The western cape region of South Africa produces some of the best wines in the world. Many wine routes and tours available.
Wine Tasting Holiday in France
Going wine tasting in France is practically an obligation in this country of rolling vineyards and hidden, historic chateaus. The country is filled with world-renowned wine regions, so finding a suitable area for winery tours won't be a problem. In the western part of France, major wine tasting regions include Pays de la Loire, Cognac, and the Aquitaine, which is home to Bordeaux and the Dordogne. In the west, major wine destinations include Champagne, Alsace, Bourgogne, the Rhone Alps, Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon. In all regions, you'll find many wineries open for visits and wine tastings.
Bordeaux, perhaps France's best-known wine region, makes a good starting place for a wine tasting tour. Picturesque towns break up a landscape dominated by vineyards, and wineries ranging from the glorious Chateau Mouton Rothschild to humble small family-owned operations open their doors to visitors, though you may need to call ahead for an appointment.
"There are many wineries in the area - you're spoiled for choice really," says Dave Gaskell, whose holiday property Maison Soleil in the Dordogne is surrounded by wineries offering regular wine tastings. "The winery owners are very friendly. Mid-week is usually quiet, and you can get a personal tour," he says.
Sue Etherton, owner of Dordogne holiday properties like La Vigne and La Glycine, offers advice for those setting out on a winery tour: "Go to the area Maison de Vins ('Wine House'), where you can get all the information about vineyards in the area and can make appoints for tastings. Also, don't drop by for wine tastings between 12pm and 2pm - the French like their lunch hours! Monday is not a good day, as most consider this their rest day, but Sunday is fine."
Further south, in the Pyr?n?es-Atlantique district, you can organize wine tasting tours in regions such as Madiran or Juran?on. The latter is "probably the most beautiful wine growing area in France, with steep slopes, woods, and fine views of the Pyrenees," says Reg Roberts of Maison Touyarot, a holiday chateau in the area.
"We've found all the wineries here welcoming and friendly, but only a few speak English. Also, they're not particularly easy to locate, but once you're in the right area the wineries are signposted," he says.
In Languedoc-Roussillon, a wine region considered one of the most innovative in France, many traditional wineries are marked with a 'Degustation' ('Wine Tasting') sign, so it's easy to find a winery open to visitors. This exciting wine area is home to the town of Limoux, where the unique sparkling wine Blanquette (which is older than Champagne wines) is made.
"All the wine growers are keen to show you around and explain the history of the vines, the chateau and the family," says Vicky, owner of nearby holiday properties Villalier and Trebes. "Also, in the area there are many local 'fetes', when they launch new wines. All the local producers take part, and you can spend the day wine tasting. It's French life at its best!"
There are countless other wineries and wine regions to visit in France, each with its own personality, landscape, and terroir. No matter which region you choose for your wine tasting holiday, you're sure to discover a fascinating and beautiful wine country.
Wine Tasting Holiday in Italy
Italy's fabulous cuisine and picturesque rural landscapes are the perfect accompaniment to its wineries, making the "boot country" an ideal destination for a wine tasting holiday. With vineyards (some 900,000 of them total!) covering Italy from top to bottom, the options for winery tours are endless. From north to south, major regions include Lombardy, Piedmont, Liguria, Tuscany, Umbria, Campania, Puglia, Calabria and Sicily. The huge quantity of vineyards in these regions makes Italy the world's number one wine producer.
Italy's premier wine region is Piedmont, a lovely area flanked by the Alps and set in the far north of the country. The famed Barbaresco and Barolo wines - considered Italy?s best - come from this region.
"It's very easy to organize a wine tasting tour around the area, with wine shops and vineyards on almost every corner," says Barry Wishart, whose holiday property Casa Collina is in Liguria, a short drive from Piedmont.
In Campania, head to the beautiful Cilento region, which has been a winemaking centre since Greek and Roman times. Small family-run wineries, a hilly landscape broken up with postcard-perfect hilltop villages, and the opportunity to arrange wine tastings of local varieties like Falanghina, Fiano, Aglianico and Passito make Cilento an ideal wine tasting destination.
"The production of the wine is very much a family-run affair in the region," says Jacqueline Dutton, owner of the nearby "il Borgo" holiday cottage. "The older generation passes on their hands-on knowledge and is still very involved in the process from the pruning of the vines through to the production at all stages," she says.
