Hiking through the volcanic vineyards of Lanzarote

By Wink Lorch The vineyards of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands are among a select band of wine regions that can truly be called volcanic. In summer the bright green vines emerge startlingly from the pitch black volcanic soil. It makes an arresting view and the way the vines are grown is intriguing. Lanzarote lies […]

Hiking through the volcanic vineyards of Lanzarote

By Wink Lorch The vineyards of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands are among a select band of wine regions that can truly be called volcanic. In summer the bright green vines emerge startlingly from the pitch black volcanic soil. It makes an arresting view and the way the vines are grown is intriguing. Lanzarote lies […]

Discovering the Delights of Saint-Chinian

The dramatic Montagne Noire forms the backdrop to the Saint-Chinian vineyards, and to its charming southern French towns and villages. Wine communicator and retailer Paola Tich travelled there to learn more about the two distinctive styles of red Saint-Chinian wine, not forgetting its rosés and unusual white wines. On an early evening in September there’s […]

The history, wines and oils of Les Baux de Provence

Despite its diminutive name, Les Alpilles, literally meaning the Little Alps is a rich and diverse area which makes it a popular tourist destination. During the summer, it may be one to avoid if traffic and crowds are not what you are after, but during the winter the area is calmer, and although some restaurants […]

The history, wines and oils of Les Baux de Provence

Despite its diminutive name, Les Alpilles, literally meaning the Little Alps is a rich and diverse area which makes it a popular tourist destination. During the summer, it may be one to avoid if traffic and crowds are not what you are after, but during the winter the area is calmer, and although some restaurants […]

Discovering wine and remembering war on the Gallipoli Peninsula

By Brett Jones The Gallipoli Peninsula, to the south west of Istanbul, is located in Turkish Thrace, the European part of Turkey, with the Aegean Sea to the west and the Dardanelles to the east. In 1980 the Gallipoli Peninsula Historic National Park was founded, encompassing 35,000 hectares of countryside, to protect the military and […]

A California road less travelled

The huge State of California is known for its diverse wine tourism offering north and south of San Francisco. Louise Hurren looks back at experiences of a weekend’s wine tour last summer when she headed to Mendocino, a few hours north of the city. Louise is a wine communicator who lives in southern France. She spends […]

Wine and food where three countries meet

When you next plan a visit to Alsace, a must-visit wine region, then don’t forget that it is as simple as crossing the River Rhine to visit the Baden wine region too. What makes this doubly appealing is that both regions are among the most welcoming to wine tourists that you can find in their […]

A cornucopia of food and wine experiences in the Hudson Valley

For visitors to New York, a whole world of wine and food is opened up to you by knowing just the right people. Wendy Crispell is today a wine and food educator, consultant and writer, based in New York City, but in the past she was a restaurateur up in the Hudson Valley. Here, Wendy […]

Tasting in the volcanic hills above Lake Balaton

Liz Gabay is a British Master of Wine, wine writer, educator, judge and consultant. She lives with her family in Provence and wrote three of the Wine Travel Guides to Provence. A regular visitor to Hungary, Liz was invited there recently to give a masterclass. For once, she got the chance for some independent wine travel, […]

Planning your route in French wine regions

There are a many differences between touring independently around the wine country in France and touring in the New World, notably along the organized wine routes of South Africa, Australia, California or indeed anywhere in North America. One of the biggest challenges is actually how to find the winery you planned to visit, and second to that […]

Good Bed and Breakfasts in French wine regions

Until recently in many French wine regions there was a rather slim choice of places to stay, often limited to one very expensive hotel, perhaps a few very basic ones, and a clutch of self-catering gîtes where a minimum stay was required. But, the past few years has seen a welcome change with the arrival [...]

The art of wine tasting and eating in the Napa Valley

By Wink Lorch The Napa Valley has been renowned for its wine tourism offering for several decades. Even if for years many European wine producers have provided a welcoming caveau or weinstube where customers could taste their latest wines, it could be said justifiably that Napa invented wine tourism as an industry. According to Wikipedia the [...]

A few highlights from our 2011 European wine travel experiences

The pleasures of travelling in wine regions never cease, and there were some stand-out experiences in 2011 that were unexpected, wholly satisfying or simply joyful. Below are a few highlights of our travels last year that have not been covered on this blog elsewhere. With more than a month gone in 2012 already, here is [...]

