MARY DOWEY recommends her 10 favourite destinations in the Old World for a guaranteed fantastic wine lovers' vacation.
Nothing intensifies the pleasure of wine half as dramatically as drinking it at its source on vacation. Whether you’re a dedicated fan of fabulous bottles or a casual enthusiast on a budget, you’ll find that strolling through vineyards, poking around cellars and chatting to exuberant winemakers unleashes the spirit of a region and the flavours of its wines in an unforgettable way. Organised vacation trips can have two advantages: access to top producers who might not otherwise welcome visitors, and somebody else to do the driving while you explore different destinations on your vacation.
Even so, you may enjoy the fun of planning your own tour and doing at it your own pace to explore. If you are going to plan the vacation yourself, some preparation is vital, though. Telephone in advance and try to make an appointment with the producers you’d like to visit. The most prestigious may still prove elusive – but with less inevitability than if you just turn up unannounced. Now, where to go if you’re keen to visit France, Italy, Spain or Portugal?
Just over an hour from Paris, Champagne is one of the most winning vacation destinations. Stately mansions around Reims and Epernay, manicured vineyards and cavernous chalk cellars set the tone in the grandest celebratory drink of all. Learning to distinguish between the Champagne styles adds to the enjoyment. As well as visiting some big names, drop in on one or two quality-driven small growers. Their prices will put a sparkle in anybody’s eye!
Try to visit
Veuve Clicquot, Reims.
Tel: +33 3 26 89 53 90. Slick presentation, consistently good Champagne.
Louis Roederer, Reims.
Tel: +33 3 26 40 42 11. Top quality; reserve wines from oak vats have biscuity complexity.
Tel: +33 3 26 52 60 22. Small, family-owned house; ‘inside track’ Champagnes of great finesse.
Henri Goutorbe, Ay.
Tel: +33 3 26 55 21 70. Small grower; NV quality comes at a keen price.
Tel: +33 3 26 52 13 24. Lively, appealing Champagne. Treats en route
Boyer Les Crayères, Reims.
Tel: +33 3 26 82 80 80. Elegant hotel; Michelin 3-star restaurant.
Le Clos Raymi, Epernay.
Tel: +33 3 26 51 00 58. Stylish, seven-room hotel in Chandon family house.
Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne, Epernay.
Tel: +33 3 26 51 19 30, www.champagne.fr
Drive the D2 through the Haut-Médoc – past Palmer and Margaux, Beychevelle and Léoville-Barton, Pichon-Longueville and Latour, Mouton, Lafite – and you’ll stop the car 10 times to stare. But there’s more to Bordeaux than these grand châteaux. The city – stately hub of the wine trade for almost 300 years – and nearby St-Emilion is a delightful territory for a vacation stroll. If you’re buying, remember satellite areas like the Côtes de Castillon and the Côtes de Bourg are where the action.
Try to visit
Château Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac.
Tel: +33 5 56 73 20 20. Legendary, visitor-oriented first growth.
Château Pichon-Longueville, Pauillac.
Tel: +33 5 56 73 17 17. Fairytale, turreted second growth; wine on sale.
Château Figeac, St-Emilion.
Tel: +33 5 57 24 72 26. Stylish, approachable wines.
Château Méaume, Maransin.
Tel: +33 5 57 49 41 04. Alan Johnson-Hill’s Bordeaux Supérieur is outstanding.
Château Peyrou, Saint-Magne-de Castillon.
Tel: +33 5 57 24 72 44. Polished Castillon wines from ambitious producers.
Treats en route
Les Sources de Caudalie, Martillac.
Tel: +33 5 57 83 83 83. At Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte, grand luxe hotel and spa with grape-based treatments.
La Tupina, Bordeaux.
Tel: +33 5 56 91 56 37. Convivial Gascon restaurant with excellent wine list.
Conseil Interprofessional du Vin de Bordeaux.
Tel: +33 5 56 00 22 66
Burgundy is carpeted with tiny estates of growers, proud to be farmers. Explore the region’s legendary villages and vineyards on vacation – Chablis, up in the northwest; Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St-Denis, Vosne-Romanée or Nuits-St-Georges on the Côte de Nuits; Volnay, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet on the Côte de Beaune – with the town of Beaune an ideal vacation base. Trawl lesser-known appellations Fixin, Monthélie, Santenay, Mercurey and Givry for good buys.
