6 Wine Holidays | The Sunday Times Travel Magazine
The Sunday Times Travel magazine | August 2012
6 of the Best Holidays with Wine
There's no better blend than sunshine and the fruit of the vine. Laura Ivill samples the best grape escapes from around the world.
1. Claret and class
Le Grand Hotel de Bordeaux et Spa
The region: Bordeaux, France. Ah, Bordeaux… boulevards of 18th-century architecture, a majestic river, alfresco café culture and, arguably, still the home of the greatest wines in the world. Around the city, 10,000 elegant châteaux sit neighbour to neighbour. Take advantage of the 600km of cycle paths for a tasting tour.
When to go: Bordeaux has been transformed into a hopping place for visitors, from spring through to Christmas. Bordeaux Fête le Vin is one of the world’s biggest and best annual wine festivals and takes place at the end of June (www.bordeaux-fete-le-vin.com). For those who want to learn more about the fine grand cru wines, a weekend of tastings and tutorials happens in May (www.ugcb.net).
The top tipple: To get you in the mood, head to Laithwaites to try Le Grand Chai Chȃteau La Brande 2009 - a great-value big, deep claret at £12.99 made at its friendly 19th-century winery Le Chai au Quai (00 33 5 57 40 13 31, www.lechaiauquai.com). In Bordeaux itself, head straight for the central Bar à Vin (00 33 5 56 00 43 47, http://baravin.bordeaux.com). You’ll find almost everything produced in Bordeaux here, by the glass, for less than 5 euros. Kick off with the Château de Parenchère, 2007, with intense white and citrus fruit aromas, fresh and round on the palate, 3 euros a glass. Sharing plates will help stop it all getting too messy.
The best base: At the boutique hotel Maison Bord’eaux in the city centre the staff are happy to help you arrange châteaux visits. Doubles from 165 euros, room only (00 33 5 56 44 00 45, www.lamaisonbord-eaux.com). Or treat yourself to rooftop views of the city at the Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux & Spa (33 5 57 30 44 44, www.ghbordeaux.com).
Getting there: Bella Wine Tours (07778 006691, bellawinetours.com) organises guided tours (three nights/two days) with access to some of the greatest wineries - Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Margaux and Cheval Blanc, from 995 euros per person. Evazio offers a two-day (295 euros) or seven-day (849 euros) self-drive tour including half-board accommodation and daily tastings (00 33 5 56 79 25 05,www.evazio.com). Or try Routes des Vins (00 33 5 56 40 48 59, www.routedesvins.fr). EasyJet flies from Gatwick and Luton to Bordeaux from £26.99 one-way, and from Bristol and Liverpool (0843 1045000,www.easyjet.com). By car, try Brittany Ferries (0871 244 0744, www.brittany-ferries.com). Or take the train to Bordeaux (0844 848 4064, www.raileurope.co.uk).
2. Fizz and chips
Camel Valley vineyard, Cornwall
The region: English wines have really come into their own of late and Camel Valley vineyard in north Cornwall has 20 years in the game. They not only produce white and rosé sparklers, but an on-trend red bubbly as well (£17.95). They are receiving plaudits thick and fast – both the PM and the Queen have been snapped sipping Camel Valley fizz this summer. Padstow (beloved of foodies) is around 16km away where the Camel River’s estuary is a haven for birdlife.
When to go: If you want to see around the vineyard and winery, you need to go during the week. Daily tours followed by a glass of wine take place at 2.30pm weekdays April 1 to September 30 (£7.50). On Wednesdays, there’s also a Grand Tour and Tasting at 5pm (£12) during which you get to sample at least four wines (continues throughout October). In summer you will see the ripe fruit plump on the vines, and when the sun shines relax on the terrace and sample everything from the wine-tasting menu – half glasses mean you can get stuck in to everything (from £1.50).