Tasting the stars in Champagne

By Wink Lorch We all love myths and star appeal – the Champagne region provides plenty of both. Take Dom Pérignon, the monk, rather than the wine… not only is his alleged ‘invention’ of Champagne discredited, but his lovely quote “Come quickly Brothers, I am drinking the stars” appears apocryphal too. No matter, a pilgrimage [...]

The history, art, food and wine of Chianti

Tuscany is known to be one of the most beautiful places in Italy. Many a writer, film maker and tourist passing through the region have been charmed by the countryside where cute villages, monasteries and castles blend in perfectly in the rolling hills. At its heart is the beautiful Chianti Classico district, home to red wines from Sangiovese and a host of welcoming wineries.

This guest post is written by wine consultant and sommelier Caroline Henry, who visited Chianti in October on a sponsored trip following the European Wine Bloggers Conference. It was Caroline’s first trip to the region and we are delighted that she could share her impressions here.

The Chianti region is situated between Florence and Siena. The hillsides are a patchwork of oak, cypress, chestnut and pine forests, intermingled with vineyards and olive groves, splendid in their blazing autumn glory under the pleasant Tuscan sun. The region has a long and rich history dating back to the Etruscan and Roman times. In the Middle Ages, the area became the theatre for the fierce battles between the city-states of Siena and Florence. Around the same time it became a stronghold for the church which meant that several monasteries, fortresses and castles emerged all over the region. During the Renaissance, in times of peace, several of these buildings were converted to stately homes and villas and became wine and olive oil estates.

Chianti Classico landscape

Castello di Ama with a typical Chianti Classico vineyard landscape ©Mick Rock, Cephas

Whilst visiting Chianti Classico, we learned that 13th century Chianti was a white wine blend of Malvasia and Trebbiano. However, over the centuries Chianti developed into a red wine based on the Sangiovese grape. Sangiovese often shows flavours of fresh black fruit – black currant, cherries and blackberry – with a hint of sweet liquorice and is characterised by a high acidity and chewy tannins which will soften with aging. Chianti Classico wines are from grapes grown on the original sites defined as far back a the 17th century and renowned as the best vineyard sites in the area. The Chianti Classico district compromises about 70,000 hectares (ha) of which only 10,000ha are vineyards and 8,000ha olive groves.

Chianti Classico Heartland
We spent three days in the heartland of Chianti Classico between Gaiole and Greve starting our trip at the Santa Maria al Prato convent in Radda. Originally a Franciscan Monastery dating from the 14th century, it today hosts the ’Welcome Centre’ of the Chianti Classico Wine Consortium. It also has plenty of information on the different wineries to visit in the area and the history of Chianti. In 2012 a contemporary art centre will open on the 2nd floor with collections from all over the world.

Radda, the capital of Chianti Classico, is a beautiful medieval walled town with a rich culinary history. A must try gastronomic specialty is Ribollita – a hearty soup made from left over bread, canelli beans and inexpensive vegetables such as black cabbage, carrots, onions and spinach.

Tuscan wine estate

The abbey of the good harvest at Badia a Coltibuono ©Peter Harvey

Next we visited the Badia a Coltibuono wine estate, a converted Abbey originally built by the Vallombrosan monks. The monks were known for having revolutionized the local agricultural practices and were among the first to plant Sangiovese here. The Abbey was secularized when Napoleon annexed Tuscany in 1810 and was acquired by Michele Giuntini. In the spirit of the monastery the Stucchi Prinetti family, current owners and ancestors of Guintini, have transformed the wine estate into a sustainable modern centre for food and wine appreciation. Besides the winery, Badia a Coltibuono also includes an Agriturismo, a cooking school offering one day and residential traditional Tuscan cooking classes and restaurant featuring live jazz or classical music during the summer.

