As the phrase goes, “Life is too short to drink bad wine.” Thankfully for us, some of the best wine regions in the world are a short plane ride away – with swathes of countryside carpeted in vineyards. For those with a sensitive palette, we’ve looked into some of the best wine regions in Europe and cultivated a tasteful selection for you to enjoy.
The French gave us Champagne, the Italians gave us Chianti and Spain gave us Rioja. Three of the most famous types of wine in the world are right on our doorstep, yet many of us never look beyond the supermarket shelf. The only way to appreciate the craft is to see it in action. From the rolling verdant countryside of Tuscany to the vine laden slopes of the Duoro valley, there are wines and vintages for even the most novice sommeliers amongst us…
The Duoro Valley is one of the most dramatic regions in Europe. As the Duoro River snakes through the region, the mountainous slopes are laden with vines planted by hand, on narrow terraces made over hundreds of years. It’s painstaking work, but the results speak for themselves. Even if you’re not into wine, the spectacular scenery alone is enough to take your breath away!
When one thinks of a labour of love one thinks of working hard to produce something that you can be proud of. This is never more exemplified than by the winemakers of the Duoro Valley. The area itself is stunning, and you could travel from one end to the other absorbing the picture-perfect scenery and never have to visit a vineyard. Yet no visit to this region would be complete without a tasting. Creating the wine on these steep hills is a traditional process taking longer to produce. But, good things come to those who wait and the wine is no exception.
Famed for its fortified wines (i.e. Port), it is also home to table wines that have been growing in popularity thanks to a new breed of young winemakers. Each winery – or Quinta – rests in a stunning setting. Often difficult to get to, these Quintas have made efforts to ensure that your trips are well worth the journey. With an even mix of reds whites and rosé wines, there is something for everyone. The wines are split into three categories, young Reserve and Grand Reserve. The young wines are delicate fruity fares with light colouring while those kept for ageing (Reserve and Grand Reserve) are richer in their colour and much bolder with their flavours. Rosé is the exception, as this has only recently begun production there is a lower turnover, but are often served with light meals and aperitifs.
The best compliment to a great wine is great food and the Duoro Valley most definitely caters! Red wines are often paired with red meats, whilst the white wines are paired with seafood dishes or traditional white meat dishes of chicken or rabbit. Delicious!
When you think of wine you may think of the biggies – France’s Bordeaux, Italy’s Chianti or Spain’s Rioja. Chances are your mind doesn’t land on Croatia. Yet, Croatia has become one of the most celebrated wine regions in the world! Istria is the largest peninsula in the Adriatic and while it is mostly in Croatia, parts of it lie in Slovenia and Italy. Residents see themselves as Istrian first, Croatian second, and the blend of cultures and influences remain prevalent throughout the region.
The one constant in their heritage is the Malvazija Istarska – an indigenous grape that provides the wine’s signature identity. This grape has formed the backbone for many of Istria’s wines. Around 200 varieties of other grapes are being grown across the area (39 of which are indigenous), making this one of the most exciting wine regions in Europe.
The climate of this region makes it perfect for growing grapes and the often brick red soil makes the scenery stunning and unique. The sheer variety of grapes and wine available means you could spend an entire holiday here and barely scratch the surface of sampling what’s on offer! The Istrian peninsula is home to amazing food, olive oil and truffles, matching the superb quality of the wines.
For such a small island, Santorini brings a lot to the table –beautiful architecture, stunning scenery and a gorgeous climate. Arguably the most photographed holiday destinations in recent years, the whitewashed buildings with bright blue domes and heavenly sunsets make this a heavenly honeypot worth visiting. The small volcanic island has another secret worth exploring, its wine.
The vineyards use every inch of the rich volcanic soil to produce beautiful wine. Although you can try a glass of red, it’s the crisp dry white wines that prove the most popular. Vinsanto is the star of the show, taking its name (but not to be confused with) the Tuscan variety Vin Santo. Santorini Vinsanto is a complex amber-coloured dessert wine and can only be made on Santorini.
The first thing you notice about the vineyards here is that the vines don’t hang on trellises but instead are wound tight to the ground. Santorini’s caldera means that there are strong winds and harsh sun that would wreak havoc on traditional winemaking, so by training the vines close to the ground, it protects the grapes for a small but perfectly grown harvest.
The island itself is very small so there are only a few wineries to visit, yet, popularity has grown in recent years and with such excellent quality wine, it’s easy to see why. You could certainly do the largest wineries in a day’s wine tour and spend the rest of your time exploring this beautiful Greek paradise.
Few regions have such a historical pedigree than Tuscany does. Boasting a blend of delicious food, beautiful wine and the birth of Renaissance, Tuscany is classic Italy. The picturesque region has always retained its rural, rustic charm. As you drive through the miles of pristine countryside you will see why people fall in love with this area of Italy. One that has inspired artisans, artists and thinkers for centuries.
The region has been producing wine for around 3000 years and is still going strong to this day. It’s most famous export? Chianti. This is the result of thousands of years of perfection, growing the Sangiovese grape and creating a legend. The region is home to 11 of the 70 official, protected and designated wine varieties in Italy. Other amazing varieties such as Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and the unofficial Super Tuscan Wines. Favourites amongst the world’s best sommeliers and all set in the beautiful rolling hills of Tuscany.When you visit these wineries you get much more than a glass of wine. You touch upon a proud tradition and heritage (one perfected over generations), and a history that keeps the region famous and grounded. It’s more than a glass of wine, it’s an experience. The winemakers here are keen to show you every step in creating some of the most famous wines in the world.
Undoubtedly France has prestige and heritage with winemaking. Bordeaux, Champagne, Burgandy, Chardonnay and many more. However, take a trip away from the mainland and visit the mountainous climes of Corsica to find wine that defies your expectation of the traditional French fare.
Corsica may be under French rule today, but once under Italian rule it was introduced to a whole host of grapes. As time went by the French influence expanded Corsica’s capabilities and the small island began producing a large variety of wine. With two great pedigrees being their heritage, it’s easy to see why Corsican winemakers have begun to export their wine to international markets, where it’s gained such a stellar reputation.
Even to this day obtaining a Corsican wine outside of the island or France can be a challenge. So one should travel to the island to experience a taste of some of the finest European wines. Although whites and reds are common it is rosé that is popular. Blended from the local Nielluccio and Sciacarello grapes, these wines are sold everywhere and thanks to VAT exemption on local wines, you can have your cake and eat it too for a lot less than you may think.