Mairead Robinson suggests checking out the great wine route holidays available
Have you had enough of sun holidays, and done the ‘costas’ so many times you are almost a local as you return year on year? Are you looking for something different now like so many people who are searching for a themed holiday which involves learning new things and enjoying a totally different experience? Some of the themed holiday breaks involve painting, walking, historic trails, sailing, art, cycling, learning a new skill and many more from yoga to museums. But if your passion is enjoying wines and discovering new grape varieties, blends and vintages, then a wine trip could be the holiday for you this year.
As a wine writer, I have had the privilege of visiting many wineries all over the world, and I must say it is something that I never get tired of. From large operations, to small family run wineries, each has its own attractions and the world of wine is a constant source of interest and delight. For the past few years the main issue that vineyards are having to deal with is global warming, and harvest times coming earlier each year. This presents a real dilemma as if the grapes are harvested too soon, they will be ‘green’ and will pose a real challenge in the winery to convert them into good wine. Conversely, if the grapes are left too long on the vines and allowed to become over ripe, the result will be a wine that is too high in alcohol and will have none of the subtle tones and flavours that a good wine should demonstrate.
So if you embark on visits to wineries and vineyards, you can learn so much while enjoying tasting the wines and discovering new grape varieties and blends. All over Europe, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain, there are wineries that offer tasting visits and also accommodation. You can plan your own route or alternatively you can embark on an organized one. If you don’t fancy driving yourself as you visit and taste wines, and you are keen to meet like minded people, enjoy local cusine and have the whole holiday organized for you, there is a new option from operator Sunway who have just launched its newest escorted tour in Bordeaux, wine capital of the world! Its an ideal tour for people who seek an introduction to the wines of Bordeaux and the region. You can enjoy French cusine, visit the old town of Bergerac and enjoy the company of like minded people. Flights, accommodation, tours, food, wine transfers and the services of a tour guide throughout and everyone gets a free case of wine delivered to their door on their return from the holiday. How bad!
More details on www.sunway.ie
Besides France, Portugal is also very popular for wine tourism, and I have embarked on visits to the east of the country – Alentejo – which is only a two hour drive from Lisbon airport. It is a wonderfully unspoilt part of the country, the wines are big and beautiful, and there is an excellent choice of fabulous accommodation for you to choose from. Of course the beautiful town of Porto is always worth a visit and the traditional Port houses offer fascinating historic tours of the big names we are all familiar with – Cockburns, Sandeman, Grahams etc.
From Porto you can travel north either by train or car, to the heart of the Douro wine region and explore the picturesque hills and valleys of Northern Portugal. Following unpaved roads you can travel from village to village, pausing for picnic lunches and visits to local wine estates where you can sample the award-winning wines. There are organized walking holidays, charming accommodation, and Portugal is always excellent value for money.
If you would like to embark on a wine tour holiday, it is worth checking out if there is a wine club near where you live. These clubs often organize a couple of trips each year, and friends of mine – two sisters in their 70s have been enjoying these holidays for many years now. They have visited France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Portugal several times and always to a different region. So ask around, this is a fun way to travel.
Looking to further afield, one of my favourite wine tours was to Chile when I visited Vinos de Colchagua some years ago. Here the wines and the people, cusine and countryside are all beautiful. And unlike much of the wine regions in Europe, the terroir is natural and unspoilt. Checkout the wines from Casa Silva in your local wine shop for a taste of the gorgeous wines from Colchagua. I have also enjoyed the wine trails in the Napa Valley in California, as well as the Mendosa Valley in Argentina. Many of the wineries offer accommodation as well as tastings, so you can relax and stay overnight after your wine tasting and dinner.
Finally if you are not planning on travelling too far afield for your holiday, you can look no further than Waterford City, whose history is all about importing wines from Europe and they can organize tastings for you in their historic museums. The recently opened Wake Museum is certainly worth a visit, and to steady your nerves after all the talk of death and the here-after, a glass of Waterford Whiskey will steady your nerves! More about the whiskeys of Waterford in the next issue, meanwhile this is a good time to pour yourself a glass of your favourite tipple, and plan a great summer holiday!