Tuscan castle

Castello di Brolio ©Caroline Henry

Historic castles and Modern Art
On the second day we visited the Castello di Brolio, an iconic castle in the history of Chianti. Built in the 11th century it was restructured by Baron Bettino Ricasoli, a prominent politician and the creator of the first known ‘Chianti recipe’ in 1872, proscribing 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo and 15% Malvasia Bianca. Today’s Chianti Classico wines are 80-100% Sangiovese and white varieties are no longer allowed. The castle has a small museum which hosts a centuries old collection of arms and armour of the Ricasoli family and gives a good insight in the political and agronomical work of Bettino Ricasoli. The castle grounds are stunning and in summer visitors can enjoy traditional Chianti fare and the Barone’s wines in the large garden of the Osteria dell Castello. Situated a little down the hill is the Barone Ricasoli tasting room and wine shop.

Another wonderful place to visit is the Castello di Ama in Gaiole. The winery was established in 1972 and was taken over by Marco Pallanti in 1995. Of the 250ha which make up Castello di Ama 90ha are planted with vines (predominantly Sangiovese) and there are 40ha of olive groves. In 2000 Lorenza and Marco Pallanti started the ’Castello di Ama per l’Arte Contemporanea’ project in which they invite a prominent artist to live on the property for several months and create a permanent artistic installation. These artworks are dotted around the buildings and the land of Castello di Amo and are part of the guided winery visit.

After indulging in modern art we were transported back to the Middle Ages visiting Vignamaggio Wine Estate. The oldest part of the Villa of Vignamaggio dates back to the 14th century, and legend has it that Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa was born here in 1479. It was also the place where a large part of Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado about Nothing was filmed. The estate has been in the hands of the Gherardi family since the 16th century and they produce excellent Chianti Classico, Super Tuscans, Vin Santo and olive oil. The beautiful villa is also an Agriturismo and offers a wine tourism programme which includes guided walks, tastings and wine dinners.

Beef heaven

The kitchen at Solociccia ©Caroline Henry

Culinary Traditions
We ended the day with a fabulous  ‘Whole Steer Dinner’ at Solociccia in Panzano. Solociccia is the brain child of butcher-poet Dario Cecchini, also owner of the Antica Macelleria Cecchini, his butcher shop across the street. Dario’s aim is to respect the animal by using every part in the best possible way. At Solociccia guests eat a set menu of ’butcher foods’ at a communal table in a convivial atmosphere. The menu consists of six meat courses served with seasonal vegetables and the traditional Tuscan white beans with olive oil and bread. After that there is cake and coffee. A quarter litre of house wine and a grappa are also included in the amazing value menu price of €30.

On our last day we first visited Caparsa, a small winery near Radda. It is owned by artisan winemaker Paolo Cianferoni who farms organically and makes wine in a ’natural’ way. Caparsa offers a 45 minute guided cellar and wine tasting tour which can be booked via their website.

We concluded our tour of Chianti Classico at the Castello d’Albola wine estate and the beautiful Villa Marangole with its magnificent views from the large terrace. The villa is available for holiday rentals and it sleeps up to 12 people. Two kilometres up the hill lies the Castello d’Albola, a 15th century fortress which today houses the winery, tasting room and cellars of the Castello d’Albola wines with daily guided tasting tours of their wines and olive oil.

Chianti has a rich culinary history and the various Chianti Classico producers we met emphasized that the wines are made to be enjoyed with local food – it enriches the experience as the different flavours really enhance each other. It is a Tuscan tradition to drink Vin Santo at the end of a meal when guests are visiting. Vin Santo is an elegant dessert wine made from dried Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes, which are then slowly fermented and aged for at least  three years in small casks. It has rich flavours of apricot, peach and nuts and is often accompanied by some biscotti. A glass of Vin Santo and a biscotti are the perfect way to end a great meal among friends, and it was the perfect way to end our trip.

Caroline would like to thank the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico  for their generous sponsorship of this trip and the European Wine Bloggers Conference for making it possible.

For more information, take a look at our very comprehensive Wine Travel Guide Between San Gimignano and Siena written by wine writer Michele Shah, who lives in Florence. Gift Membership to the website giving one-year access to download all the latest PDF Guides makes an unusual present. Until the end of the year we are pleased to offer a 30% discount off annual membership to readers of this blog who use the code D2BLG1111.


Filed under: Vineyard Visits Tagged: Antica Macelleria Cecchini, Badia a Coltibuono, Caroline Henry, Castello di Brolio, Chianti Classico, EWBC, Radda

Original wine touring experiences and great food in South Africa

Words by Wink Lorch, Pictures by Brett Jones

For anyone who is used only to travelling in European wine regions, a visit to the winelands of South Africa is simply a revelation. Increasingly the country offers an example to other wine producing wine countries as to how comprehensive and varied, and frankly downright welcoming and unforgettable, the wine travel experience can be.

