A Trip Through Europe’s Vineyards
Enter the chateaux...
Bordeaux needs no introductions, but it is always nice to remind ourselves of the details that make it France’s main wine region. This is the home of the world’s most prestigious wine brands, thanks to a particular combination of climate and geography. The History of these vineyards dates back to the Roman age, but the current wine variety classifications were created during the 19th Century. Production is essentially based on grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec.
Find the nectar at the foot of the hill
We now head south to the lands beyond the Alps. This is a place teeming with vineyards that inspired the ancient Greeks to sing praises to Oenotrua ("land of the vineyard") over two millennia ago. Local production techniques can be traced back to both the grape plantations of the Romans (who coined the expression “nectar of the gods”) and the creation of several “sweet” wines during the Middle Ages. To get to know all this diversity — over 50 DOC zones (Protected Designation of Origin) — you’d better book some holidays in Milano and a explore the estates that provide wine tasting events.
From Piedmont, in Northeastern Italy, come several known wines such as the red wines Barolo and Barbaresco, made from native Nebbiolo grapes. Most production is concentrated around the towns of Alba, Alessandria and Asti (knwon as the home of one of the world’s most famous sparkling wines). In the neighbouring Lombardia region, the focus is on the areas of Franciacorta and Oltrepò (also known for their sparkling wines) and Valtellina, where Nebbiolo grapes are handpicked and red, white and rosé wines are produced according to ancient traditional methods.
Next stop is the Douro river that runs across the North of Portugal. The area is famous for its extensive grape plantations in mountains and hillsides along the river banks. Once you land in the city of Porto, the first thing to do is to look for one of the many tourism operators that organise boat trips in the Douro river. You must also visit the Douro Museum in the town of Peso da Régua.
Since then, Douro wines have gained international renown. They are produced in special climatic and geographic conditions. Red grape varieties include Mourisco Tinto and Tinta Amarela, while white grape varieties like Donzelinho Branco are used. Wines are aged in oak caskets and are known for their rich fruit aromas. The main red grape variety is Touriga Nacional — it is widely considered to be the region’s most important considered and it is used to create some of the country’s best wines.
This is also where the famous Port Wine is made — a strong, fortified sweet wine that has been pleasing taste buds all around the world for centuries...
Journey to the southern vineyards
On wide and hot plains south of the Tagus river we find another great Portuguese wine making region. When you land in the nearest airport (Lisbon), get in touch with a tourism operator that can help you plan a trip through the main farms and wine cellars and enjoy the warm and peaceful landscapes of the Alentejo.
Grape plantations and wineries in Alentejo go back to Antiquity. However, the region was historically plagued by drought, climate issues and poverty until the late 20th Century. Currently, state backing and the development of local producers’ techniques have increased the Alentejo wines’ status and notoriety.
The heat, exposure to the sun and the soil’s dryness lead to the creation of red wines from grape varieties such as Trincadeira, Aragonez or Castelão — these are full-bodied wines with wild berry flavours. The white wines, on the other hand (Roupeiro, Antão Vaz and Arinto varieties) are smooth, slightly acidic and possess tropical fruit aromas. Production is concentrated on eight Alentejo DOC sub-regions: Reguengos, Borba, Redondo, Vidigueira, Évora, Granja-Amareleja, Portalegre and Moura.
Before the Pyrenees
Towards the Eastern Iberian Peninsula, just before we arrive at the Pyrenee mountain wall, we find the region of La Rioja, south of Bilbao.
La Rioja wines stand out for their combination of and their oak barrel aging technique, a process that can last several years. Red wines are of medium intensity and palate and are mainly based on Tempranillo grapes. Rosé (Garnacha grapes) and white wines (Viura) are equally light.
Flowery aromas by the riverside
But rest assured that fine wine is not an exclusive of Southern countries! Catch a plane to Düsseldorf and take a car or a train to the wine region of Mosel. A visit to the local farms and wine cellars will allow you to discover and amazing lightness of flavour while at the same time you enjoy the beauty of the German countryside.
The region’s main attraction is the famous Riesling wine, a symbol of Germany’s viniculture. This variety of white wine is used mainly to produce sweet wines with low alcohol levels, high acidity and aromas that are described as “floral”. They are often used as an accompaniment to spicy dishes. Production occurs mainly near effluents of the Saar and Ruwer rivers, in the area known as Upper Mosel. On the other hand, in Lower Mosel, we find stronger varieties of Riesling, often with mineral undertones.
Central Europe and its vineyards
A wine lover’s journey will inevitably also include Central Europe, particularly the Czech Republic. While this country is better known for its great variety of beers, there are many surprising flavours to be found as far as wine is concerned. The Moravia region, about 300 km to the east of Prague, has become known its wine production, centered around the towns of Mikulov, Slovácko, Velké Pavlovice and Znojmo.
Sweet aromas near the Carpathians
In Hungary, it's well worth a trip to the Tokaj, the main Hungarian wine region. Its warm plains and hills are part of a peculiar micro-climate that is caused by proximity to the Carpathian mountain range, near the border with Romania and Slovakia.
Tokaji wines have a strong taste, which is determined by geography, local production techniques and grape varieties such as Furmint, Hárslevelü and Sárgamuskotály (a local Muscat variety). The “noble rot” method is widely used: partially rotted, sugar-filled ripe grapes are used to create sweet wines with nectar-like consistency, well suited for deserts and other uses. Tokaji wines are also known for their longevity, and it is not uncommon to come across bottles that are 50 or 100 years old and still fit for drinking!
The history of Tokaj’s wine is not well documented but it is thought to date back at least to the 12th Century. It peaked during the 18th Century when demand from neighbouring countries increased. After a period of commercial stagnation, it is again becoming popular.