Wine regions of Europe
From the windswept slopes of Santorini to the terraced banks of the Douro River, Europe is the home of great wine. Countless wineries offer tastings and tours across hundreds of regions across the continent and you could easily spend the rest of your life wandering from one tasting room to another in a happy daze. But if your time in Europe is more limited, you’ll have to be more selective.
We asked our Europe team to suggest the vineyards and wine regions they like best so you can get a taste of the enormous variety that a trip to Europe offers.
Vinotherapy in the Langhe and Roero regions of Italy
By Italy specialist Caroline
Situated in northern Italy, close to the France and Swiss borders, Piedmont is less renowned than Tuscany but produces some of Italy’s best wines. Against a backdrop of the distant Alps, the region offers seemingly endless vineyards interspersed with small medieval villages. That’s why, when I visit, I prefer to explore the area with a private driver and expert wine guide.
The Langhe and Roero regions are protected by UNESCO both for their outstanding landscapes and for the fine wines produced by the area’s small vineyards. Many of those wineries are family-run, and you can tour the vineyard with a member of the family before sampling some of their wines. When I’m in Piedmont, I always make a point to seek out the region’s two most popular wines, barolo and barbaresco, which are often referred to as the king and queen of wines respectively. I also like moscato d’Asti, a sweet dessert wine that hails from the area.
Aside from visiting local wineries and tasting their produce, you can also enjoy other wine-related activities. I suggest heading to the town of Barolo to spend time in the WIMU, an interactive wine museum that explores the history and culture of wine.
Just a short drive from Barolo, you’ll find the medieval town of Pollenzo. I come here for the Wine Bank. Located within the same complex as a Slow Food hotel and the University of Gastronomic Sciences, the Wine Bank is something like a museum that holds a wide selection of wines from around Italy. It has a shop where you can purchase bottles at reasonable prices as well as literature dedicated to wine and food.
Many of the area’s hotels also have their own extensive wine cellars or produce their own wine. The luxury Relais San Maurizio has its own spa treatment room dedicated to vinotherapy (wine therapies). You can relax in a wine whirlpool or take a sauna in a giant restored barrel from the late 1800s. After a day exploring the region and its wineries, you can enjoy dinner in one of the many Michelin-starred restaurants in the area.
Wine and architecture in the Rioja region of Spain
By Spain specialist Talia
Arguably one of Spain’s most identifiable wines, Rioja is known the world over for its dominant cherry taste, achieved through the expert blend of tempranillo (Spain’s most prominent indigenous grape variety) and garnacha, along with the occasional addition of mazuelo and graciano. The wine is produced from vineyards that flank the rolling hillsides close to the Oja River.
This is a region of stark contrasts. Vines have been cultivated here since Roman times, and if you go up into towns like Laguardia, you can still see rocks that are riddled with ageing cellars. The Moors never reached this far north, so the historic towns have a much more northern European medieval style than those in the southern areas, with wooden timber-frame houses and Gothic churches.
However, the Rioja wine region isn’t stuck in the past. Many wineries here are embracing Spain’s passion for pushing architectural boundaries and styling themselves not only as wine producers, but as modern works of art. Perhaps most arresting is Hotel Marqués de Riscal, an ostentatious confection of titanium ribbons, designed for the eponymous 150-year-old estate. Architect Frank Gehry, who also masterminded the Guggenheim Museum, created a structure of purple, silver and gold curves that represent the different parts of a wine bottle.
Alternatively, you can visit the Raphael López de Heredia Tondoni Winery, where you’ll find a striking pavilion designed by the flamboyant architect Zaha Hadid. An angular, bright, ultra-modern space, its outline is intended to resemble an old-fashioned decanter. Sleek and swooping, it serves as a luminous counterpoint to the nearby wine gallery, which dates from 1890 and has a far more traditional style.
Cruise the Port vineyards of the Douro Valley in Portugal
By Portugal specialist Samantha
Known for its patchwork of steeply terraced vineyards, the Douro Valley in northern Portugal is a striking sight. Dominated by the Douro River as it winds its way toward Porto, the valley has been carved over the centuries to create the terraces that make this one of Portugal’s most important wine-producing areas.
Port owes much of its growth to the animosity between France and Britain during the 18th century. Unable to import wine from France, British merchants looked to Portugal for a new source of tipple. A lucrative trade emerged as wine was shipped down the Douro River to the port houses in Porto’s Vila Nova de Gaia, ready to be exported overseas. In order to preserve the wine on the journey to Britain, it was spiked with brandy, creating the rich sweet wine that we know today.
You can visit Vila Nova de Gaia and tour one of the wine cellars that line the banks of the river, including Cálem or Graham’s. If you have more time, travel upriver into the Douro Valley. A private lunch cruise gives you the chance to indulge in a gourmet meal while admiring the vineyards and the lazy, snaking river.
An old favorite in Portugal, vihno verde has recently gained wider acclaim in international markets. This youthful green wine is made from alvarinho (albariño) grapes or combined with northern Portuguese varietals. A sharp wine that’s released just three to six months after the grapes are harvested, vihno verde is unusually refreshing thanks to a dry, citrusy profile and low alcohol content (usually about 9% ABV).