The top tipple: Go classic - the 2010 Camel Valley ‘Cornwall’ Brut (£24.95) won a gold medal at the 2012 International Wine Challenge, and it doesn’t get better than that. Wine critic Olly Smith describes it as ‘fresh and pinging with a joyful sense of celebration. Magnificently vibrant and alive with fruit.’Decanter magazine gave the 2009 the maximum five-star rating. The range is available online (www.camelvalley.com) - a 5 per cent discount on a mixed half case will save you roughly the £8.50 delivery charge.
The best base: Two holiday cottages on the estate are in converted stone barns on the south-facing side of the valley overlooking the vineyards, and are rentable by the week – but popular so book early. The cottage sleeping two costs from £300 per week low season, and the four-person cottage costs from £400 per week (01208 77959, www.camelvalley.com). On the coast, the Scarlet eco-design hotel has sweeping views across a sandy bay (01637 861800, www.scarlethotel.co.uk). Doubles from £190 B&B.
Getting there: First Great Western runs trains from London Paddington to Bodmin Parkway, from £15 each way (www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk), which is a 20-minute taxi ride from the estate; it’s even quicker by taxi from Newquay Airport. By car, Bodmin is just off the A30. The vineyard is signed from the 28km round-trip Camel Trail from Padstow - flat and gravely so an easy ride.
3. Port and pleasure boats
The Yeatman hotel, Porto
The region: Porto, Portugal: All the grapes that go to make port wine are harvested in the beautiful, terraced Douro river valley of northern Portugal, where you can stay. The wine is then transported to the city of Porto near the coast to be matured in cask, hence the name ‘port’. The historic wineries are all clustered in the district of Gaia on the south bank, overlooking the tumbling streets and red-tiled roofs of Porto’s 18th and 19th century buildings.
When to go: For a spring break, tour the wineries and see the rows of barrels and enormous vats. In summer, swim in the Yeatman hotel’s decanter-shaped outdoor pool with its spectacular panorama of Porto. For the September harvest, add in a trip up-river and take part in treading the grapes at Taylor’s, one of the oldest surviving family businesses in the world, from 1692.
The top tipple: As a fresh alternative to a G&T, ask the Yeatman barman for a Pale – Taylor’s Chip Dry white port with tonic and a twist of orange – it’s the new Pimm’s. For the red stuff, the 2004 or 2005 late bottled vintages of the great port brands – Dow’s, Graham’s, Fonseca etc - are perfect for drinking now, and great value at 11 to 18 euros a bottle from the lodges and shops of the city.
The best base: The Yeatman (00 351 22 013 3100, www.theyeatman.com) nestles among the old cellar district and has Thursday-night “wine dinners” of a Michelin-star four-course menu, each one accompanied by a different Portugese wine from a guest producer (55 euros pp). Bedrooms are spacious and all have terraces taking in the splendours of Porto, a vast sky and its changing light (doubles from 154 euros, room only).
4. Syrah and city lights
Montes Winery, Chile
The region: Santiago, Chile. For its vistas of vast, magnificent mountains, Santiago is king. In the foothills, the Pacific Ocean breezes blow across valleys of rich soil, and the vines love it. The city of Santiago itself has the mighty Andes dominating the skyline (although smog can obscure the panorama). Maipo Valley wine country is on the doorstep.
When to go: Santiago has a Mediterranean climate, and spring starts in October. Harvesting takes place in March and April when daytime temperatures are delightfully warm.
The top tipple: The Viña Montes winery has been designed along feng shui principles, producing vintage wines at great prices (00 56 2 248 4796, www.monteswines.com). The Montes Alpha Syrah is a Rhône-style red with balancing freshness and rated by Decanter magazine as one of the best of its kind for under £25 (only £11 a bottle at the winery). Or a cheeky rosé for summer is the Montes Cherub, for £9.99. A tour and tasting of four wines costs from £13.
