We’ve all experienced it on our travels – whether watching a sunset in Italy with a glass of chilled Prosecco or at a barbeque in Australia with a beefy Shiraz – when a local wine could not be more perfectly suited to the moment.
Lonely Planet’s new book Wine Trails plots a course through 52 of the world’s greatest wine regions, with weekend-long itineraries in each designed by expert writers, including wine buyers and sommeliers.
And we’ve picked out 10 of the most intriguing regions to show why tasting wine in the place it was made can be a revelation
Centrzal Otago, New Zealand
Central Otago is famed for sublime alpine scenery, the energetic resort town of Queenstown and, since the 1990s, some world-class winemaking. Its wild landscapes make up the world’s southernmost wine region with vineyards spread throughout the deep valleys and basins of six sub-regions – Gibbston, Bannockburn, Cromwell Basin, Wanaka, Bendigo and Alexandra.
The local soils have proved excellent for Pinot Noir and Central Otago is lauded as one of the best places outside Burgundy for cultivating this notoriously fickle grape. It would take a good two days’ touring to get a comprehensive taste of the place, with around 30 wineries regularly open to visitors, and many more by appointment (the scene remains largely in the hands of friendly boutique enterprises). Visitors short on time could focus on the Gibbston Valley (with cycle touring a possibility).
The Jura, France
Wine has been made in the mountainous Jura for over a thousand years. But only recently have the unusual wines produced in this corner of France come to the attention of the wider world. The majority of grapes cultivated are indigenous varieties and a new generation of vignerons are using them to make their mark, using modern techniques alongside the Jura’s traditional method.
Nothing prepares you for a tasting of the Jura’s extraordinary vin jaune(yellow wine). The aroma is distinctive – a mix of walnuts, hazelnut and exotic spices – but the flavour is altogether something else, dry yet fruity and nutty. Vin jaune is barrel-aged but with a pocket of air left open, much as Spanish sherry is produced.
Wine tourism is in its early days here, but that makes for an even more refreshing welcome when travellers turn up for a wine-tasting in a backwoods domaine.
Rioja is Spain’s rockstar region, the Jagger to Ribera del Duero’s Richards. It’s flamboyant, and fantastic fun for a wild weekend in the foothills of the Cantabrian mountains, beyond which lies the Basque country and such delights as foodie hotspot San Sebastián. Rioja hit the big-time as wealthy investors splashed out on star architects and state-of-the-art wineries. The result is that there are now 540 wineries in Rioja. Not all are open for tastings, but those that do offer some of the most fascinating visitor experiences in the wine world.
Laguardia, just north of Logroño, makes a good base for exploration. From here it’s easy to reach Haro, where Rioja’s original winemakers set up shop in the 1800s. Tradition is still at the heart of Rioja’s wine but its wineries range from fascinating time-warps to modern engineering marvels.
Wellington, Swartland and Tulbagh, South Africa
Cape winemaking has long been symbolised by the grand old established estates in Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Constantia, where the first vines were planted on the African continent as far back as 1659. But today there is a host of regions further afield in the Cape and for sheer variety, and for smaller family-run wineries who offer a friendly welcome, the adjoining regions of Wellington, Swartland and Tulbaghoffer a refreshing alternative.
Winery tastings are more likely to be free here, and, you may well have a face-to-face encounter with the winemaker. Swartland, especially, is home to a band of cutting-edge vintners with small, manageable estates, many of whom are experimenting with biodynamic production.
Rain is welcome in Rutherglen. For the region, deep in northern Victoria, can suffer from searingly hot summers, with grapes having to be harvested in a mad rush before they cook into a jam. But rain cools things down and prolongs the ripening time of the region’s unique Muscat and Tokay vines. And the longer on the vine, the better for Rutherglen’s remarkable butterscotch-flavoured, raisin-rich dessert wines.
Of course, in the age of the calorie-conscious diner, who orders a ‘sticky’ wine (in Aussie lingo)? But Rutherglen’s Muscats and Tokays earn their place at the table, by being idiosyncratic and indulgent. Another reason to visit is the Rutherglen’s history. Several wineries started in the mid-19th century and their stories are entwined with that of Australia, featuring colonial pioneers and gold miners, set to a backdrop of the broad Murray River.