Travel the world through wine

15 Apr 2020

Whether you're partial to a 7 o'clock sundowner, more of a discerning dinner party drinker, or considering dumping it on your cornflakes in these strange times, it's safe to say wine is playing quite a large part in the hibernation routines of many Brits. Here, we combine our love of seeing the world with our penchant for a vino and offer you a guide to travelling through wine. Relive memories of past travels or get inspired for where to take your next trip, and your next tipple…

Where? Cape Town, South Africa

Why? Cape Town is an oenophile's dream, with a far-reaching wine region that delivers some seriously tasty tipples that won't break the bank. Stellenbosch, around an hour from the city, is a viticultural hub with a winemaking tradition that stretches back to the late 17th century. It is now home to 150 wineries and wine-tasting spots, many of which come complete with swanky hotels and knock-out restaurants. Soak up some sunshine while looking out to the rows of vines and surrounding mountains from the winery terraces, or check out the town's oak-shaded streets, lined with cafés, boutiques, art galleries and some fine examples of Cape Dutch architecture.

Wine tip: If you can squeeze them in your suitcase, a honeyed chenin blanc and a punchy pinotage (South Africa’s national grape) are essential souvenirs. While out for dinner, snap up a bottle of Graham Beck -- it rivals champagne in flavour at a fraction of the price.

What else? Take a hike (or opt for the brilliant rotating cable-car) up Table Mountain for some top-notch views, or stroll along the tree canopy walkway in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, where there's a packed program of live concerts and outdoor theatre each summer (check schedules and openings). Alternatively, exercise your credit card in the boutiques at the V&A Waterfront and sample some splendid seafood in a Camps Bay beachside restaurant. A boat tour to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years, is an essential on any Cape Town itinerary, as is a sumptuous afternoon tea on the terrace of the Mount Nelson Hotel.

Where? Mendoza, Argentina

Why? Located at the foothills of the Andes, Mendoza is responsible for 70% of all the wine produced in Argentina. Vineyards are planted at some of the highest altitudes in the world, with the average site at 900-1500 metres above sea level, resulting in some exemplary red wines.

Wine tip: The signature bottle is a bold malbec, with a full-bodied fruity flavour thanks to the cool climate. For the intrepid, there are both cycling and horse-riding vineyard tours on offer, although the journey home after a tasting might be a tad wobbly…

What else? Mendoza is a city with a European vibe: wide, leafy avenues, fountains-galore plazas and cosmopolitan cafés serving top-notch coffee (the perfect antidote to all that red wine). After a day exploring the vineyards, head to Avenue Arístides Villanueva to kick off your evening with a hunk of magnificent (and absurdly cheap) Argentinian steak in one of the many outdoor restaurants lining the pavement. After a hearty feast, hunker down in a local bar where live music and tango are in abundance.

Mendoza's location close to the Andes makes it a great base for a day trip for more intrepid adventures, such as rafting or skiing. Alternatively, if you're looking for a twin-centre break, hop over to the other side of the Andes and you will find the Maipo Valley, Chile's main wine-producing region, where cabernet is the local star.

Where? Lombardy, northern Italy

Why? Around an hour east of Milan, Lombardy is fast emerging as a wine hub, with new exciting fizzy whites and dry, fruity reds that give prosecco and barolo a run for their money. In wine years, the region is young, which lends the way to relaxed and intimate tours of the wineries, often led by the owners themselves who are happy to host informal tastings amongst the vines.

Wine tip: If something sparkling floats your boat, Lombardy is home to the small wine-producing area of Franciacorta, where some of the most delicate and delicious Italian sparkling wines are made using the traditional champagne method, but sold at a fraction of the price. Franciacorta is a fresh, fruity effervescent blend of chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot blanc grapes -- we guarantee you won't be missing prosecco once you've tried this superior fizz.

What else? The wine region of Lombardy stretches from the shores of Lake Iseo to the foothills of the Alps, with some stunning scenery to keep you stopping for selfies on the drives between vines. By day, explore the uncrowded beaches of Lake Iseo, or take a boat trip to the nearby island of Monte Isola with its fishing villages and 17th-century chapel. By night, gastronomes are also well catered for, with a host of incredible eateries, from rustic restaurants to Michelin-starred establishments. And, of course, no trip to Lombardy would be complete without a trip to sample the chic boutiques of Milan.
To avoid the scorching summer temperatures, visit Lombardy in the balmy spring, or in the autumn to catch harvest season.