The best base: In Santiago itself, the 15-room boutique hotel The Aubrey is a secluded villa dating from 1927. Set in its own grounds in the artists’ quarter of Bellavista, it’s within walking distance of downtown Santiago and is furnished with antiques and contemporary pieces. Rooms from $240US B&B (00 56 2 940 2800, www.theaubrey.com)
Getting there: Wine-tour expert Arblaster & Clarke offers an extensive, in-depth visit to key Chilean wine-growing regions, £3,000 for 9 days, including five-star hotel and wine-estate accommodation, most meals, coach transport, winery visits and tastings, wine guide and a train journey in first-class, but excluding flights (01730 263111, www.winetours.co.uk). Santiago Adventures has contacts with 100 Chilean wineries and can put together a custom-made itinerary (00 56 2 244 2750,www.santiagoadventures.com). Iberia (0870 609 0500, www.iberia.com) flies Heathrow to Santiago via Madrid for around £768 return.
5. Pinot and peace
Russian River Valley, California
The region: Sonoma Valley, California. Sonoma will seduce you with its soft country charms and is less flashy than Napa nearby. Rolling hills of vineyards stretch as far as the eye can see, from boutique wineries to big names.
When to go: The California weather is hot and sunny in summer, ripening the grapes, so the harvesting months of September and October are the most busy (and the most pricey), when the countryside is ablaze with colour. In winter and early spring, you’ll find a more personalised service. Take the car for tastings along the quiet Silverado trail; and the Russian River Valley’s wooded hillsides and gently meandering water make it especially picturesque.
The top tipple: For classic pinot noir, visit the Hop Kiln Winery in Healdsburg set in a 100-year-old agricultural building (00 1 707 433 6491, www.hopkilnwinery.com). Recommended is the house HKG Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2010, $34US, with bright cherry aromatics and great structure. Five tasting glasses cost $7. The biggest list of California wines in the UK is at The Vineyard at Stockcross in Berkshire – 23,000 bottles in the cellar.
The best base: For sophisticates who like to feel at home and relax, the Kenwood Inn and Spa (00 1 707 833 1293, www.kenwoodinn.com) is set among vineyards, oak groves and walnut orchards, a 90-minute drive from San Francisco. The new chef is ex-Ramsay NYC and London (garden rooms from $350US B&B).
Getting there: Kenwood can book you a driver for a private tour of the Sonoma Valley, around $360 for four hours. Alternatively, tour and taste Sonoma on foot, by bike or by kayak with Getaway Adventures (00 1 800 499 2453, getawayadventures.com). A bike tour 10am-3.30pm including tastings at boutique wineries and picnic lunch costs $149pp. Fly Heathrow to San Francisco with United (00 1 800 864 8331, www.united.com) for around £617 return. BA also flies this route (0844 493 0787, www.ba.com).
6. Chianti and castles
Castel Monastero, Tuscany
The region: Tuscany, Italy. Famed for its world-class medieval cities of Florence and Siena, the surrounding countryside is bursting with olive groves, cypresses and vines. Crowded throughout the summer, September is more peaceful. Amid the hills you’ll discover great historic castle wineries in imposing settings – Castello della Paneretta, Castello di Monsanto, Castello di Brolio and Castello dei Rampolla,
When to go: The season runs May to October, with the best months for weather May and June, or September for the harvest.
The top tipple: The Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Vigna Casi has velvety aromas and spicy notes which is round to taste with an intense finish and well-integrated tannins, 18 euros a bottle at Castello di Brolio.
The best base: An hour’s drive from Florence brings you to Castel Monastero — a restored monastery in the heart of Chiantishire. Set among vines, cypress trees and chestnut forests, the ancient building has stone vaulting, real fires, a spa and courtyard dining (020-3318 9541 www.kiwicollection.com). Doubles from 289 euros B&B.
Getting there: Fly London Gatwick to Florence with Meridiana (0871 222 9319, www.meridiana.it) for around £95 return. CityJet (0871 6633777, www.cityjet.com) flies London City to Florence, from £48 one-way. Italy and Wine has private wine-tasting tours for two people to two castles, including lunch, for around 240 euros pp (00 39 331 874 9912, www.italyandwine.net).