PICNIC WITH A WINEMAKER
Provence is the oldest winemaking region in France, as well as the world’s largest producer of rosé wine. The rosés of Provence are characterized by their delicately dry flavors and lightly blushed coloring. Unlike rosé production elsewhere, these wines are protected by a series of regulations from the Côtes de Provence AOC, but within those rules, the wines vary immensely for a number of reasons (e.g., the length of time the juice remains in contact with the grapeskins, the temperature within the vat). Scoring a tasting session with a Provençal winemaker is no easy feat. The easiest way is by booking a “Just for You” experience through the Hotel Metropole Monte Carlo. The experience includes a visit to one of the most celebrated domains of the region, the Château Roubine, where the hotel’s head sommelier gives participants a private tour of the vineyards and cellars followed by an intimate lunch where the chateau owners themselves join the group to present their favorite wines from their collection.
Insider Tip: The Monte Carlo Metropole is a historic hotel that dates back to 1886, when it was built on land that belonged to Pope Leo XIII. Today the property has been blessed by a luxurious renovation with designs by Jacques Garcia, and the arrival of four signature Joël Robuchon restaurants.
EXPLORE THE CORK FOREST
Behind every cork, there’s a story, and most of those stories begin in the forests of Andalusia. Although Spain is only the second biggest producer of cork around the world (behind Portugal), there are more than 500,000 hectares of cork forests in the country, and every year the Cork Forest Conservation Alliance partners with two ecotourism companies, Two Birds One Stone and Namaste Viajes, to offer a “From Bark to Bottle” eco-tour through the cork region of Spain. For 11 days, the group travels along Spain’s cork trail to learn about the process of creating corks for wine bottles. Visitors get the chance to visit, dine, and drink with the people of the cork forest, and hear their stories about this ancient renewable resource.
Insider Tip: The Hotel NH Collection Cáceres Palacio de Oquendo, the home base for the “From Bark to Bottle” tour, is housed in a converted 16th-century palace with a historic stone façade and amazing Bar La Cava onsite for tapas and wine after the tours.
CLEAN A KVEVRI
Widely lauded as the birthplace of wine, the Republic of Georgia is the motherland for wine lovers. Not only does this petite country boast the world’s largest grape diversity (more than 500 varietals), but its mild year-round climate and mineral-rich soil also produce remarkably pure wines. Georgians have been making wine the same way for more than 8,000 years: they let the wine ferment naturally beneath the ground in large clay jars called kvevri (or quevri). The jars are listed as a National Monument of Intangible Cultural Heritage through UNESCO, and to see these ancient vessels in person is truly an ethereal experience. Kvevri wines tend to be excitingly complex, and are said to have nutritional and curative qualities from the ions in the clay. Each jar can be used for many years (some of the oldest jars still in use are more than 300 years old), but in order to maintain the quality of production, they require a thorough cleaning before starting a new vintage. The cleaning process is very involved and requires the skilled hands of a professional kvevri cleaner to wash them inside with an herbal cleanser and repair any damage. It’s the one time of year when visitors can get up close to these giant vessels (and sometimes inside one!), and get a firsthand encounter with this ancient tradition of winemaking.
Insider Tip: The Château Mere is a stunning example of Georgian architecture that sits in the heart of the Kakheti wine region. The hotel’s 15 rooms are set inside the stone fortress, just steps from the hotel’s winery, Winiveria, where guests can visit the tasting room to see the amazing kvevri in use.
ATTEND THE BOSTON WINE EXPO
Wine expos offer the chance to sample and sip from hundreds of labels and vintages from around the world, often poured by the winemakers themselves. Unfortunately, most of them are closed to the public and are reserved for buyers and members of the wine industry. Not only is the Boston Wine Expo the biggest wine expo in America, but it is also one of the few in the world open to the public. The two-day event features more than 1,800 wines, with food from more than 100 restaurants and vendors. The next expo is February 18–19 and will include an exclusive VIP lounge, a Grand Tasting, chef demonstrations, a vintners’ reserve lounge for super premium small production wine tastings, and various seminars and opportunities to ask Boston’s top sommeliers about wine and wine collecting.
Insider Tip: Expo guests get a special rate at the Seaport Hotel, located across the street from the expo venue, the Seaport World Trade Center, making it easy to hop back and forth between tastings.
EAT LUNCH AT THE HIGHEST VINEYARD IN THE WORLD
Altitude equals status in the wine regions of Argentina, where the grapes benefit from the extended growing season and almost magical photosynthesis that occurs at the foothills of the Andes. Generally, the higher the vineyard, the higher the acidity and the higher the likelihood that the aromas will become deeply concentrated, which is the case for the beautifully complex wines at Bodega Colomé. The winery encompasses four vineyards in the Salta wine region, the highest of which (the Altura Máxima Estate) sits 10,207 feet above sea level and has earned the title as the highest vineyard in the world. Reservations are recommended for the hour-long tour through the winery, but the best portion of the visit includes sitting down for a lunch of homemade empanadas overlooking the vines at the visitor’s center with a glass of Altura Máxima malbec.
Insider Tip: The nearest lodging to the vineyards is located 20 km away, in the town of Molino, where visitors can check in to Hacienda de Molinas. This charming hacienda was once the home of Salta’s last governor but has been renovated into a boutique hotel that marries its 18th-century roots with 21st-century amenities.
