If you fancy yourself a bit of a wine connoisseur - or just really appreciate a glass in the evening - here's where to head
Whatever your tipple, there’s a wine region out there for you to explore and taste. From the obvious to the underrated, these are the best places in the world for a wine tour.
America’s most famous wine region, vineyard tours of California are a tourism staple here. But go beyond the obvious (Napa, Sonoma) and explore a little-visited, but exceptional area making some of the best Cali wines under the radar. Enter the Tri-Valley – an area of three valleys with some exceptional wine on offer.
This is one of the oldest wine-making regions in the country, and the area prides itself on being ‘viticultural pioneers’. There are 28 wineries to tour in the Livermore Valley Wine Country area. Hire a bike and spend a few days exploring. The best part? You can ship your favourite bottles home for free.
2. Douro Valley, Portugal
Located in the north of Portugal, the Douro River sculpts out an exquisite and verdant landscape of rolling hills lined with grape vines and vintage wine cellars. As well as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Douro Valley is the world’s oldest controlled domain for wine, and a soon-to-be Mecca for wine lovers from far and wide.
You can’t mention the Douro Valley without putting a spotlight on its finest export: port wine. A visit to Quinta do Mourão up to the wittily named ‘Port Knox’ wine cellar perched atop a hill, and run by a local artisan port producer, is an absolute must. Miguel, the charismatic owner of this family-run business, will talk visitors through the process of port wine production, with accompanying tastings of the 10-, 20- and 30-year-old ages of each and every one of his ports, straight from immense casks.
Portuguese wines are different as they are often made with a blend of grape varieties, such as Fernão Pires and Castelão, which are native to Portugal and not found elsewhere.
For a day trip to remember there are a number of operators offering combined day cruise and wine tasting tours along the Duoro River.
3. South Africa
Ever a popular destination for sun, sport and wildlife, South Africa is fast becoming a must visit foodies and wine buffs alike.
Franschhoek is relative newcomer on the global wine scene, but is coming into its own. French Huguenots arrived in 1688 and realised the potential of the fertile lands. They planted their vines, establishing what was to become the gourmet capital of the country. Visit Franschhoek on Bastille Day (July 14th each year) for French-inspired food and wine celebrations, or time your visit for later in the year for the Cap Classique (South Africa’s own sparkling wine) and Champagne Festival, where you’ll get to sample glass after glass of delicious bubbly.
Most vineyards and wineries are found to the south west of the country, but increased interest and investment has led to further expansion. The most signifcant areas are Stellenbosch and Paarl, which account for much of the annual production, but in the last 25 years, areas to the north and west of these are gaining importance.
Wherever you head for make sure you visit one of, hundreds of wineries for an estate tour. Some of the best Syrah (also know as Shiraz) can be found at La Motte in Franschhoek, Pinotage in Stellenbosch, or Sauvignon Blanc in Elgin.
Finally, you must visit the Môreson family winery in Franschhoek for home-cured charcuterie matched with award-winning wines at Bread & Wine Vineyard Restaurant, followed by an afternoon of wine tasting.
4. Okanagan Valley, Canada
Little-known internationally, the Okanagan Valley remains fairly undiscovered by Brits. Surrounded by mountains in the north and desert-land in the south, and set aside the gorgeous, glistening Lake Okanagan, the vineyards here produce some of the finest Pinot Noir in North America. It’s full, fruity and varied from vineyard to vineyard, so it’s essential to try them all on an epic tour.
Hire a car in Vancouver and take the drive up through the British Columbia countryside. You can stop in at wineries, cider orchards and even breweries on route up to Kelowna and Vernon, where exceptional hotels and restaurants await.
The drinking highlights are Summerhill Pyramid Winery, where the bohemian owner believes putting his wine in a manmade pyramid will make it taste better, and Mission Hill. The latter was visited by Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge and has a spectacular outdoor restaurant.
This tiny country produces some truly mighty wines, and its compact size means it’s easy to sample from a few different regions. Fly into Ljubljana and hire a car – it’s less than two-hours to any of the surrounding borders, so mosey east if you fancy reds and west if you prefer whites.
Pullus has a whole host of award-winning wines, from sweet Muscats to spritely Sauvignons. Visit them in historic Ptuj (pictured above) – a spa town – for an idyllic break. Alternatively, head into the rolling countryside of the Ljutomer-Ormoz district in search of fabulous whites and rosés by the Jeruzalem Ormoz Winery. You’ll be forgiven for thinking you’re in Tuscany.
Slovenia also produces some fantastic orange wines, made from white grapes but vinified like a red. The skins are left in with the juice for up to a month, producing a unique colour and flavour. Head to Ajdovščina and sample some of the best at tasting room Faladur. Head to Maribor in the north to see one of Europe’s biggest wine cellars, and the oldest vine in the world.
6. Rioja, Spain
Made up of seven fertile valleys, Rioja’s lands are ideal for growing grapes, and the Tempranillo grape has been cultivated in this region of Spain for over two thousand years.
Every year in the little town of Haro, locals from far and wide gather together on 29 June, the day of the Patron Saint of San Pedro, to take mass and then celebrate this fabulous fruit, dousing each other with, rather than drinking, Tempranillo-based wines in the annual ‘Haro Wine Fight’.
But for those who actually want to partake of their plonk a visit to the Marqués de Riscal Winery – the main part of a slick hotel – is a must. Framed by rolling hills and snow-capped mountains, your senses won’t only be delighted by what you see before you. The Winery is home to vintages dating all the way back to 1862, and you’ll get the chance to sample a glass of both the Marqués de Riscal Rueda and Marqués de Riscal Reserva accompanied by sausage and chorizo from the region.
While ninety per cent of the grapes grown in Rioja are of the Tempanello variety, the remaining ten per cent is made up of Graciano and Mazuelo varieties. You can try all of these in the numerous vineyards dotted around the region including the Bohedal Bodega Boutique, located in the charming village of Cuzcurrita de Río Tirón.
Words: Emma Badger, Rose Fooks, Lottie Gross, Jane Curran, Alexandra Fraser