Whereas there are compact areas to tour like Constantia, Swartland, Robertson or Hermanus that can be covered in a day or two, the offering from the larger Stellenbosch and Paarl regions is simply so huge that it is seriously hard to choose which of the many wineries to visit. On our wine tour of South Africa last January, part press trip and partly on our own, a couple of wine tourism offerings really stood out for their originality.

Warwick wine tour

Safari ready at Warwick ©Brett Jones

The Big Five Wine Safari
Warwick Estate is one of the many Stellenbosch wine farms that lies in a drop dead gorgeous location, surrounded by its vineyards with views to the dramatic mountains of the Western Cape. Owned by the Ratcliffe family since 1964, the farm was named Warwick by a previous owner of the estate who had been a general of the Warwickshire Regiment in the Anglo-Boer War. The farm has a red wine focus with its two most famous wines being blends: the highly acclaimed Trilogy, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, made in Bordeaux style to age; and the more approachable Three Cape Ladies from Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage with a splash of Merlot and Syrah, depending on the year.

As at nearly all wine estates here, there is a bright tasting room and shop, complete with wine accessories, books, T shirts, aprons and more. Warwick also offer various, smart, but relaxed picnic areas for lunch in the grounds, where you may indulge in their delicious gourmet picnic baskets, best reserved in advance. The other innovation at Warwick is the Big Five Wine Safari (not run in May-August, the rainy season). The web page states “not for the faint hearted” but in our press group we were not warned, and some of us girls did our fair share of yelling as the safari Land-Rover took us up and down their spectacular vineyards at some quite hairy angles. It was worth it though for the amazing wide views from the top, and it is a great education to be right up there in the vineyards discovering the different grape varieties and soils. This is how Warwick explain their Big Five:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon – Lion
    Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of red grapes and the lion is the king of the jungle, like a young lion fighting for dominance in the pride Cabernet Sauvignon is aggressive when young but softens with age.
  • Cabernet Franc – Elephant
    Like an elephant Cabernet Franc has a very thick skin. Elephants love to wallow in mud and Cabernet Franc has a very earthy flavour profile. Single variety Cabernet Francs are very rare so when you try one you always remember it, the elephant also has a very good memory.
  • Merlot – Leopard
    Merlot is a very shy and elusive grape just like the leopard. Merlot is very difficult to spot in a blend, and the leopard is the hardest of the big 5 to spot.
  • Sauvignon Blanc – Rhino
    The Rhino is the easiest animal to identify in the wild because of its distinctive nose, Sauvignon Blanc is the easiest grape variety to indentify blind also because of its nose. Rhino horn is also an aphrodisiac but Professor Black Sauvignon Blanc is a better and more environmentally friendly aphrodisiac.
  • Pinotage – Buffalo
    The buffalo is a very aggressive and unpredictable animal; Pinotage is also unpredictable and has very aggressive tannins.

Up close and personal with the goats
Keeping on the animal theme, just up the road into the Paarl wine district, not far from the town of Paarl, is Fairview Winery. It is known for a big range of wines from in particular Rhône Valley grape varieties, and also for its goats’ cheese produced from a herd of 800 goats, a few of which you will see enjoying its quirky goat tower! Fairview is owned by the highly respected Back family, who have farmed here since 1937, with their first Fairview wine label in 1974 and a cheese factory created in 1985. Fairview welcomes 200,000 visitors to their tasting room every year, and like their wine range it has expanded greatly since I first visited this lovely winery and cheesemaker in 1998.

Fairview Goat Tower South Africa

Fine billy on the tower ©Brett Jones

Although you cannot do a cellar tour here, the choice of tastings available is very good, with education being the key. The main Fairview tasting room today has wooden pods with well trained staff to take you through six selected wines, with cheeses being available at separate pods – a more expensive, but still excellent value option allows you to enjoy a sit-down tutored tasting in a dedicated, more formal room next door. The whole atmosphere is both buzzing and relaxed, and the range of wines remains as it has always been, innovative and good quality at every price level from the Goats do Roam range with its amusing labels and stories, to the interesting Spice Route range and the most serious Single Vineyard Fairview labels such as my favourite Beacon Shiraz.

