Hands up if you love to travel (*waves hands in the air enthusiastically). Hands up if you love wine (*waves hands in the air even more enthusiastically). Hands up if you think that a holiday in a beautiful region, plus lush scenery, wine tasting, great food and no drive home sounds like your idea of a good time? Oh good, we think so too.
We love the idea of a wine holiday. Whether you’re keen to taste some wine or just want a peaceful and relaxing time in a beautiful location, there is no denying that driving through the vineyards of Tuscany, Provence, Bordeaux or Roja brings a welcome change from the beach. And you don’t even need to be a wine aficionado to enjoy it – we defy anyone to not be seduced by layer upon layer of rolling hills, mist covered plains and a never-ending graphic line of vines whose leaves are glowing in the sun.
Here’s our pick of some of the best regions for wine lovers.
Bordeaux in France
By far the heavyweight in the wine holiday category, Bordeaux has got its vineyard visits down to pat. The region is of course synonymous with big, bold, beautiful reds and with the new high-speed train linking Bordeaux to Paris in just two hours, the region has suddenly become even more popular. As if Bordeaux’s rolling vineyards and incredible eponymous product weren’t enough, the city’s €81m Cite du Vin is a huge crowd puller as well. This museum and exhibition centre also host shows, film projections and academic seminars on the theme of wine. This has given birth to a new generation of bars, restaurants and festivities, and has made Bordeaux a hot spot for cool couples. The place is alive: Bordeaux is now nouveau: heavy-bodied and classical dignity with flavours of zest and fruitiness.
But what of the wine region itself? Well, for starters, Bordeaux the area is huge; around 62 square miles in fact. Additionally, it is essentially one enormous vineyard. Row upon row of vines stretches as far as the eye can see with approximately 8,500 chateaux punctuating the horizon. What you must remember is that the area is split more of less done the middle by the Gironde River, giving meaning to the terms “right bank “ and “left bank”, which bring a much deeper understanding of the product of the terroir. Note: Left Bank wines are mostly Cabernet Sauvignon fleshed out with Merlot; Right Bank wines are more Merlot balanced by a smaller proportion of Cabernet.
The region is well set up for wine tourism, and there is a plethora of must-do activities that should not be missed. Go for an afternoon in and around Saint-Émilion, where there are plenty of top-notch domaines to visit including Chateaux Angelus, Pavie and Cheval Blanc. This beautiful old wine town, just 40-minutes outside of Bordeaux, is built like an amphitheatre and has some pretty decent wines to sample. Hop on a bicycle and tour the vineyards, drinking in the sight of the astonishing grand cru chateaux which make the region so famous. The city is a foodie heaven, so do not miss out on tasting the local gastronomy, finished off by a little cannelé. This caramelised outside, squashy with vanilla and rum inside, dessert is Bordeaux’s emblematic confectionery.
Rioja in Spain
Spain’s Basque region to the north of the country is home to the highly identifiable Rioja wines. It also homes an inspired gastronomic heritage, and is one of the world’s most avant-garde museums (Bilbao’s Guggenheim). Euskal Herria (better known to us as the Basque Country) is Spain’s premier wine region and is wonderfully varied and blessed with its own distinctive identity. Winery hopping is a must-do in this undervalued part of the country, and even those with very little knowledge or experience of fine wine will surely enjoy a drink themed escorted tour in one of the many wineries of the area.
The bulk of the vineyards line Río Ebro around the town of Haro, but some also extend into neighbouring Navarra and the Basque province of Álava. The region is as diverse as it is beautiful: La Rioja is worth visiting not only for wine but also for its food and spectacular countryside. Float in a hot air balloon over the miles and miles of vines or nibble on some chorizo while quaffing a glass of the local product and we think you’ll agree: La Rioja is a region worthy of discovery.
Tuscany in Italy
Set on the central west coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea, Tuscany is Italy’s winemaking powerhouse. The region is responsible for exporting €536m worth of wine, among them the world-famous Sassicaia, Super Tuscan, Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. Touring the area provides a chance to visit wine-makers for tastings (often free of charge, as long as you buy a bottle or two), stay at gorgeous agriturismi and dine at authentic trattorias.
As the world learns to live with Covid-19, Tuscany seems to be leading the way as Italy’s wine tourism bounces back from two very difficult years. Visitors flock to the region, drawn by the mix of wine tasting, great cuisine, hiking, biking and festivals that make the area appealing. This is a region that has a heady mix of authenticity, coupled with buckets of Made in Italy style: think farmhouse hotels with infinity pools and luxury amenities, lyrical landscapes, world-class art and a superb cucina contadina (farmer’s kitchen). For those who want to imbibe in the region’s many cultural gems, Florence homes some of the world’s most famous artworks, while 17th century Sienna is one of the country’s most staggeringly beautiful towns.
Regardless of whether you are a foodie or not, the Tuscan experience is perfectly in symbiosis with the land, wine and cuisine that has made it such a covetable destination.
Alsace Wine Route in France
The Alsace Wine Route’s appeal lies in its exceptional landscapes and unrivalled beauty. Vastly overshadowed by Burgundy and Bordeaux,the region is France’s third contender in terms of famousness, but that doesn’t mean that it takes a bronze medal for its wines, nor its beauty. This is a route that strings together picturesque villages, outstanding landscapes, miles upon miles of vines and passionate winegrowers and is quite simply Instagram gold.
At 170-km-long the Alsace Wine Route is home to seven grape varieties and numerous 51 unmissable grands crus. Alsace is famous for its stunning Rieslings, as well as its fruit-forward white wines. Take some time off the open road to indulge in some typical Alsatian fare – think symbols of conviviality, such as iconic dishes such as the tarte flambée or a cheese-covered pretzel. Of course, pair your meals with the region’s wines – think Muscat for an aperitif, Riesling with fish and shellfish, Pinot Gris with white meat and Gewurtztraminer with cheese and dessert.
Napa Valley in California
There are more than 375 wineries open for tastings and 90 urban tasting rooms in Napa Valley so suffice to say that the Californian wine region is perhaps the biggest in the country. The picturesque destination has been a crowd-pleaser for years, exciting the tastebuds of oenologists the world over. It may seem a cliche to say that Napa is more than a sum of its parts, but this is one instance where the saying rings true. Napa is all things to all people: yes there are world-class wines such Opus One and Domius Estate (both estates produce highly investable wine that is well worth investing in), but Napa is so much more. Think paddle boarding on Napa River and hot air balloon rides above the eponymous Valley. The more romantic among you might like to take to Napa Valley Wine Train – a fully restored vintage train that meanders through the landscape of the region. It might be a bit touristic but goodness me, its a great way to eat and literally drink in the flavours of the region.
Discover the top 10 wine holiday hotspots of the world in our fantastic blog on the Best wine regions here!