LEARN ABOUT BARREL MAKING
When a wine is aged in an oak barrel, a magical thing occurs: as the wine comes in contact with the wood, it starts to soften, smooth out, and, in many cases, pick up the distinct flavors of the oak. Most wine drinkers are familiar with French and American oak, but Hungarian oak gets winemakers most excited these days. Hungarian Zemplen oak has the same roots as its French cousin, only it is grown in a colder microclimate in the Tokaj wine region in Hungary in order to produce a wood with a tighter grain. The wines aged in these Hungarian oak barrels are notably softer, smoother, and creamier than French or American oak-aged wines, with more subtle aromas. The Tokaj wine region is known for its sweet wines (skeptics will love the balanced blends coming from local producer Szedmak Winery), but the real gem here is the stunning Zemplan forests that surround the region. Hike or cycle around these Hungarian hills to breathe in the oak-scented air, or book an appointment with one of the many master coopers in the area.
Insider Tip: The Andrássy Rezidencia Wine & Spa Hotel was made for wine lovers. Housed in an 18th-century country manor, the hotel has a VinoSense Spa with an indoor pool and cave baths, and they offer bike rentals for visiting the local wineries. For an additional fee, the hotel will bring a cooper on site for a barrel-making demonstration followed by a wine tasting of local Tokaj wines.
GO UNDERGROUND WITH THE VDP
German wine has notoriously and historically been misunderstood. In the 1980s, the export of cheap and sweet Riesling killed the country’s reputation; tack on the country’s highly specific (and often highly confusing) labeling system, and it’s easy to see why many shoppers avoid the Deutsche wine aisle. But to miss out on German wine would be a shame, especially right now when the country is producing some of the best pinot noir (Spätburgunder) wines on the market. In an effort to restore the country’s reputation for fine wine, an elite group of 200 vintners joined forces to create a classification for the best wines. Known as the VDP, wineries that meet the exacting standards of the group earn the right to place an emblem on their bottles (similar to the Grand Cru classification in France). Visiting a VDP winemaker in Germany is like entering into a secret society, where tastings often take place in exclusive venues, like the 800-year-old vaulted underground cellar where VDP winemaker Kai Schätzel allows his wines to ferment inside 600- or 1,200-liter oak barrels, some dating back to WWII.
Insider Tip: The Favorite Parkhotel in Mainz is a great base for exploring the VDP wineries in the area. The hotel also features a Michelin-starred restaurant, serving the best wines from the country’s top producers.
BASK BENEATH THE TUSCAN SUN
A roundup of essential wine trips wouldn’t be complete without a nod to Tuscany. Although the region only produces six percent of Italy’s wine, it’s by far the country’s most important wine region due to its history and quality of production. The region dates back to the 8th century, and today is famous for its Sangiovese reds, namely Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Tuscany averages around 2,500 hours of sunshine per year, allowing the grapes ripen on the vine under conditions perfect for creating crisply acidic and aromatically dry red wines. In Tuscany, the wine experience is less about tastings and tours and more about soaking in the lifestyle and passion behind each glass. Many Tuscan wineries are run by families or private owners and require a reservation for a tour or tasting (i.e., no drop-ins), but a number of the region’s best vineyards also offer upscale accommodations among the vines so guests can lounge poolside while sipping Super Tuscans.
Insider Tip: The Castello di Casole was once the home of film director Luchino Visconti, and the castle has been hosting aristocrats and celebrities since it was first christened back in the 10th century. Toda,y the castle is a five-star boutique hotel that sits on more than 100 acres of organic vineyards whose fruits are used to make the delightful estate wine that’s only available to hotel guests. Aside from an amazing spa, a superb restaurant serving classic Tuscan dishes, and a range of local experiences (from cooking classes to private winery tours), the hotel also offers a fleet of fiery red Ferraris for guests to explore the vineyards and countryside of Tuscany.
EXPERIENCE BORDEAUX THE BERNARD MAGREZ WAY
Bordeaux needs no introduction. It is the biggest appellation (AOC) in France, producing more than 75 million cases each year. Although the famous name makes it easy to identify the bottles in stores and on wine lists, navigating the region is rarely as simple. Each château operates individually and most only make appointments on a personal basis, so without contacts in the industry, it can be difficult to arrange tastings. No one knows Bordeaux better than wine magnate Bernard Magrez, who owns four Grands Crus Classés in the region, including Château Pape Clément (Graves), La Tour Carnet (Haut-Médoc), Château Fombrauge (Saint-Emilion), and Le Clos Haut Peyraguey (Sauternes). In a region where wine tourism was virtually nonexistent, Magrez created a package for visitors to easily get a taste for the terroir with his Luxury Wine Experience. His dedicated team of local experts will arrange everything from tasting appointments to hotel stays at some of the most exclusive accommodations.
Insider Tip: For the ultimate Bernard Magrez experience, it only makes sense to stay at his boutique hotel in the heart of the city. La Grande Maison de Bernard Magrez features six luxury guestrooms and three dining options, including the Gourmet Restaurant featuring cuisine by acclaimed chef Pierre Gagnaire and a list of 259 of the finest wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône, and Alsace.
CRUISE THROUGH CHAMPAGNE COUNTRY
The Champagne region of France glitters with its ancient UNESCO chalk cellars and signature sparkling wines from more than 300 Champagne houses. While most visitors focus on Epernay, the best way to get immersed in this region is by navigating its series of canals and rivers that connect each of the villages on a French Country Waterways’ luxury hotel barge. The experience is limited to only eight passengers who are wined and dined for 7 days as the barge slowly makes its way through the lock-guarded canals of the region. Although tours are offered each day that range from wine tastings to WWII battlefield visits, the most beautiful experience is simply hopping off to explore on foot or bike during cruising hours to stop in for a quick tasting at a few of the lesser-known Champagne houses.
Insider Tip: The French Country Waterways Princess barge is the perfect home base for exploring Champagne. Not only is the vessel limited to only eight guests (with four staterooms), but each docking is a celebration as guests are welcomed at the tiny villages along the canal that are rarely visited by tourists.