Sicily, not traditionally one of Italy's top wine regions, is now making some excellent wines as well. Regions such as Nero D'Avola, Donnafugata and Corvo are packed with wineries offering wine tastings, says Christian Romano, owner of the holiday property Residence Riviera. "Wineries are easy to visit, and the area is very visitor-friendly," he says.
Wine Tasting Holiday in Spain & Portugal
If you're looking for variety, Spain and Portugal are great places for winery tours. Visit Sherry ('Jerez') wineries in Andalucia, sparkling cava wineries in Catalunya, Port wineries in Portugal, and wineries making character-filled reds and whites in regions like Priorat, Pened?s, Ribera del Duero, Cari?ena and Rioja.
In the south of Spain, the wine region of choice is without a doubt Jerez. Here Sherry, the fortified wine that's become the world's favourite aperitif, is still made with traditional, time-consuming methods.
"Wine tasting is popular in the area, and it's a good idea to call ahead to find out at what time they have visits in English," says Jaime Santiago, whose holiday property in C?diz, Andaluc?a, is within 30km of 64 wineries. "The bigger ones in the area are Osborne, Garvey and Gonzalez Byass, whose main cellar was designed by Eiffel. Some charge a small fee for the wine tasting, but it's worth every penny."
Northern and Central Spain - where you'll find wine regions like Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Cari?ena - is better known for its red wines.
Juan Salanova, owner of Casa el Molino in Aragon, says that wine festivals are a great excuse to arrange wine tours in Spain. "At the 'Fiesta del Vino' in Cari?e?a in September, 10,000 litres of wine flow out of fountains in town, and anyone is free to drink it. In July, there is a wine show with stalls offering all kinds of wine, and you can buy a ticket giving you access to 10 wine tastings."
If you love sparkling wine, head to Pened?s, Catalunya, home of cava, Spain's sparkling wine. More than 100 cava producers are set up in the small town of Sant Sadurni d'Anoia alone, making this an easy place to set up a wine tasting tour.
"Cellars range from international companies, to family-run concerns and farm co-operatives," says Ray Smith, whose holiday property on the Costa Dorada is a short drive from the wine country. "This has been the home of cava since 1872, when a man names Josep Raventos produced the first bottle."
Still wines are made in the area as well, and the reds and whites emerging from Pened?s are some of the best in Spain, says Mike Adams, another holiday property owner in the area. "The Pend?s designation is a guarantee of a very consistent and high quality wine at exceptionally modest prices," he says.
To see what happens to strong wine when it's aged for ten or twenty years, make a visit to Oporto, in Northern Portugal. Here centuries-old port wineries - where grapes are still stomped by human feet - are open for visits and wine tastings.
"In the city of Oporto you'll find many of the caves where port wine is actually aged," says Luis Lencastre, owner of the Casa da Belavista in Oporto. "These old caves are generally in beautiful buildings and can be visited all year. The city is also the place to begin a visit to the Douro Valley, where you can visit many wineries. The trip can be made by boat, train or car."
Other fascinating wine tasting holiday destinations in the Iberian peninsula include the Rias Baixas in Galicia, where excellent white wines are made, and Priorat, a region in Southern Catalunya known for its strong, mineral-tasting reds.
Wine Tasting Holiday in The "New World" and Beyond
Fabulous wine tasting holidays are not only found in Europe. New Zealand, South Africa and the United States are all great areas for winery tours as well, if you know where to go.
Wines from New Zealand and Australia are known for their excellent quality and unbeatable value; organize a wine tasting tour here to see the world's fastest-growing wine industry up-close. In New Zealand, the Tasman and Nelson district, near the Riwaka River, is a scenic place for winery tours. Many wineries offer caf?s or restaurants too, giving you a good excuse to take a break between winery tours.
"All the vineyards are easy to find, but if you miss one there is always another further down the road!" says Kate Youngman, owner of the nearby holiday cottage "Orchard View".
South Africa is gaining a reputation for its excellent wines as well. Stellenbosch, one of the major wine-producing areas is a "wine lover's paradise", says Suzette Raymond, who owns the holiday property "A Heavenly View" just 20 minutes outside Stellenbosch.
"There are so many wonderful wineries here - it's a magnificent part of the world to do wine tasting. All the wineries offer tastings, and many have marvellous restaurants attached too. It's easy for visitors to find the wineries on their own, and most wineries are open all day, until about 5pm," she says.
Other classic new-world wine tasting destinations include North American regions such as Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley (California), Oregon and Washington State. In South America head to central Chile and Argentina.