On the track of wines

Five European itineraries to go and discover one of the most important traditions of the old continent, the cultivation and transformation of grapes

Home Life Lifestyle travel On the track of wines

Wine-growing regions are beautiful in their natural state. At whatever latitude, in whatever season: they exude serenity, order and intense colours. But it is in the Autumn that it is really worthwhile making your way round them and taking your time, calling at the main well-known locations, and then moving on to those which are less well-known but which can often surprise you. And sometimes you end up accidentally making unexpected discoveries.

Obviously, visiting wineries and tasting wines is an integral part of the trip: common sense requires that you do not overdo things or, better still, leave the driving to someone who does not drink or take it in turns to sacrifice yourself for the benefit of the other enthusiasts. If you do that, safety is assured and you can really enjoy yourself. Here are five regions in Europe which are worthy of a tour.

On the track of wines 01
On the track of wines 01

Langhe, the heart of the Piedmont region (Italy)

The landscapes of Langhe – the part of Piedmont between the provinces of Cuneo and Asti – evoke strong emotions throughout the year and have succeeded in securing their recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The vine-covered hills, the splendid castles which overlook their valleys peppered with villages, the parish churches and workshops make this area one of the most interesting places in Italy where wine is very much a culture rather than simply a product of the earth.

Good things are treated with total respect. There are so many places worthy of a visit: the “capital” Alba (which gives its name to the hugely famous Tartufo Bianco - white truffle -, the No. 1 in the world); Barolo with its lovely castle belonging to the Marquis Falletti which houses the Wine Museum and its historic wineries; Neive Langhe which is one of the most beautiful Mediaeval villages in Italy, where it is possible to take a long walk amongst the vineyards which surround it.

Or indeed Grinzane Cavour, where the Count Camillo Benso was born and lived and where the headquarters of the regional wine-growing emporium was founded, or Bergolo, the smallest village in Langhe with its houses and streets all built with the same stone. You are spoilt for choice between its wineries, some of the most renowned in the sector and not just in Italy. Another place not easy to choose from is a local tavern: we recommend the Piola in the centre of Alba, because the local cuisine is prepared by one of the greatest chefs, the triple-starred Enrico Crippa.

On the track of wines 02
On the track of wines 02

The Loire, land of Sancerre and Châteaux (France)

The valley of the Loire, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is certainly one of the most beautiful regions of France and its Châteaux are incredibly romantic. But the Loire is also famous for its wines, principally white wines produced along the course of the river of the same name. A paradise for enthusiasts, starting with Sancerre which occupies 3,000 hectares of vineyards, on the left bank of the river; tasting it in an ancient winery is fascinating.

As for the Châteaux, there are 22 of them spread along the course of the Loire and its tributaries, and they tell us much of the history of France. Many were built during the Renaissance, during the 15th and 16th centuries, when the royal court settled in this region. The most famous and spectacular is that of Chambord, dating from 1519: the plan of the Château, built at the behest of Francis 1st, is designed around the famous double-ramped staircase, influenced by Leonardo da Vinci. Inside, it is possible to visit 60 rooms which play host to a rich collection of 4,500 works of art. The forested parkland of over 5,000 hectares is a hunting reserve, populated with deer, fallow deer and wild boar.

For your gourmet stay, you can stop at Châteaudun, where after you have finished admiring yet another Château, you can find some interesting local eateries such as the Aux Trois Pastoureaux which also offers a “Mediaeval” menu.

On the track of wines 03
On the track of wines 03

Mosel, the king of Riesling (Germany)

The Mosel (together with those of the Saar and the Ruwer) is the most ancient wine-growing region in Germany: the vine here was introduced by the ancient Romans. The vineyards are situated almost exclusively on the steep slopes of the banks of the above-named rivers, often on terraces. The region is subdivided into six districts, of which Bernkastel, known also as Mittelmosel, is the true beating heart, and the headquarters of the most famous producers.

You should absolutely see the Bereich Burg Cochem, also called the Terrassenmosel in view of its high concentration of terraces: it includes the steepest vineyard in Europe, the Bremmer Calmont (with gradients approaching 70%).The region is renowned for its production of the best Rieslings, which you can taste in a large number of wineries, all well-organised.

Along the 200km or so of the Mosel valley, charming villages such as Cond and Sehl succeed one another as well as important towns such as Cochem, Koblenz or the splendid Trier which boast monuments from every period of history, starting from the Roman conquest. One unique way of discovering the valley is by taking the river cruise which passes through all the townships. An excellent place to try out the local cuisine is Heim's Restaurant in Reil, a town actually crossed by the Mosel.

In the heart of the Rioja (Spain)

The Rioja is certainly the most famous wine-growing region in Spain, and is renowned above all for its red wines, which are strong, rich and complex: it is situated in the North of the country, around a hundred km down from the Atlantic coast, and extends along the course of the river Ebro. The wine-growing region is formed by a plateau which stands at around 450m of altitude, where small wineries and large companies produce their wines.

Rioja is not just vineyards, by the way. For example, you should not miss out on a visit to the Paleontology Centre in Enciso, the ideal departure point for a journey through time inside the Jurassic park. As well as being the location of a segment of the pilgrimage route to Santiago, this is the land of monasteries: the most famous are those of Suso and Yuso, which figure in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and where the monks created the modern Spanish language. The unavoidable stopover for foodies is at Calle del Laurel, in the historic centre of Logroño, the principal town of the autonomous community of La Rioja.

In the space of a few hundreds of metres, you will find an incredible concentration of bars and restaurants (around sixty) which offer typical “pinchos”, accompanied by local wines. Take your seat – reserving it in advance – at the Cachetero, the culinary icon of the town which serves a fine range of local delicacies.

On the track of wines 04
On the track of wines 04

The surprise of West Sussex (Great Britain)

Sussex is located in the Southern part of England and is divided into two counties: East Sussex and West Sussex. Looking out onto the straits of the Channel, this region is constituted not just of small and fascinating fishermen's villages, but is dotted with marvellous castles and richly fascinating landscapes, such as the white chalk hills – known as the South Downs - covered with the typical patchwork of fields which characterise all Anglo-Saxon scenes.

There are a large number of Roman, Saxon and Mediaeval remains, particularly in Chichester and Arundel, whilst at Fishbourne an excellent museum has been built around the foundations of the Roman Palace. You can take a trip to the little seaside towns (Shoreham and Littlehampton) or the mythical racetrack of Goodwood. But West Sussex is also an English wine-growing region with the most enchanting vineyards and good wineries, set deep in the surrounding greenery.

The most famous is Nyetimber, a historic winery situated in West Chiltington, in a property which was already functioning as far back as 1086 and supplied the Royal family. During the year, various open days are also organised allowing the public to taste the wines, starting with the exclusive Tillington Single Vineyard. A table at Gravetye Manor in East Grinstead, a place surrounded by magnificent gardens, will allow you to discover modern English cuisine, with its great inventiveness and a wide variety of vegetables.