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Top 10 countries for wine tasting: touring the world one glass at a time

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We know our customers love discovering new and interesting places and exploring a country’s culture through its cuisine. Wine is the ultimate expression of a place – what the French refer to as terroir; the environmental factors that give grapes their distinctive character, including region, climate, and the very earth in which the vines grow.  

So let’s dive into 10 of the most interesting places to taste wine. Think of it as a whistle-stop tour with a mere mouthful at each stop – to drink the whole bottle, you’ll need to visit in person. 

Argentina 

Most of Argentina’s wine regions are located in the west of the country, in the foothills of the Andes mountains that form a natural border with Chile. Argentina has some of the highest-altitude vineyards in the world, notably in Cafayate Valley south of the heady city of Salta, where you will find fine examples of the aromatic white wine, Torrontes.

The majority of wine is made in the area around Mendoza, where desert-like conditions are ideal for the country’s signature Malbecs – a perfect accompaniment to that mouthwatering steak you’ll savour in Buenos Aires. It’s hard to believe that wines are made in rugged Patagonia, but the Río Negro region has some old-vine Malbecs as well as old-vine Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to keep you warm. 

red wine grapes on the vine

Chile 

Despite a shared border, Chile has a more Mediterranean climate compared with its neighbour. Sustainable and organic winemaking is promoted and widely practised, despite some challenging conditions, including drought and, conversely, a significant increase in rainfall during the El Niño years.

Cabernet Sauvignon dominates, and the Maipo Valley region near the capital, Santiago, is producing some of the best examples. The dry, sunny conditions around the Cachapoal Valley are generating some very good Syrah and Carménère, while the tiny northern area of Limarí is building a reputation for great Chardonnay. We also recommend trying the Sauvignon Blanc from the Casablanca and San Antonio Valleys, where they also make some delicious Pinot Noirs.

Chile’s third most planted white grape is Moscatel, which is mainly used to produce Pisco – a brandy with a distinct kick and the main ingredient in a Pisco Sour, a Chilean cocktail also found in Peru. One Pisco Sour is great, two is brave but three might be considered reckless.

valley beneath mountains in Chile

France

France has a global reputation and, even if you’re not a wine buff, you’ll have heard of some of the country’s best-known exports, if only its famous fizz, Champagne. 

The best place to taste is in the Champagne region’s self-proclaimed capital, Épernay. Here you can visit prestigious Champagne houses such as Bollinger, Mercier and Moët & Chandon, and tour their network of underground cellars, housing dusty vintages. Then, learn about the real alchemy from the winemakers at the smaller vineyards.

Time for a quick stop in the Loire Valley, known for its crisp white wines, earthy reds and fairytale chateaux, before we head to Burgundy – home to some of the most prestigious Chardonnays and Pinot noirs in Europe. Make sure you try both, as well as explore the historic town of Beaune, the beating heart of the region.

You could let your palate choose between a visit to Beaujolais or Bordeaux, as the latter packs a bigger punch not just in prestige but in wine style, with its world-renowned Cabernet-Merlot blends. The eponymous city is also a big draw, along with the must-see ancient and beautiful town of Saint-Émilion. White wine lovers should head for the Alsace region for sublime examples of Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat. 

French castle behind a vineyard

Georgia

The oldest evidence of winemaking in the world was uncovered in Georgia, some 8,000 years ago. Today, the country’s largest export market is the US, where people can’t get enough of the fresh, lively white wines and bold, tannic reds that match the region’s characteristically rich cuisine. 

One of the most important Georgian wine regions is Kakheti, growing local indigenous grapes and international varieties. Georgia also lays claim to being the birthplace of orange, or amber wine as it’s known there. White grapes are crushed and the juice is left to ferment in contact with the skins, in large clay vessels known as qvevri, and buried in the ground. Georgian orange wines feel like red wine and smell like an exotic white.

While in Georgia be sure to try Akhasheni, a naturally semi-sweet red wine made from Saperavi grapes, and Kisi, a low-yielding variety similar to Viognier.

straw hat on a wooden post in a vineyard

Greece

Ahh, Greece. The ancient history, the beautiful islands, the unpronounceable grape varieties. Don’t be put off. Let Greece seduce you and you’ll taste some remarkable wines that match the magnificent locations.

On the Greek mainland, Bordeaux lovers will appreciate Agiorgitiko, grown around Noussa on the dramatic Peloponnese, while Burgundy aficionados will enjoy wines from Rapsani, made from the Xinomavro grape (you don’t need to pronounce it to drink it).

The island of Santorini is one of Greece’s most stunning locations and one of the recent wonders of the wine world. Assyrtiko is Santorini’s star, an intense, high-alcohol, mineral white wine, but you’ll find some full-bodied reds, and be sure to try Vin Santo, a delicious sweet wine worshipped on the island.

