Europe is home to some of the most famous wine regions and wine brands on the planet, so it makes sense that the continent is a great place for the wine traveller to explore. Sometimes it can be easy to plump for the most well-known regions, or it can be daunting choosing which ones to visit.
We've asked our friends at the Winerist to recommend their top 5 wine regions in Europe. These wine regions give a mix of the well-known and the up-and-coming to help you plan your travel for 2015. Whether you’re a wine buff, wine beginner or avid traveller, they have something special for anyone who wants to avoid the tourist traps and go off the beaten path! So here we go:
Moldova – fit for royalty
Moldova is quickly becoming recognised as one of the most authentic destinations in Europe, and was voted as 2014’s No. 1 destination for off-the-beaten-path travel. It may be a small country, but it more than makes up for it with its abundance of internationally-recognised, award-winning wineries. The Purcari Estate has even made wines that have been enjoyed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II! We recommend at least 3 days in Moldova with the best times to visit being May - June and September - October.
All eyes on the Douro Valley
Douro is a Port lover’s paradise, but the adventure doesn’t stop there. Wines in the Douro combine terroir, aromatic layers of red and dark fruit flavours with a firm but non-invasive tannic structure. This is a region which never fails to amaze. Relaxing stays are available at Quinta da Veiga and a great way to enjoy the journey is on our Mateus Wine Tour. If you are fortunate enough to visit during harvest, try our Douro Harvest Tour for guaranteed fun.
Tuscany like never before
If you’ve never been to Tuscany, what have you been waiting for? This beautiful region is dynamic, innovative and full of hidden gems. Isole e Olena, Querciabella and Fontodi show a different side to Chianti and Conti di San Bonifacio remains one of our favourite homes away from home. Tuscany is the perfect destination in the autumn and around truffle hunting season so you can enjoy truffle-infused dinners and rich, mesmerising wines.
Back to Bordeaux...
Bordeaux is a stellar wine region known throughout the world. Over the years many wine tourists have gravitated towards Bordeaux and it’s easy to see why. The countryside is dotted with impressive chateaux – the perfect places for wine tastings and a vineyard lunches. You can bike through the village of St. Emilion or try a self-drive tour to leisurely enjoy the region. Whatever you do, be sure to visit the Dune du Pyla - the tallest dune in Europe for some wine, a swim and for oysters!
Santorini – home to Greece’s best wine?
Picture this: a glass of wine in your hand as you admire the views of the volcano at sunset… it’s no wonder that Santorini has become Greece’s little gem. It’s often argued that Santorini is home to Greece’s best wines. We think it’s your duty as a wine traveller to head straight there and settle this debate.
When looking for hotel to stay, there’s no shortage of beautiful accommodation with spectacular views. The Mill Houses have a passion for wine and you will be taken care of so well! Mystique was repeatedly voted the best hotel in Greece and it offers privacy, luxury and great dining. On hot summer days when you want to escape the heat, you can enjoy a superb cooking class with the locals.
Rioja is for wine lovers
Rioja is a timeless favourite thanks to its rich culture, delicious wine and fantastic winemakers. If you are a real Rioja fan, our bespoke tour is perfect for you. If you would like to be looked after, then our 3-Day Rioja Adventure is the way to be wined and dined. Great night stays are available at Hotel Viura - the bedrooms, the views, the wine bar offer the perfect setting for a wine holiday.
At Winerist we think the best way to discover a place is to meet the locals who create the culture, and who know the traditions and the secrets of their hometown. From learning to cook traditional dishes with local people to staying in authentic, boutique hotels, we have experiences to turn a trip into something unforgettable.
Diana Isac is the CEO of Winerist, the online marketplace for wine and food travel experiences around the globe.
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.