The on-site Goatshed restaurant continues the relaxed feel offering a casual bistro atmosphere for daytime snacks or lunch. There is an emphasis on fresh Mediterranean-style food, with plenty of bright-coloured vegetables, great bread and of course, a chance to sample the goats’ cheeses once again.

Wine tasting room at SimonsigFine dining with a view
Some of South Africa’s finest restaurants are in the wine regions, and the quality of meals we were able to enjoy in the more serious winery restaurants in South Africa’s winelands was astoundingly good. We were lucky enough to sample excellent meals at the Cuvée Restaurant of Simonsig, the Bodega Restaurant of Dornier, Terroir Restaurant at Kleine Zalze and the Jordan Wines Restaurant, all in Stellenbosch, as well as at La Motte in Franschhoek. At all these restaurants you can enjoy wines by the glass or by the bottle, with very good food. Each restaurant was enjoyable and impressive in a different way, but all were constructed to make the most of the local architectural heritage and the landscape, with views from the terraces and large windows, and with menus concocted to make the best of the wines. Most of all, for those who enjoy fine food and wine, I think that any of these could be indulged in for a really special dressed-up occasion, or simply on a much more relaxed holiday visit, perhaps after visiting some of their excellent tasting rooms.

Stellenbosch view

Evening view from Jordan's Restaurant ©Brett Jones

For more information about visiting South Africa’s winelands, start your research with the Stellenbosch Wine Routes and the Franschhoek Wine Valley websites.

My thanks go to the wine producers and restaurants who kindly hosted us. Our trip was partly with a group from the Circle of Wine Writers and was part-sponsored by Wines of South Africa.


Filed under: Places to Stay, Eat and Shop, Vineyard Visits Tagged: Fairview wine and cheese, Franschhoek, South Africa winelands, Stellenbosch, Warwick wines

Beaune in the heart of Burgundy

Not all wine regions have a clear focal point, but in Burgundy, there is no doubt that all roads lead to Beaune, the historic capital of the region and today a vibrant small town devoted to wine and gastronomy. Buzzing under the summer sun, or silent under winter snows, at any season for many wine lovers Beaune has become a place of pilgrimage.

Produce market at Beaune, Burgundy

The food market in Beaune is a food lover's paradise ©Wink Lorch

There are two places I have always made my own pilgrimage to when visiting Beaune: the Hospices de Beaune has been in existence for over 550 years, and is correctly named l’Hôtel Dieu; and right opposite, Athenaeum, a quite amazing wine book shop, founded just 21 years ago, in 1989. On my last visit in December with World Wine Tour 2010 I was finally able to add a third legend to the list, Ma Cuisine, a tucked-away restaurant that is only open on four days a week, and requires booking well in advance.

Les Hospices de Beaune – a hospital for the poor
Wine lovers know the Hospices de Beaune in particular for its famous wine auction held each November. The auction sells the barrels of the latest vintage of wines from some of the Burgundy wine region’s best-known Grand and Premier Cru vineyards, which many years ago were donated to the Hospices to fund its good works.

The buildings of the Hospices, built in 1452 using Flemish-inspired architecture as a hospital for the poor, are stunningly beautiful with their distinctive and colourful tiled roofs, but venture inside and you discover a sense of peace, humility, history and unexpected treasures too. The buildings were used as a general hospital until 1971 and for the past 40 years have been a much admired tourist attraction, well worth a visit.

Hospices de Beaune kitchen

Invalid's rabbit stew - classic Burgundian cuisine ©Wink Lorch

It is so atmospheric walking through from the inner courtyard into the main hall lined with beautiful dark wood bed ‘stalls’ where the poor and sick were cared for. A mock up kitchen makes you believe they were well fed, and the beautiful pharmacy gives a hint of the sort of potions they were given to make them better.

The original funding for the beautiful Hopsices buildings and indeed the amazing furniture and works of art, came from Nicolas Rolin, chancellor for the Dukes of Burgundy, who decided to assuage his guilt of living a profligate life, by using some of his wealth in this way. The works of art in the Hospices have been regularly added to by legacies and donations and there are some wonderful pieces, including amazingly intricate tapestries.

