The below was produced for Lightfoot Travel in December 2016.
The combination of fine wine and breath-taking views is an enticing one. Here are five favouries to visit before we all kick the bucket – or give up alcohol!
Tuscany’s stunning countryside has attracted tourists since the Middle Ages, and Chianti is among the most beautiful parts of the region. It is difficult to drive for more than 10 minutes in the “Bordeaux of Italy” without stumbling across a picturesque view of a beautifully laid out vineyard across the valley. Cypress trees, ochre hills and olive groves are abundant.
Tuscans love Sangiovese, and most red wines from the region are largely made from that purple grape, which translates wonderfully to “the blood of Jupiter”. Chianti, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino and the new “Super Tuscans” are all made from Sangiovese. I am very fond of the grape, but if you find you are not – head to Florence, Siena or the towers of San Gimignano instead.
Now based in South East Asia, I have not visited Bordeaux for several years, but when I was last there in 2009 – a superb year for Bordeaux producers – I was struck by the beauty of the low gentle hills around Saint-Émilion.
The Bordeaux region is home to some of the most expensive red wines that exist, for example: Château Margaux, Mouton Rothschild, Latour and Pétrus.
The city of Bordeaux was derided for many years as a “soot-covered port” that wine lovers stopped at only briefly on their way to vineyards outside the city limits. However, it’s industrial facade has been scrubbed clean in the past two decades and a host of new boutique hotels and fantastic restaurants have opened. Gordon Ramsay now has a Michelin-starred restaurant in the city: Le Pressoir d’Argent.
An hour north of Adelaide, the powerful beating heart of the Aussie wine industry, lies the Barossa Valley region. German immigrants from Silesia settled here in the nineteenth century, and the small vineyard towns still maintain a distinctly German character.
Barossa is primarily known for its big red wines, particularly Shiraz – the Australian word for Syrah. Each year, Barossa Shiraz is one of the main constituents for Penfolds Grange, Australia’s most famous wine.
The Valley, and indeed all of South Australia, escaped the phylloxera epidemic which destroyed most European vineyards in the late nineteenth century. As a result, Barossa has some of the oldest Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvèdre vines on earth – some dating to 1847.
Canary Islands, Spain
While most people will know that Lanzarote is a popular holiday destination, not everyone will know that it’s a great wine destination too. The famed Canary Islands – of which Lanzarote is one – were once internationally famous for their wine. In the 16th and 17thcenturies “Canary Wine” was hugely popular with European royalty. It is mentioned by Shakespeare several times, for example in Henry IV Part 2 where Mistress Quickly censures another character for drinking “too much Canaries”.
Nowadays the Canaries are home to several wine varieties that do not exist anywhere else in the world, and some 300-year-old vines unaffected by phylloxera that are some of the oldest in existence. On Lanzarote they can boast some of the most eye-catching vineyards on our planet: the vineyards in the La Geria valley are covered in black ash and appear to have been relocated from the moon. Walls made from lava are used to protect vines from harsh Atlantic winds.
Located in the eastern foothills of the Andes, in the shadow of Mount Aconcagua – the highest mountain outside of Asia – Mendoza’s vineyards are planted at high altitude, between 850 and 1,520 metres.
Malbec is the regionally specialty, and now the single most planted grape variety in Argentina. It is sometimes blended – as in Bordeaux where the grape originated – but is now mostly made as a single varietal. Higher altitude Uco Valley Malbec tends to exhibit greater elegance and freshness, and is therefore the most prestigious.
The views of snow-capped mountains above the vines of Malbec, Syrah and Cabernet are stunning and worth the visit alone.