We know that you Lazenne blog readers are a globetrotting lot, so next time you find yourself in a new European city, why not spend some time becoming acquainted with the local wine production? We’re not talking about Bordeaux or Florence or Porto, the names synonymous with wine, either. We mean the great capitals and more! If you’re prepared to dig a little you may just uncover some wonderful wine discoveries in and around cities you least expect.
Believe us; you’ll be pleased you made the effort.
Should you want to take a few bottles home in souvenir, don’t forget that we can deliver the Wine Check luggage to hotels throughout Europe. So relax and enjoy, knowing you can transport any impromptu wine purchases with safety and ease!
Here are some of our favourites:
More commonly associated with Mozart and the Waltz, Vienna also lays claim to being the only European capital which cultivates a serious wine industry. In fact, Viennese wine is so appreciated by the local population that they keep most of it for themselves! Very little of the production makes it to export. We’d recommend catching the tram to explore the vineyards of Nussdorf, a charming suburb in the city’s north, on the banks of the Danube. Vienna’s vineyard taverns, the heuriger, are legendary, so settle in for a glass of the great local grape, Grüner Veltliner, and the other iconic Viennese treat, a Wiener schnitzel!
Taste traditional (and wonderfully exotic sounding) grape varieties such as Arinto, Fernão Pires and Trincadeira in one of the nine wine regions that fan out from Portugal’s buzzing capital, Lisbon. Until recently known as the Estremadura, the Lisboa wine region encompasses nine DOC’s (denominação de origem controlada) as well as a more generic Vinho Regional Lisboa classification. Two of these DOC’s, Colares and Carcavelos, have become rather endangered species, threatened by Lisbon’s urban sprawl and rising property prices; we’re talking prime, coastal land after all. Wine production is understandably dwindling, so the still red and whites from the former and the fortified wines from the latter are becoming somewhat of a collector’s item.
Nothing says celebration and romance quite like bubbles, and a glass of sparkling wine is a perfect match to time spent in one of the world’s most romantic cities, Venice. Italy’s great sparkling wine, Prosecco, comes from the hills surrounding Treviso, one of the main gateways to Venice. The Prosecco Wine Route is the oldest and arguably most spectacular wine roads in Italy, offering visitors nearly 50 kilometres of winding roads and gentle slopes to explore. The main ingredient is a grape called Glera (until recently the variety was called Prosecco as well), and creates a delightfully light, fresh and fruity fizz which is dangerously easy to drink.
The biggest city on the French Riviera is an eternally popular tourist destination thanks to its moderate climate and glorious beaches … but wine? Yes! In fact, these Nice vineyards are so much of a secret that even many locals aren’t aware of their existence. The Bellet AOC (appellation d'origine controlee) can be found on the western fringes of the city is one of the smallest and oldest appellations in France. Most of the eleven vineyards which produce Nice wine are boutique operations, with cellars in the basement of the family home. A visit will also introduce you to Nice’s two unique grape varieties: Braquet and Folle Noire.
Don’t forget to read our guide to learn more about flying with wine and alcohol. We’d love to hear your favourite European wine cities as well!
If you look around the world of wine today, you'll notice that most wine is made with the same grape varieties. Pretty much every 'New World' country produces wines made from grapes native to France; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot... the list goes on. This is no bad thing as stylistically, all the above varieties can be drastically different depending upon climate, soil, viticulture and vinification. The vast majority of glossy, bold Shiraz from Australia is, literally and figuratively, a world away from the savoury, peppery wines of the Northern Rhone, for example. However, in the last 10 years the fashion has been to move away from seeking out the 'best' examples of these well known varieties and instead to look for unique expressions, typically from grapes native to specific countries and regions. This has seen the emergence of some new stars in the world of wine, from the austere, mineral wines of Mount Etna in Sicily to the powerful, racy Assyrtiko of Santorini in Greece. Austria has re-modelled its vinous reputation with the versatile Grüner Veltliner and even as afar as South America, Bonarda and Pais are resurging on both sides of the Andes, in Argentina and Chile respectively.
However, no country has been rediscovered in quite the same way as Spain. There are somewhere in the region of 600 grape varieties on the Iberian Peninsula, the vast majority of them indigenous and regionally specific in production. Despite this, Spain was for decades synonymous with oaky, extracted wines from Rioja, and to a lesser extent Ribera del Duero, with Tempranillo the only celebrated indigenous grape hailing from the country. Short-sighted producers ripped up their old, unfashionable vineyards and replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and anything that was currently selling, not realising that in doing so they were giving up their major point of difference on the international market-place. However, this wasn't true for all producers and quietly, many went about their business as they had done for centuries; cultivating their families vineyards and producing wines of distinction and style, as their vines slowly became older, sturdier and produced better quality fruit. To look at the market now compared to 20 years ago is staggering. Shops in Barcelona are awash with local Catalan wines, Galician field-blends are appearing in top restaurants across the world and even Sherry is making a come-back! To cover the entirety of this resurgence would take a strong liver and a lot of time, but I'd like to share a few exciting varieties from my own little corner of Spain, the fiercely independent Catalunya:
Wine is a fussy product. Starting from its very beginnings as embryonic genetic material located on the buds of vines, to its moment of glory in your glass, there are countless chemical reactions, pitfalls and opportunities to be navigated and controlled in order to create a good bottle of wine. The vast majority of these is, fortunately, taken care of by the time we actually buy a bottle of wine, as the vigneron has spent the entire year wrestling against nature, ensuring the right balance of sugars, acids and flavour compounds, before handing over the baton to the wine-maker. This is where the grapes will be converted into wine through the magical process of fermentation, possibly aged and then bottled with care being taken to ensure biological stability. Then depending on where the wine is to be sold, it will go through a long or short supply route, potentially crossing oceans, continents and all sorts of checks before it finally appears on a shop shelf or restaurant list somewhere in the world.
Enter us; the consumer. We purchase the wine with the intention of one day drinking it, whether that be within minutes of the purchase, or 20 years down the line, after extended storage to allow for it to evolve within the bottle. Assuming the bottle has been purchased close to home and you intend to drink it in the near future, this is all well and good as any issues of storage are very much the responsibility of the retailer/restaurant and bottles can be returned for a refund. However, if you're buying the wine far from home, possibly, abroad, we run into some potential issues quite quickly.
Having just come back from a two week trip to the Mount Etna region of eastern Sicily we thought we'd share some of the best wine stores we came across travelling in the region. I must say I love the "enoteca" concept in Italy, where you can come for an aperitivo, taste local wines by the glass with some food, and then purchase bottles that you've tasted and liked. We loved visiting and tasting wines directly at the wineries of course, but the experience of tasting different producers side by side, and the ability to try older vintages can only be done at an enoteca.