If you can’t get there soon, then for a closer look at the Hospices take a look at the series of videos (in French) from the regional online magazine Bourgogne Live:

Making the most of Beaune’s gastronomic delights
The choice of restaurants in Beaune is large, and it definitely pays to plan in advance to make sure you eat at somewhere authentic, rather than at one of the overtly tourist restaurants that you will stumble across once you are in the town. Our Côte de Beaune guide includes four restaurants in Beaune itself, and one that had been recommended to me countless times by not only our writers, but by wine producers and UK Burgundy importers is Ma Cuisine.

Beaune Premier Cru 2006

When in Beaune ... ©Brett Jones

Having eaten at many restaurants in Beaune over the years, when I ate at Ma Cuisine, I realized what I had been missing. Small and simple, tucked along a quiet road just inside the old town walls, the emphasis here is on simple, tasty local food, designed to show off your choice of wine from the massive list. If you have money to spend and love Burgundy, you will have a hard time choosing the wine, but help is at hand, and even if you are on a relatively meagre budget, there is a Burgundy wine for everyone here. You simply have to go, but make sure you phone ahead and choose the right day. If Ma Cuisine is closed or full, then another original choice we have enjoyed recently is Le Comptoir des Tontons, with a delightfully laid-back atmosphere, good local, mainly organic food and a decent selection of Burgundy wines at fair prices.

Wine books and gifts galore
It’s best to put aside a good hour for a browse around the wonderful Athenaeum shop right opposite the Hospices and open all day every day, even through lunchtime and on Sundays. Athenaeum started life as a specialist wine book shop; today, much extended, it offers an unrivalled selection of wine books in French, English and other languages, not just covering Burgundy, but the world. As well as a very good French wine map section, the wine accessory department ranges from serious wine glasses and decanters, to greetings cards and a plethora of items you never knew you wanted. There is a fair kitchen department too and last year, I did my Christmas shopping there.

Pernand Vergelesses, Burgundy wine village

Pernand-Vergelesses, just outside Beaune ©Brett Jones

I’m taking it as read that you are unlikely, as a wine lover, to visit Beaune without setting aside some time to taste wine. Apart from Athenaeum that has a fine selection of wines, there are several decent wine shops in the town listed on our guide, and these are the places to go to buy old vintages. Even if Beaune is the heart of the Burgundy wine region, it is best to avoid the over-touristy tasting places in the town, instead arrange in advance to visit a few wine producers in the villages outside Beaune, in the heart of the vineyards. Be aware that more than anywhere, most wine producers in Burgundy require advanced appointments, and for the finest producers, a personal introduction from an importer or specialist wine retailer is often needed.

Much more information on other shops, restaurants, places to stay and recommended wine producers to visit can be found on our Côte de Beaune travel guide. All information on the website is free to view, there is a small charge to download the PDF versions of the guides.


Filed under: Places to Stay, Eat and Shop, Wine Tourism General Tagged: Athenaeum, Hospices de Beaune, le Comptoir des Tontons, Ma Cuisine, wine travel guides

Revisiting Hungary’s southern red star

By Wink Lorch

Once upon a time, all most of us knew of Hungary’s wines was the legendary sweet wine Tokaj, said to revive monarchs on their death beds, and Bull’s Blood, the red wine reputed to put hairs on everyone’s chest. Today, Tokaj and Bull’s Blood still exist, if somewhat battered, but the country is buzzing with other good wines emerging from several different regions, the absolute star for reds being Villány, in the south.

Villány wine cellars ©Virtual Tourist/shrimp56

When Hungary emerged from communism around 20 years ago, a flood of inexpensive whites rolled onto the UK’s supermarket shelves, so it felt odd that my first visit to Hungary in 1999 was an invitation to discover the country’s reds. However,  when our first stop was in Villány, both a region and a sweet little wine town, unlike any I’d seen before, I began to understand. Finally after 12 years, this year, I managed to return.

What is so striking about the town of Villány and the neighbouring villages in the region are the little whitewashed cellars, with bright-coloured doors and shutters, lining the streets in neat rows. Behind the doors, the traditional winegrowers combined press rooms with barrel storage, and latterly they have been converted into tasting rooms. Wine has a long history in the region, but it was the Germans who came here in the 18th century who first really established it as a fine area for reds.

