There are 61 countries around the world that produce wine, of which I’ve tried 12 – 8 of those were in the wine-producing country itself. Like trying the local dishes and delicacies, there’s a distinct feeling of connection with the country when you get to sample their local grapes. And with so many countries producing, it seems pretty appropriate for a wine-loving travel addict to plan a few trips around some tastings. So the galaxy may have been an overshoot, but I’ll settle for tasting my way around the globe!
Loire Valley, France: Sancerre
France is the world’s largest producer of wine, with wine-growing regions we’ve all heard about from the country’s North to the East and the South. World-famous Bordeaux and Bourgogne are the among the better known wine regions, and not far behind is the Loire Valley, where the wines are white and the buildings are pretty magical. The first spot on my oenophilic list is the region that produces my favourite white wine: the crisp and citrusy Sancerre. Though the town of Sancerre is one of the smaller communes in the area, the Loire Valley is dotted throughout with one château after the other, and the towns that surround them look as quaint as one can imagine the château district to be. This area is on my bucket list not only for the delicious Sancerre wine, but also for the fairy tale road trips that I can imagine taking, or the storybook castles you can stay in.
Piedmont, Italy: Nebbiolo d’Alba
I was first introduced to Nebbiolo d’Alba during aperitivo at a small bar in Rome. I thought I’d give something new a shot, the more Italian the name, the better. My sights (and the waitress’s recommendations) landed on the peppery Nebbiolo d’Alba, and with one sip, I was hooked. Of course that’s my meet-cute with the varietal, but what about its origin story? Hailing from the Piedmont region in Italy, the Nebbiolo grapes can be found in multiple towns in the region and serve as the grape in popular Barolo and Barbaresco. Bordered by France, Switzerland, and these mountains you may have heard of called the Alps, the Piemontese region isn’t just about magnificent landscapes, it’s a veritable foodie paradise! Aside from the wine, Piedmont is where gianduia (otherwise known as the inspiration for Nutella), a variety of cheeses, and truffles call home. And the epicurean fun doesn’t end there! It has a long-established café culture, with Turin claiming the highest quantity of historic cafés in Europe, and is the birthplace of aperitivo, which brings us right back to where we started with Nebbiolo d’Alba. Looks like it was written in the stars!
Porto, Portugal: Vinho Verde
Confession: Vinho verde has always intrigued me because of its name, which is my favourite colour, which sounds like a pretty good way to go about trying new wines. I’m only half kidding. Of course it helps that the wine is described as light and effervescent, which sounds intriguing for a non-sparkling wine! Vinho verde vines are grown vertically on these ladder systems called enforcado which is unique in the vintner world. Since southern edges of the vinho verde DOC encroach on Porto territory, it would be fitting to use Porto as a base to exploring the city, wine region, and beyond. (And naturally, sampling the local drink – Port – is a must as well) A foodie paradise like Turin, Porto is also home to São Bento a.k.a. the prettiest train station ever, the Majestic Café a.k.a. the prettiest café ever, and the Livraria Lello & Irmão a.k.a. the prettiest bookstore ever. All that plus plenty of wine tasting opportunities make Porto a place I am absolutely salivating to visit.
Santiago, Chile: Carmenère
I hadn’t really tried Chilean wines since my first, ill-fated attempt several years ago when my taste for tannic wines hadn’t quite developed. Of course it might have been a bad bottle, but it ultimately turned me off. That is until recently, when my fascination with the Chilean landscape combined with my desire to explore past my own preferred wines got the better of me. I bought a bottle of Carmenère and now suddenly those prejudices have disappeared and left a giddiness for Chilean wine. The Chilean landscape though remains (sadly) unexplored by yours truly. When I do eventually make it out there (sooner than later naturally), Santiago is the perfect place to start the journey with the Maipo valley and its famous Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère grapes making some of the best wines Chile has to offer. The wine tasting fun continues in neighbouring Casablanca and San Antonio valleys, and nearby Cachapoal and Colchagua valleys. A mere 1.5 hours road trip will inject a bit of variety into the wine-centric activities with the very colourful paradise that is Valparaíso.
Cape Town, South Africa: Pinotage
Finally, we find ourselves in Africa with the Brangelina of grapes: Pinotage. A hybrid of the Cinsault (a.k.a. Hermitage) and Pinot Noir grapes, Pinotage had a pretty bad reputation until the last decade or so, when local vintners decided to workshop the grape into a great wine. I have exactly zero experience with South African wines and thus the appeal of the unknown rings strong and true. Much like Chile, the appeal for me starts with the country and expands from there. Specifically, Cape Town is what strikes my fancy, and lucky for me, the wineries start on the outskirts of the city and radiate outward from there. I’m pretty partial to majestic mountain landscapes and the cities that live at their base, and Cape Town is one action-packed (hiking! and surfing! and shark-cages!) city that seems perfect for a golden sunset with wine in hand.
Following the wine circuit around the world is a different way to see the differences that are unique to each region while adding a happy glow to all the beauty that exists in each region. My favourite part (aside from the wine of course)? Following a unifying thread around the world and seeing how winemaking is a labour of love no matter where you find yourself.