Try to visit
Bouchard Père et Fils, Beaune.
Tel: +33 3 80 24 80 24. Upgraded négociant/ grower; fine old cellars beneath ramparts.
Domaine Michel Lafarge, Volnay.
Tel: +33 3 80 21 61 61. Traditional Volnay of consistently high quality.
Domaine Jean-Marc Joblot, Givry.
Tel: +33 3 85 44 30 77. Leading Givry grower; iron-fist-in-velvet-glove wines.
Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard, Préhy (Chablis).
Tel: +33 3 86 41 49 00. Flavourful, well-priced wines.
Joliet Père et Fils, Fixin.
Tel: +33 3 80 52 47 85. The real Burgundy! Traditional old cellar; affordable village wines with personality.
Treats en route
Hostellerie de Levernois, Levernois.
Tel: +33 3 80 24 73 58. Magnificent Relais & Châteaux hotel in parkland.
Le Jardin des Remparts, Beaune.
Tel: +33 3 80 24 79 41. Beaune’s best restaurant, with seductive terrace right up against the town walls.
Bureau Interprofessionel des Vins de Bourgogne, Beaune.
Tel: +33 3 80 25 04 80.
Tucked up in northeast France and keeping a low profile, Alsace may not spring to mind as a must-see region on vacation. But visitors are captivated by fairytale villages of ancient, half-timbered houses, fringed by vineyards nestling in the foothills of the Vosges. And the wines! Perfumed and fat with pure, penetrating flavours, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer in Alsace assume an exotic character that is compelling. The region pioneered varietal labelling centuries ago, so its wine styles are easily grasped during your vacation.
Try to visit
Hugel et Fils, Riquewihr. Tel: +33 3 89 47 92 15. Big name going strong since 1639, still family-owned; useful starting point.
Domaine Weinbach, Kayserberg.
Tel: +33 3 89 47 13 21. Finely tuned, delicate wines from Mme Faller and her two daughters.
Domaines Schlumberger, Guebwiller.
Tel: +33 3 89 74 27 00. Rich, luscious wines; magnificent terraced vineyards encompassing five grands crus.
Marc Kreydenweiss, Andlau.
Tel: +33 3 88 08 95 83. Biodynamic, age-worthy wines with strikingly pure flavours.
Rolly Gassman, Rorschwihr.
Tel: +33 3 89 73 63 28. Small, friendly, quality-driven producer.
Treats en route
Auberge de l’Ill, Illhaeusern (near Colmar).
Tel: +33 3 89 71 89 00. Expensive Michelin 3-star in glorious riverside setting.
Hotel-Restaurant Chambard, Kaysersberg.
Tel: +33 3 89 47 10 17. On old town’s edge, excellent cooking in two restaurants.
Conseil Interprofessionel des Vins d’Alsace, Colmar.
Tel: +33 3 89 20 16 20, www.vinsalsace.com
5. Southern Rhône
Spreading out on both sides of the river, the sunny vineyards of the Southern Rhône are hard to beat for a wine vacation. The landscape is enchanting and dramatic, filled with lush vineyards. The wines, though often more than capable of ageing gracefully, are approachable when young. And while Châteauneuf-du-Pape prices are high, appellations like Gigondas, Rasteau, Cairanne and Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages can still offer remarkable value.
Try to visit n Château de Beaucastel, Courthézon. Tel: +33 4 90 70 41 00. Stellar Châteauneuf-du-Pape, succulent Côtes du Rhône. n Domaine de la Soumade, Rasteau. Tel: +33 4 90 46 13 63. Wines with immense polish and depth. n Domaine Saint Gayan, Gigondas. Tel: +33 4 90 65 86 33. Friendly family estate, lipsmacking Gigondas. n Domaine La Réméjeanne, Sabran. Tel: +33 4 66 89 44 51. Vibrant Côtes du Rhône from enthusiastic Rémy Klein. n Domaine de Durban, Beaumes-de-Venise. Tel: +33 4 90 62 94 26. Worth steep climb for remarkable views and light, elegant, sweet wines. Treats en route n Hotel Bellerive, Rasteau. Tel: +33 4 90 46 10 20. Simple country hotel with unbeatable views across vines. n Restaurant Christian Etienne, Avignon. Tel: +33 4 90 86 16 50. Astonishing tomato menu in summer, truffles in winter. More information n Inter Rhône, Avignon. Tel: +33 4 90 27 24 00, www.vins-rhone.com 6.
