30 April 2014 by Maddalena Cardone
Uncork and unwind as we raise a glass to the world's best wine regions
Let's face it, you don't need to be Oz Clarke or Olly Smith to enjoy a good glass of wine, and you certainly don't need to be a wine connoisseur to enjoy a holiday in one of the world's many superb wine regions.
By their nature, wine regions are beautiful places, and many, especially those of the "old world" such as France and Italy, are steeped in history and tradition, making them wonderful destinations for outdoor enthusiasts, history buffs and epicureans alike. So if your other half thinks they're the next Jilly Goolden, but you don't know your Cabernets from your Chiantis, don't despair, as a few days spent in wine country can offer so much more than just wine tours and tastings.
From long weekend breaks in Spain, France and Portugal to two-week holidays in California, Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, we take a look at some of our favourite wine regions from across the world, and share some of our tailor-made holiday ideas so you can experience them for yourself.
With evocative names such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beaujolais and Champagne, its perhaps not surprising that France has emerged as one of the world's leading destinations for wine holidays. In a country that prides itself on its centuries-old winemaking history and traditions, expect to find, among the pretty medieval villages, historic chateaux, rolling countryside and fabulous fine dining, an abundance of world-class vineyards and centuries old estates, producing some of the finest "old world" wines on earth.
Another of Europe's big hitters, Italy is synonymous with some of the world's best-known wines, including Pinot Grigio, Chianti and Soave, as well as a vast number of lesser-known varieties, which are produced throughout the country from the mountainous Alpine regions of the north to the Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia in the south. The best-known Italian wine region however is Tuscany, an idyllic land of rolling countryside, beautiful olive groves, cities packed full of Renaissance art and architecture, beautifully preserved hillside towns, wonderful rustic cuisine, and some of Italy's most revered wines, including Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Vernaccia di San Gimignano.
Spain is the third largest wine producer in the world - behind France and Italy - and is perhaps best known for its Rioja and Navarra wine regions, located in the country's semi-arid north. Located not far from the Basque city of Bilbao - home to the Guggenheim Museum - these neighbouring regions are packed full of historic paradors, beautiful cathedrals, charming town squares and an abundance of wine estates offering tastings and cellar door sales, while the Navarre Museum of Wine and Vineyards in the historic town of Olite provides a fascinating insight into Spain's wine-making history.
While Portugal is famed for its Port production, it also offers a surprising number of world-class table wines, including crisp whites, deep, fruity reds and refreshing rosés. Head north from Porto to the Douro Valley - a region renowned for its Port and red table wines - where steep terraced vineyards and sleepy villages line the banks of the beautiful Douro River; or take in the sights and sounds of historic Lisbon before spending a few days exploring the award-winning vineyards of Alentejo, a vast region covering around a third of the country, where everything from Cabernet Sauvignons to Chardonnays are produced.
South Africa's burgeoning wine industry is centred round the aptly named Cape Winelands Region, just a short drive from Cape Town in the country's beautiful southwest. Here, the towns of Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Paarl provide the perfect base from which to discover the stunning landscapes, sprawling vineyards, numerous famers markets and award-winning restaurants that characterise one of South Africa's most enduringly popular holiday destinations. As well as producing a plethora of award-winning wines, the Cape Winelands also acts as the perfect springboard for exploring South Africa's famous Garden Route and Eastern Cape game reserves, home to luxury safari lodges and the fabled Big Five of lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo and rhino.
Eminently accessible and immaculately presented, the vineyards and wineries of North America are perfectly set up for holidaymakers. From the classic Californian vineyards of the Napa and Sonoma valleys - a region responsible for 90% of the country's wine production - to the newer wineries of Finger Lakes and Niagara in New York State, you can expect not only the usual infectious enthusiasm and a very large dose of service with a smile, but also a passion, knowledge, and willingness to share that makes the USA one of the most inclusive, rather than exclusive, wine producing countries on earth.
Nestled between the towering Andes and the lesser peaks of the Coastal Mountain Range, less than 100 kilometres from the capital Santiago, the Colchagua, Maipo and Casablanca valleys are the beating heart of Chile's ever-growing wine industry. Glacial rivers and fertile soils create the perfect environment for producing a wide range of grape varieties, with well-known classics including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc all coming from the region. Along with the obvious allures of the vineyards, you'll find pretty colonial villages, superb restaurants, beautiful walking trails, vast private estancias, picturesque lakes and several natural hot springs.
The vineyards of Australia are beautiful, and very busy places, producing an incredible 750 million litres of wine every year for export alone, making Australia the fourth largest exporter of wine in the world. While every state including the Northern Territory has its vineyards, the best wines and wineries, can be found in the cooler southern states of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the Margaret River region of Western Australia. Without question, the most famous Australian wine regions are South Australia's Barossa Valley and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, which draw wine enthusiasts in their thousands with well-known labels, wonderful restaurants and charming boutique accommodation. But, if you head just a short way off the beaten track, there are literally dozens more lesser-known regions to explore, many of which offer tastings, cellar doors and guided tours.
From the sub-tropical north to the mountainous Southern Alps, vineyards can be found throughout New Zealand's North and South islands, with Hawke's Bay, the Marlborough Sounds and Central Otago among the most popular wine-producing regions. A drive along the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail from Hawke's Bay to Marlborough will give you the pick of over 120 vineyards, many of which offer tastings and have their own gourmet restaurants on site, while a chauffeur-drive or cycling tour leaves you free to try a wide range of internationally acclaimed wines, including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot, at the many vineyards dotted amongst New Zealand's breathtaking countryside.