Bock's restaurant in Villány ©Christian Schiller

Villány, together with neighbouring Siklós, best known for its white wines, claim to have created the first wine route in Hungary, and certainly I remember back in 1999 that the Attila Gere Winery, who now have a very smart hotel, already had a simple pension, where we stayed. Vying for position in both the quality of their accommodation and their wines is the Bock winery, run by Joszef Bock and his family, which incorporates a fine hotel and restaurant . This was the focus of our visit this summer.

The team at Bock took our group of wine educators out of the town to visit two of their historic vineyards, one above a plunging valley known as Devil’s Creek, and another, the historic vineyard Jammertal above the actual town of Villány. The word Jammertal means ‘wailing valley’ in German and refers to the cry let out by the Turks when they were defeated here in 1687 during the Ottoman wars. This is deemed to be not only a historic vineyard and cellar (now used only for storage), but also one of the best sites for red grapes in the Villány region.

The Villány region's Devil's Creek vineyards ©Brett Jones

The climate is mainly continental, but with some Mediterranean influences from the south, and the long sunshine hours make it ideal to ripen a range of red grapes. The region’s most famous variety is the widely planted Portugieser, making quite a juicy, sour-cherry style of red; the well-known Kékfrankos (Austria’s Blaufränkisch) is also grown giving some delicious blueberry flavours, but today the stars are Cabernet Franc (which ripens more reliably than Cabernet Sauvignon, also grown, but only in the sunniest sites) and Syrah, pioneered here by Joszef Block, is also doing well.

Bock’s Cabernet Francs as well as other good examples from Villány have a real deep fruity character, and what I particularly like are those that haven’t spent too much time in new oak and offer that Loire-like green capsicum or even lead pencil character. Bock’s finest wines are blends and I adored his 2006 Capella, a ‘Bordeaux blend’ of 60% Cabernet Franc 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot, aged for two years in new oak. Bock is the German word for goat, and Capella is the so-called 5th star or goat star, the rather garish label has a large red goat adorning it.

We had a wonderful meal at the Bock restaurant, which has a big terrace outside the winery where, depending on the time of day, you can choose simply to have a wine tasting, or indulge in a meal. If the weather is not fine, then the tasting area inside is extremely pleasant. Hotel rooms were comfortable and practical, and there is a small pool and spa area – this would make a fine base from which to tour the area. Bock also own a wonderful wine shop and friendly bistro in downtown Budapest, the Bock Bisztro, where we also enjoyed an excellent meal before driving down to Villány.

Malatinszky tasting room ©Wink Lorch

Whilst in Villány, we also enjoyed a visit to Csaba Malatinszky’s tasting room and bistro right in the middle of the town. An ex-sommelier from Budapest, he very much focuses on wines to match food, and from his range I enjoyed, in particular, a lovely 2009 white blend from Siklós, named Serena  made from Chardonnay, Riesling and Muscat Ottonel, which matched a range of Mediterranean-influenced snacks on toast, and his red blend named Tenkes from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc with a touch of Kékfrankos. My favourite was the less expensive of his Cabernet Francs, without too much of that new oak influence.

There is no question that Villány-Siklós is perfect for an independent wine tour by car. However, if you only have a short time in Hungary, I can recommend the highly regarded day tours organised by Carolyn and Gabor Bánfalvi of Taste Hungary. Carolyn is an American journalist based in Budapest who one day in the future I hope will write our Wine Travel Guides to Hungary. Having enjoyed a Budapest market tour with her husband Gabor, I can vouch for their approach combining fun with dedication to great food and wine!

Disclaimer: my thanks go to Hungarian wine specialists in the UK, Mephisto Wines, and to Bock and Malatinszky wineries, who paid for our internal travel arrangements and provided our accommodation.


Filed under: Places to Stay, Eat and Shop, Vineyard Visits Tagged: Bock, Budapest, Cabernet Franc, Hungary, Malatinszky, Villany

Authentic wines and hearty cooking in Bucelas outside Lisbon

Portugal is a major wine producing country with a growing number of quality wineries who are opening their doors to visitors. With amazing scenery, a range of wine styles, often made from indigenous grape varieties, and proud winegrowers, always keen to share their inside knowledge of their region, now is the time to discover the country.