Tuscany Villas of crumbling, pink stone flanked by cypresses, olive groves and vineyards are dreamy in the silver haze that settles over the Tuscan hills. Add to that wines which keep getting better – rounder, riper, richer, yet still distinctively Italian. Between Florence and Siena, Chianti Classico is the focal point. But detour to San Gimignano for Vernaccia, and keep an eye out for wines from up-and-coming Bolgheri and Morellino di Scansano near the coast.
Try to visit
n Antinori, Florence, Tel: +39 055 23 595. The estates are not open to the public but it is possible to taste the wines in the Cantinetta Antinori at the Palazzo Antinori in Florence. n Badia a Coltibuono, Gaiole in Chianti. Tel: +39 0577 749 498.Idyllic estate with abbey, restaurant, cookery school, and first-rate wines; don’t miss Sangioveto. n Querciabella, Ruffoli di Greve. Tel: +39 055 853 834. Chianti Classico and majestic Super-Tuscan Camartina. n Selvapiana, Pontassieve. Tel: +39 055 836 9848. Leading Chianti Rufina estate; olive oil as alluring as wines. n Panizzi, San Gimignano. Tel: +39 0577 941 576. Lovely Vernaccia. Treats en route n Certosa di Maggiano, Siena. Tel: +39 0577 288 180. Romantic hotel in 14th-century monastery on vine-clad hilltop.n Locanda dell’Amorosa, Sinalunga. Tel: +39 0577 677 211. Tiny, reclaimed village, now rambling, likeable hotel. More information n Enoteca Italiana, Siena. Tel: +39 0577 228 497, www.enoteca-italiana.it 7.
To wine lovers who are music lovers, Verona and its opera make Veneto irresistible for a vacation. Lovers have the Romeo and Juliet balcony to ogle. And the wines are as much the focus of an Italian renaissance as those of Tuscany. Producers are demonstrating the delicious potential of once-despised Soave and Valpolicella, besides breathing new life into Amarone – both the dry version and the sweet recioto. Long-living Amarone is worth buying to lay down, while splendid ripasso wines, between Valpolicella and Amarone in style, offer outstanding value.
Try to visit
n Anselmi, Monteforte d’Alpone. Tel: +39 045 761 1488. Full-flavoured Soave and exquisite Recioto I Capitelli. n Allegrini, Fumane. Tel: +39 045 683 2011. Sixth-generation winery blazing quality trail. n Romano dal Forno, Illasi. Tel: +39 045 783 4923. Disciple of famous Quintarelli; concentrated, expensive wines. n Serego Alighieri, Gargagnago. Tel: +39 045 770 3622. Delightful estate with roots back to Dante. n Zenato, San Benedetto di Lugana. Tel: +39 045 755 0300. Dynamic, friendly family firm; luxuriously textured wines. Treats en route n Bottega del Vino, Verona. Tel: +39 045 800 4535. Renowned wine bar/wine shop; buzzy ambience. n Antica Riseria Ferron, Isola della Scala. Tel: +39 045 730 1022. Fascinating rice mill and restaurant of Gabriele Ferron. More information n Unione Vini Veneti, Verona. Tel: +39 045 595 750, www.uvive.it 8.
Start in Oporto, drinking in the views across the river to the port shippers’ lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia by night and visiting them by day. Then catch a train up the Douro Valley on one of the greatest railway journeys in the world. Terraced vineyards hewn out of schist and slate fall precipitously to either side of the winding river. Dotted among them are whitewashed quintas. You don’t need to be a port lover to revel in this trip: increasingly, producers are directing grapes traditionally used for port into dense, spicy red wines.