Where? Marlborough, New Zealand

Why? The Marlborough wine region is by far New Zealand's largest, accounting for three quarters of the country's wine production. Located on the northeast coast of New Zealand's South Island, the region is home to a plethora of pretty seaside towns, super coastal walks, splendid seafood restaurants and, of course, some of New Zealand's best vineyards.

Wine tip: Alongside the Haka, The Lord of the Rings and Russell Crowe, a grassy sauvingnon blanc has to be one of NZ's most famous exports. Wine writers such as Oz Clarke declare Marlborough sauvignon blanc one of the best in the world. With its distinctive gooseberry notes, and often quite high acidity, it's the Marmite of the wine world. If you're more partial to a fizz, Marlborough also hosts significant production of méthode traditionelle sparkling wine made from chardonnay and pinot noir.

What else? With incredible scenery ranging from sweeping mountains and sandy beaches to vast glaciers and hot springs, New Zealand has plenty to keep a traveller occupied for several weeks. If you're only able to explore this corner of the country, head to Marlborough Sounds, an extensive network of coastal waterways, peninsulas and islands. Hikers should be sure to explore the 70km walking track between Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds, which takes in coastal forest, sea-battered coves, and skyline ridges. Nature lovers should also take the 2-hour drive south to Kaikoura for a spot of dolphin- and whale-watching.

Where? Alentejo, Portugal

Why? While Porto and the Douro Valley might be the better-known Portuguese wine hot spots, once you've tired of all the port tasting, a trip to Alentejo is well worth your while. An hour and a half south of Lisbon, and close to the beaches of the Algarve, the area is home to some of the most contemporary design-forward wineries in Europe. In particular, Herdade do Freixo and Quinta do Quetzal blend jaw-dropping architecture with wines that pack an equally impressive punch.

Wine tip: There's something for all palates here: whites and reds are made primarily with indigenous grapes such as the full-bodied touriga nacional, aragonez (akin to a Spanish tempranillo) and alicante bouschet. Fortunately, the calibre of the wine is not reflected in the price tag, with some great quality quaffing at very affordable prices.

What else? As well as being home to some excellent wineries, Portugal’s Alentejo region is also home to some of "Europe's finest beaches", according to The Guardian. But don't expect bucket-and-spade resorts and lively nightlife; this quiet spot lends itself to deserted beaches and a more leisurely pace of life.

Protected by the South West Alentejo and Costa Vicentina national park, the 100km of coastline from Alentejo to the Algarve comprises stunning scenery, from wildflower meadows and hills dotted with olive trees and vineyards, to tiny white-washed villages and walled hilltop towns with castles and Roman ruins. Walkers come to admire the views from the Fisherman’s Way, surfers to ride the best waves in Europe, and the occasional tourist will be treated to a coast lined with glorious beaches that are distinctly uncrowded.

If you're looking for a twin-centre break, add on a jaunt to the Minho region in the northwest of Portugal. Here, the cool and rainy climate lends itself to excellent production of vinho verde -- a light, easy-drinking white wine with just a sniff of a spritz. Perfect to accompany a pastéis de nata (that's custard tart to you and me), another national delicacy.

Where? Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA

Why? While California's Napa and Sonoma regions tend to attract the greatest number of travelling wine tasters, the oft-overlooked region of Willamette Valley in Oregon is fast becoming a contender in the US wine-making stakes. While the area is not new to wine making (there are around 500 wineries in the region), it has been leading the way when it comes to more sustainable winemaking practices –- a big tick in these eco-friendly times.

Wine tip: If you’re a red wine fan, Willamette is one of the world's premier producers of new-world pinot noir, with over 14,000 acres dedicated to its production throughout the valley. However, white wine fans will also find some excellent examples of pinot gris, chardonnay and riesling to sample.

What else? Less than an hour's drive from Portland, the Willamette Valley is a laid-back enclave between the Cascade Mountains and the Oregon Coast Range. Vineyards are often small, rustic affairs where the relaxed atmosphere gives way to less formal wine-tasting tours where wine makers often greet guests, and may offer low-cost tastings and in-depth explorations of their facilities and production techniques.

The best time to visit is in summer and early autumn, when farming activity is in full swing and you can soak up some sunshine and the amazing scenery with your evening aperitif. For adventure seekers, the warmer months also make for the best time to hit the hiking trails or to glide along the Willamette River in a kayak.

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