Vineyard tours: Where to visit for beauty and taste
John Wilson: New Zealand, the US and Europe have some outstanding wine destinations
Vineyards and olive trees in the Douro Valley near Lamego, Portugal. Photograph: iStock
Not all vineyards look great; some are simply vast fields of vines grown on arid flat plains. Thankfully many others take in some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. Beautiful vineyards don’t always make beautiful wine, but it certainly makes a visit a much more appealing prospect.
Wine tourism is developing at a hectic rate to meet consumer demand for an authentic backstory. Clued-in wineries realise they are no longer simply selling wine; they are marketing a brand that includes their history, their winemaker, winery and region. Consumers can gain access to this through the winery website or through interacting with a multitude of other channels. Many producers not only offer tours but have turned them into a profitable sideline. So where should you visit?
Possibly the most beautiful vineyard belonging to one producer is Rippon in Central Otago in New Zealand. The view out over the vineyards, the lake and islands, with spectacular mountains forming the backdrop, is stunning. Take a look online. The wines, sadly not cheap, are available in Whelehan’s in Loughlinstown. They are however very good, the Pinot is world-class.
Most visitors to San Francisco head northwards to the Napa Valley. Napa is great, but tourism is very well developed and often expensive. I would suggest driving westwards from Napa to Sonoma County. I am not sure how the area weathered the devastating fires last year, but the pretty town of Sonoma, the picturesque valleys filled with mature forests and mixed farms leading on to the spectacular coastline is as memorable as any wine country. The wine and food here are equally good.
I have visited Slovenia on several occasions. Most of the vineyards here (and in neighbouring Croatia) are picture-postcard beautiful. Think rolling verdant hillsides dotted with immaculately kept farmhouses each with a well-tended vegetable garden. The wines can be equally impressive.
We Irish are regular visitors to South Africa. My sole trip is now a distant memory, but I will never forget the breath-taking beauty of the vineyards. Many areas boast beautiful verdant landscapes peppered with dazzling white Cape Dutch homesteads. Best known is Stellenbosch, but nearby Franschhoek took first prize for me.
The Douro Valley in northern Portugal is a Unesco heritage site, and home to some of the most impressive, historic vineyards. But possibly my favourite vineyards of all are over the border in Spain, in Ribera Sacra in Galicia. There, the morning mists lying on the slow moving river slowly dissolve to reveal a series of narrow, impossibly steep crumbling terraces lined with ancient dry stone walls. At the top are verdant green forests. By happy coincidence, Ribera Sacra also makes some of the most compelling wines, from the Mencía grape, as well as others just being rediscovered.
Bottles of the Week
Bohoek Semillon 2016, Franschhoek, South Africa 12.5%, €15
A lovely mix of fresh, juicy, ripe peach fruits, with a touch of spice on the finish. Perfect with grilled (or barbecued) sea bass or other fish.
Stockist Marks & Spencer
S&R Douro Red 2016 13.5%, €16.95
Ample sweet/sour dark plum fruits, with a touch of spice and a good dry finish. Try it with a rare steak.
Stockist O’Briens Wines
Guímaro Joven Tinto 2016, Ribera Sacra 13%, €19
Pure unoaked Mencía from one of the best producers in Ribera Sacra. The more expensive single vineyard wines are stunning. This has clean savoury dark cherry fruits, a lifting acidity and a smooth finish. Serve cool with roast pork.
Stockists Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 2, baggotstreetwines.com; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie
Pax Sonoma Hillsides Syrah 2014, Sonoma, California 13%, €66
Concentrated, vibrant, savoury yet ripe dark cherry and blackcurrant fruits with wood smoke and liquorice. Superb, sophisticated wine that can be drunk now but will improve for years. With roast lamb.
Stockists 64 Wine, Glasthule, Co Dublin, 64wine.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Co Dublin, jusdevine.ie