Try to visit
n Graham, Vila Nova de Gaia. Tel: +351 22 377 6330. Climb up hill in Gaia rewarded; excellent cellar tour, rich and seductive vintage ports. n Ramos-Pinto, Vila Nova de Gaia. Tel: +351 22 370 7000. Roederer-owned house on riverfront; intriguing history. n Quinta do Noval, Pinhâo. Tel: +351 22 377 0282. First major house to age its ports up the valley; elegant wines. n Quinta do Crasto, Sabrosa. Tel: +351 254 920 788. Spectacular situation and spicy table wines from David Baverstock. n Quinta de la Rosa, Pinhâo. Tel: +351 254 732 254. Bergqvist family makes good ports by traditional methods. Treats en route n The Vintage House, Pinhâo. Tel: +351 254 731 600. Old Taylor’s property now luxury hotel with tasting room (see p100). n Hotel Porto Carlton, Oporto. Tel: +351 22 340 2300. Cool, modern design behind original façade of quayside houses; beg a river room for Gaia views. More information n Rota do Vinho do Porto (Port Wine Route), Peso da Régua. Tel: +351 2543 20145. 9.
9. Penedès & Priorato
Penedès, to the west of Barcelona, has so many different kinds of terroir, weather and grapes (both native and international) that it produces an astonishing variety of still wines as well as cava. Further west lies Priorato, the small Catalonian region which has recently emerged as a new wine El Dorado, perfect to explore on vacation. Garnacha grown in a dramatic landscape of steep, schist terraces yields expensive but truly exciting red wines.
Try to visit
n Miguel Torres, Vilafranca del Penedès. Tel: +34 938 177 400. Vast but also vastly significant Penedès standard-bearer. n Albet I Noya, Sant Pau d’Ordal (Penedès). Tel: +34 938 994 812. Family bodega producing good organic wines with passion. n Can Ràfols dels Caus, Avinyonet del Penedès. Tel: +34 938 970 013. Strong range includes stylish Caus Lubis (Merlot) and Ad Fines (Pinot Noir). n Alvaro Palacios, Gratallops (Priorato). Tel: +34 977 839 195. Top wines L’Ermita and Finca Dofi are glorious. n Mas Martinet, Falset (Priorato). Tel: +34 977 830 577. Important force behind new-wave Priorato. Treats en route n Cal Ton, Vilafranca del Penedès. Tel: +34 938 903 741. Traditional local cooking tweaked towards modernity. n Termes de Montbrio, Montbrio del Camp. Tel: +34 977 814 000. Cosseting spa hotel between Priorato and the beach. More information n Consejo Regulador, Vilafranca del Penedès. Tel: +34 938 904 811; Torroja del Priorat. Tel: +34 977 839 495. 10.
Enjoy drinking sherry on vacation? You’ll be surprised how easy it is in Andalucia – not only in the cathedral-like bodegas, but in terrific tapas bars and sizzling fish restaurants. (Order fresh, chilled fino or manzanilla by the bottle, like the locals.) Besides visiting Jerez de la Frontera, sherry’s whitewashed home town, make the 40-minute vacation trip to the little port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda at the mouth of the Guadalquivir river where manzanilla is made.
Try to visit n Gonzalez Byass, Jerez de la Frontera. Tel: +34 956 357 000. Big and beautiful, if touristy; Eiffel-designed dome shelters Tio Pepe and much more. n Emilio Lustau, Jerez de la Frontera. Tel: +34 956 341597. Flower-garlanded bodega of top quality. n Valdespino, Jerez de la Frontera. Tel: +34 956 331 450. Single-vineyard Inocente stars. n Vinicola Hidalgo, Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Tel: +34 956 385 304. Church-like bodega beside sea; Javier Hidalgo flies flag for sixth generation. n Antonio Barbadillo, Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Tel: +34 956 385 500. Biggest manzanilla producer, still family-owned. Treats en route n Casa Bigote, Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Tel: +34 956 362 696. Great fish restaurant, right in the port. n La Andana, Jerez de la Frontera. Tel: +34 956 307 385. Tapas with a modern twist in bar popular with producers. More information n The Sherry Institute of Spain. Tel: +44 (0) 20 7467 2330, www.sherry.org Mary Dowey is the wine correspondent for The Irish Times. Next month: top 10 New World destinations
Written by MARY DOWEY