IT’S NOT A HOLIDAY, IT’S RESEARCH
As the mercury seems to be remaining obstinately low (at time or writing, in any case – hopefully spring will be making itself known by the time you read this), it is inevitable that our thoughts turn to summer holidays, and that our dreams are full of sunshine, relaxation, leisurely lunches and bottles of pale rosé consumed under blue skies.
Given that you are a Feast reader, I suspect that one factor in your choice of destination will always be food and drink. You can give me the greatest scenery, the most interesting historical sites and the most stunning architecture – if I’m not going to eat and drink well, you can keep it.
It won’t surprise you to learn that my trips often end up being to places around the globe which produce wine. Last summer was spent in the Veneto in northeast Italy (home to Soave and Valpolicella); the year before was a fortnight in a house right in the midst of the southern Rhône vineyards; 2016 saw a tour which took in the Mosel valley in Germany, the Nebbiolo heartlands of Lombardy, and Alsace.
Even though San Francisco is my favourite American metropolis, on my last trip to northern California I limited myself to just three days in the city, preferring to spend the rest of my ten day stay exploring the wineries of the nearby Napa Valley.
Now, you’re probably thinking there is one reason and one reason only that I so often choose wine regions as my holiday destinations, but you are wrong. Of course, the opportunity to visit producers and taste their ranges right there in the vineyard is a big factor, but it is only one. The fact is, wine producing regions make perfect holiday destinations for all sorts of reasons.
Let’s take climate first. Pretty much all of the world’s wine is made between 30 and 50 degrees latitude. That precludes equatorial regions where the sun is unbearably hot, and also those parts of the world which are too close to the poles to give the 100 days of sunshine which vines require to ripen.
In other words, growing vines requires just the sort of climate which most of us seek out on holiday: temperate, sunny and pleasant, without too many weather extremes.
Secondly, the kind of topography required to make wine is that which most of us find attractive: gentle, undulating hills and lush, green vegetation. I know some people like climbing bleak mountains or exploring barren deserts, but that isn’t what I call a holiday. Each to their own.
But mostly, the attraction of holidaying in wine regions is cultural. Such areas are invariably places where the pace of life is slower, where the locals have learnt not to burden themselves with too much stress, and where the simple things in life are valued.
I have yet to visit a wine-producing region where there isn’t also a vibrant local food culture. Often the two have evolved alongside each other, providing the hungry and thirsty tourist with perfectly matched mealtimes.
You might think that once you have seen one vineyard you have seen them all, but I never tire of visiting wineries. Big or small, efficiently commercial or rather more homespun, they are all different. And, of course, they all have their own end products for you to taste. As I have said before, the road to wine knowledge is littered with empty bottles.
But above all, what makes a holiday in a wine region is the people. Winemakers – in fact, pretty much anyone involved in wine – are invariably generous, welcoming and happy to share their enthusiasm with anyone who shows an interest. This exuberance seems to rub off on everyone living in a wine-producing area, and it is that above all else which makes such regions so much fun to visit.
This summer, I will be spending a couple of weeks in a village in the heart of the Minervois. I dare say that cities such as Narbonne, Carcassonne and Montpellier will be on the itinerary, and we may even make our way to the beach. But mostly I will be enjoying everything which makes this a wine region – including, naturally, a glass or two of the local produce. I am a wine writer, after all – it’s research.
Three wines Andy has enjoyed this month
Kardos Dry Furmint 2017
Furmint is the grape from which intensely sweet Tokay wines are made, but it can also be used to make a lovely, refreshing dry white. This has notes of gooseberry, greengage, pear and lime on the nose, all of which combine on the palate with a hint of orange peel and an elegant minerality. Dry and crisp, and a good alternative to Sauvignon Blanc.
Domaine des Tourelles Syrah du Liban
Because of Château Musar, many of us are aware that wine is made in Lebanon, but that property is one of many which are now starting to find their way onto the UK market. Domain des Tourelles was one of the first, established 1868, more than 50 years before Musar. This Syrah has not been fined or filtered, and the result is a big, deep wine with notes of plums, cherries, herbs, pepper and spice, and even chocolate.
Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Napa Valley
Majestic, £49.50 as part of a mixed case of six bottles
One of the first wines I ever tasted in the Napa Valley itself, this wine, actually a Bordeaux-style blend of 80 per cent along with Merlot and a small amount of Cabernet Franc, is matured in a mixture of new and used French oak, which unsurprisingly gives a Claret-like mixture of blackcurrant fruit, cinnamon, tobacco, coffee and spice. Expensive, but very good.
This article was first published in Feast Norfolk magazine.