8 Places to Go Wine-Tasting around the World
Growing up inherently involves lifestyle changes. For some people, growing up involves spending all their savings on a huge party and creating little mini-me’s. For me so far, growing up instead involves travelling with more mature and refined habits!
Take alcohol for example. Long gone are my days of hostel pub crawls, shot bars, and coming home after sunrise. Nowadays I seem to get my kicks from wine-tasting and I am more likely to be safely tucked up in bed in a wine-induced haze by 10pm, rather than greeting the neighbours as they head out to work! Cue flashback to my my first Erasmus year abroad, when this was a regular occurrence.
Everyone already knows about Bordeaux, Tuscany and the big wine-growing regions in Europe. Ignoring those, here are my favourite 8 spots on four different continents around the world to get drunk on fine wine while pretending to be cultured, and spouting randomly acquired facts about viticulture. Cheers!
Starting closer to home are some English wines from the West Country. Cycle the City organises a 2.5 hour cycling wine tour of the prettiest sights in Bristol, stopping off every 10 minutes or so to crack open a new bottle, sometimes accompanied by a local cheese too. You also visit the pretty quay, and finish up under the Clifton suspension bridge. I did this as part of a friend’s hen party on a gloriously sunny day and can recommend!
For anyone with a sweet tooth, Porto is heaven. The vineyards are located up the Douro Valley but all the major Port producers have cellars in the city itself, so you can take a tour of their premises, learn how they fortify their wines and about the interesting history behind why so many of the producers have British heritage and surnames, rather than Portuguese. We visited Graham’s (make sure to book your visit in advance) and you can read more about that here, inside my city guide to Porto.
Greece might not jump instantly to mind as world-famous wine, but there is one vineyard on Santorini that is worth banishing your pre-conceptions for. Book a table in advance for a wine flight and platter of meats and cheeses sunset at Santo Winery, whose terrace looks westwards over the beautiful caldera bay. Trust me!
Ô Chateau wine bar in central Paris serves up flights of its finest French wines individually paired with specific fromages and charcuterie for an affordable price, and is a great alternative to a trip out to the wine regions if you’re tight on time. See my review here.
Niagara Peninsula, Canada
Canadian wine you say? The chilly climate allows them to make ‘ice wine’, a very sweet white wine that’s almost nectar-like, thanks to the extra high sugar content of the grapes at the colder temperature at time of picking. I visited the Peller Estates winery as a nice addition to a visit to Niagara Falls a few years ago and my review is here.
Sonoma Valley, California, USA
Located next to its more famous sibling, Napa Valley, wine-tasting in Sonoma is a glorious way to spend a day in Northern California. Find yourself a guide to drive you to 5 or so of the best vineyards, so you don’t have to choose a designated driver, and allowing you meet the vineyard owners, learn about the wine-making process and science behind the barrels and ageing process – as well as drink a lot of wine, of course! My guide was from Terrific Tours and my full review is here.
Stellenbosch, South Africa
My first ever wine-tasting in an actual vineyard was in Stellenbosch, the famous wine-producing region not far from Cape Town. Finding an affordable tour guide at Wine Flies through our hostel, we were driven in a small minibus around 5 different vineyards, the first of which luckily taught us how to swill and taste wine, and what to look out for with legs, tannins, and aromas – which was fairly vital. If you’ve never wine-tasted before, then don’t hesitate to ask, as I’ve found that mini masterclass invaluable ever since. Suitably drunk after a day of wines with paired cheeses and even paired chocolates, and after visiting one vineyard which supplied wine for Prince William and Kate’s wedding in 2011, we all fell fast asleep in the minibus back to Cape Town – perfect. Read more here.
Marlborough, New Zealand
The most recent addition to my wine-tasting tour of the world saw us cycle around five Marlborough vineyards on New Zealand’s South Island, tasting a total of 22 wines! While I’d have thought drunk-cycling were almost as dangerous as drunk-driving, it appears to be a legitimate mode of exploring the vineyards west of Blenheim, and you can choose either a guided or self-guided cycle tour from Explore Marlborough. Self-guided is perfectly easy as you can drop into any vineyard without advance notice, and linger in those you like most. We visited No.1 Family Estate (for a free tasting of NZ champagnes), Wairau River (with a lovely garden), Hans Herzog (wirh a Michelin star restaurant), Bladen (family-run and down-to-earth, with a beautiful garden) before finishing our day at Forrest (for a tasting tray of 7 different wines).
I’d love to hear about other wine regions of the world that I should make my way round and add to this list, so please do comment with your suggestions for the places you love most. Especially welcome are the more traditional ‘old world’ wine regions of Europe, which I bizarrely seem to have missed so far!