The vines for vihno verde were traditionally raised above the ground on high pergolas or trained up through trees to allow more space for other crops. Many farmers continue this method and you can still see this distinctive landscape feature as you travel through the region, but many modern growers are moving away from the practice. When I’m in northern Portugal, I like to stop at a small family-run winery to sample this most typical of Portuguese wines.
Cycle through the vineyard of Saint-Émilion in France
By France specialist Aislyn
The vineyards around the medieval town of Saint-Émilion primarily grow merlot and cabernet franc grapes, taking advantage of the hilly landscape to give the vines more exposure to the sun. Irrigating these vines is illegal in order to protect the delicate ecosystem that supports their growth. The limestone rocks and clay soil help to regulate the sun’s heat, while trees and flowers provide shade, protection from the elements and natural pesticides to promote healthy grapes.
Mikael, my guide, explained all of this to me as we cycled around the vineyards and through little sleepy villages. We eventually arrived at a small family-owned chateau, which Mikael’s been visiting for years. He explained that this chateau and its vines have been owned for 14 generations — three of which still live here and work the land today.
At the chateau, Mikael passed the reins of the tour over to Anne, a woman working there as part of her professional sommelier education. She told me her favourite part of working on a family-run chateau is harvest time, even though it’s back-breaking work. The whole family gets involved alongside a group of 35 people who come every year to set up camp in the grounds and enjoy each other’s company as they harvest the grapes by hand.
To be considered a Grand Cru Classe or a Premier Grand Cru Classe, the rules in France are very strict and you can’t use certain machines. In order to comply, many chateaux have returned to using horse-drawn plows in between the vines — they don’t damage the soil as much as large tractors do.
I got a glimpse of this old-is-new tradition after a visit to the vinification room and limestone cellars. Waving goodbye to Anne, Mikael and I got back on our bikes and headed off down the dusty roads. Suddenly, as we turned a corner, Mikael jumped off his bike and waved for me to follow. Just as I reached him, four enormous horses appeared through the narrow vines, clopping along easily, barely tired from their efforts or the bright sun beating down on their backs.
Visit old vines in Santorini in Greece
By Greece specialist Laura
Beyond the sun-bleached ruins, the ancient world lives on in Greece in one surprising way: its grapes. Thanks to its sharp, volcanic soil, Santorini is one of the few places in the world where phylloxera can’t live. This means that you’ll find unique grape varieties that cannot survive elsewhere, as well as some vineyards where the rootstock predates the 19th-century pandemic.
Additionally, the island’s vintners use a singular cultivation technique: their vines grow in coiled nests right on the ground, with the grapes inside. The low shape helps protect the vines and delicate fruit from the Cycladic Islands’ fierce winds and endless sun.
To oenophiles, Santorini is best known as the birthplace of assyrtiko, Greece’s signature wine, and the island’s vineyards still grow some of the finest vintages in the country. Like most Greek wines, this is a white — bone-dry and known for its texture and acidity, with notes of passion fruit and citrus, and a slightly salty finish.
But there are a few reds, too, including mandilaria and mavrotragano. These rare grapes almost went extinct but have been making a slow-and-steady comeback in recent decades, thanks to the dedicated efforts of wineries like Estate Argyros.
This fourth-generation vineyard, a half-hour drive from Oia, boasts some of the oldest vines on the island, including ones that have been thriving for more than two centuries. You can sample these hard-to-find vintages on a guided tour that also allows you to visit the quieter villages of the island, far from the jam-packed caldera rim.
Visiting wineries in Croatia
By Croatia team member Scott
Despite its ancient wine-making tradition, Croatian wine isn’t well known globally — in fact, only a tiny fraction of the wine is exported. That said, you’ve likely already drunk at least some wine that had Croatian ancestry — the country’s most popular red, plavac mali, is made with the indigenous tribidrag grape, which genetic analysis indicates is the progenitor of zinfandel grapes.
There are four main wine-growing regions in the country, and they’re all worth exploring, but I like the island of Hvar best. Here, the vines are grown in the Stari Grad Plain, a rocky but fertile landscape that’s been cultivated continuously since the 4th century BC. UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site to preserve its remarkable history. You can take tours that offer a glimpse into two different approaches to making wine on Hvar.
You begin at Tomić winery, founded in 1993. The tasting is a polished presentation lead by a professional guide and it’ll usually include five of the vineyard’s many different bottles, including Croatia’s beloved plavac mali.
The tasting profile was familiar to me — rich and high in tannins, it had notes of blackberry, pepper and dry figs. It paired beautifully with the locally produced nibbles that Tomić served on the side, including tuna pâté and boar prosciutto.
Then, your driver will take you just five minutes down the road to Duboković winery for a very different experience. For some vintages, this tiny and prestigious family-run winery only creates a few barrels. In fact, the wine is so rare that it’s one of the most expensive in Croatia.
My tasting was led by founder Ivo Duboković in his family’s candlelit wine cellar. His deep and abiding passion for wine came through clearly as he walked me through tasting each bottle.
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