Not to be outdone, Crete is making beautiful wines from indigenous varieties. Ask in your restaurant for a Vidiano or Thrapsathiri as both pair well with delicious Cretan seafood, while a glass of Kotsifali is a great summer red that just needs a sunset view to be enjoyed. 

grape vines hanging down

Italy

Italy has more wine-producing regions and styles of wine than flavours of gelato, so there’s something for every palate. 

For an aperitif, how about a glass of chilled Prosecco from the Veneto region, a light Soave or a rich Pinot Grigio from Giulia? Then head for Piemonte, and see if you can taste the difference between a Nebbiolo made in Barolo and one from Barbaresco. Which of them pairs better with the famous truffles from the same region?

For many first-time visitors, Italy equals Tuscany, a region that’s been delighting culture vultures and wine buffs for decades. Florence, Siena and Montalcino are surrounded by vineyards growing Sangiovese to make Chianti and its fuller-bodied cousin, Brunello di Montalcino.

The beautiful island of Sicily is becoming a tourist hotspot at the same time as its wine gains more acclaim. Grown in volcanic soils in the shadow of Mount Etna, the antique variety Nerello Mascalese (grown in the 5th century BC) is a must-try alongside the island staple, Nero d’Avola. 

vineyard in front of mountains with big villa

New Zealand

New Zealand might be the Sauvignon Blanc capital of the world, and there are certainly some stunning examples, but there’s much more here to offer the discerning palate. On the North Island, Kiwi Chardonnays can be elegant and crisp or creamy and tropical, and you’ll find interesting Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc and even Gewürztraminer.

The Hawke’s Bay region is famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blends, and the longest sunshine hours in the country mean there are some top-quality Syrahs.

On the South Island, you can max out on Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs, or be bold and try a Riesling from the Waipara area near Christchurch. You’ll also want to get cosy with the vibrant, juicy Pinot Noirs of Central Otago which pair well with, well, whatever’s on the menu. Wine tourism is big business and boutique wineries abound. So grab a glass, stay for a gourmet lunch on a terrace overlooking the vineyard, and ponder on your next stop. 

vineyard

Portugal

Portugal’s most famous export needs little introduction, and when you arrive in the charming city of Porto, you’ll be immersed in the culture surrounding this iconic tipple. A visit to one of the famous Port houses across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia is a must and, if time allows, so is a river cruise through the Douro Valley. Arriving in the tiny wine town of Pinhão, you’ll discover the Douro’s many other wines made from the same Port grapes.

If lighter white wines are your thing, then you’ll love the wines from Vinho Verde produced a few miles to the northwest. Further south, you might find it hard to tear yourself away from the colourful capital, Lisbon, with its bustling neighbourhoods and iconic trams. But the nearby Alentejo region rewards visitors and oenophiles alike, with a slower pace, sun-baked olive groves and traditional villages, and the small producers have been working the land here for generations. Elsewhere, restaurants in charming Évora serve the region’s full-bodied reds and floral white wines.

village on river valley with vineyards

South Africa

With a history dating back to the 17th century, South Africa is very much a new world wine country, where you’ll find all your favourites – and the quality is outstanding. But the country has made two grapes its own: Chenin Blanc and Pinotage, which are grown throughout the winelands. Cape Chenin is fuller-bodied and richer than Loire Chenin, while Pinotage (a crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsault) is smoky and distinctive. 

The country’s winelands are comparatively close together, making a great destination for a wine trip. Cape Town is less than an hour from the unofficial wine capital and charming university town of Stellenbosch, while another hour’s drive would get you to Paarl and on to Franschhoek. Not that we’d advise doing it all in a day. South Africans pour with a heavy hand, and you’ll want to soak up the stunning scenery – maybe with a glass of Cap Classique, South Africa’s dazzling version of Champagne.

entrance to winery

Spain

Think of Spanish wines and you’ll likely think of Rioja, which is the largest area under vine and Spain’s most popular exported wine. The old town of Haro, which hosts a literal wine battle each year (it’s exactly what you’re thinking) makes a great base to explore some of the larger wine estates and small boutique, family-owned vineyards. White wine fans can taste an increasingly wide range of white Riojas made from Viura. 

For a totally different style, the rugged northwest region of Galicia is renowned for growing the best Albariño, while in Catalunya you’ll find sparkling Cava produced in and around Penedès.

Spain is famous for its tapas; bite-size portions of deliciousness and a way to enjoy a range of flavours in one sitting. But did you know that the pairing to many of Spain’s traditional dishes is sherry? Most people have not tried good sherry: fact. So there’s no excuse if you visit the charming town of Jerez in Andalusia. As you wander its ochre-tinged, medieval streets, be sure to visit at least one bodega and learn about the traditional solera system of making sherry.

four glasses of red wine

Make it happen

By now you should be fairly thirsty  – so what are you waiting for? Many of our suggested tours include wine tastings, so get in contact with one of our local experts to plan a flavourful adventure today.

  1. Argentina
  2. Chile
  3. France
  4. Georgia
  5. Greece
  6. Italy
  7. New Zealand
  8. Portugal
  9. South Africa
  10. Spain

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