the old and new world alike. This approach has won them a host of fans and makes a trip to their pristine vineyard a must for any connoisseur.
Barossa Valley, Australia
The Barossa Valley, some 35 miles northeast of Adelaide, is one of Australia’s oldest wine regions thanks to its hot continental climate and prestigious Cabernet Sauvignon production. A notable features is the age of the vines, with many planted in excess of a century ago. Many of Australia’s biggest and most important wineries can be found in the valley, including Peter Lehmann, Wolf Blass and Yalumba. Such is the cultural importance of these, and other, institutions that in 2011 legislation was put forth to offer them protected status
While the Barossa Valley is commonly associated with the Shiraz grape, numerous other varieties are also available. In recent years, for example, Syrah have become increasingly popular with Grenache and Mourvedre blends ever more available. On the white front, Riesling grapes have been imported to the region producing bottle aged wines that are known for their uniquely toasted flavours. Barossa Chardonnays are also a must-try for those who favour big, full bodied whites.