This guest post is written by wine communicator Louise Hurren, who lives in the south of France in the heart of the vineyards. We are delighted that Louise offered to share some experiences and photos from a recent wine tour she enjoyed in Portugal.

I’m a city girl at heart: on my visits to Lisbon I’ve made the most of its restaurants and bars, and have filled my proverbial boots with Portugal’s well-made, value-for-money wines and tasty (albeit pork-heavy) cuisine.

However, there’s good reason to leave the bright lights behind. Recently, I spent a long weekend scoping out three wine-growing areas that are less than an hour from the city.

The official Bucelas wine route ©Louise Hurren

I did my homework before I set off. I knew that the Vinho Regional Lisboa area incorporates nine DOC regions, and that the three tiny DOCs closest to Lisbon – Bucelas, Carcavelos and Colares – previously enjoyed a high reputation.

Sadly, competition from other areas and urban sprawl have taken their toll on these small wine regions, but nevertheless, each DOC still has its share of producers making characterful, authentic wines, and some top dining and tasting destinations: you just have to make the effort to go find them. I spent a full day visiting Bucelas; Colares and Carcavelos are side trips and will be the subject of a later post.

Wines of Bucelas
Sheltered from the Tagus estuary by a range of hills, Bucelas is a small vineyard region centred around the tiny town of the same name. I drove there from Lisbon (approx. 25 km) in around half an hour, heading north out of the city but it is possible to get there by public transport at a push.

This white-only DOC celebrated its centenary in 2011. At one time, Bucelas wines were fortified; the Duke of Wellington helped raise their profile in Britain following the Peninsular Wars, and in Victorian times, they were quaffed as Portuguese Hock. By the 1980s, only one company was making Bucelas wines, but recently several producers have invested here, in recognition of its interesting grape varieties which retain high levels of natural acidity, despite the warm maritime climate. Bucelas’ crisp, dry, still and sparkling wines are made from a minimum of 75% Arinto (Esgana Cão and Rabo de Ovelha are the other permitted varieties).

©Magna Casta

Parking in the centre of town, I stumbled on a building site that is set to become the Bucelas Museu do Vinho (wine museum). It’s scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2012: meanwhile, just across the road is the Enoteca Caves Velhas, a wine shop run one of the DOC’s largest and oldest producers. Here, I got quickly acquainted with the Bucelas DOC, thanks to the friendly English- and French-speaking staff, paying a mere €2.50 to taste a selection of wines, including their own Bucellas brand (note the spelling with 2 ‘ls’), a mineral, fresh and lemony, 90% Arinto blend; their 100% Bucellas Arinto; the single estate Quinta do Boição (late-picked Arinto aged in new oak), and the nutty, sherry-like Bucelas Garrafeira.

Included in the tasting was a visit to the rather musty, dusty and dilapidated cellars next door (maybe the Enoteca should donate the contents of its cellars to the museum, where they could be properly presented). Plates of local cheese and ham are also available, should you feel the need to nibble.

Quinta da Romeira ©Louise Hurren

From the Enoteca, I drove a couple of kilometres out of town to check out Quinta da Romeira, a leading light of the DOC appellation. Steeped in history (it dates back to 1703), the Duke of Wellington used this quinta as his base during the Peninsular War campaign. The man had good taste: I was very taken with the deep pink walls and white woodwork covered with bright red bougainvillea blooms. There are four elegantly-appointed rooms available for overnight stays, a wine shop and 78 hectares of (mostly white) vines (14 ha of Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also grown). From the 46ha dedicated to Arinto, various polished and reasonably-priced Bucelas wines are made.

I’m not the world’s biggest bubbly fan, but Romeira’s sparkling white Bruto Vinho Espumante 2006 (wood-fermented, with lees stirring) was surprisingly elegant: it’s made via método clássico (ie. second fermentation in the bottle) and sells in their shop for €7.5. My favourite was the award-winning Morgado de Santa Catherina: rich and ripe, with a creamy texture and good acidity, it’s a steal at only €6; others are priced around €3–4. The stainless steel-fermented Prova Régia Premium is, as its name suggests, fit for a king, and be sure to try their sweet white (VR Lisboa) wine made from botrytis-affected grapes.

Quinta da Murta ©Louise Hurren

From here, it was on to Quinta da Murta, a modern estate a couple of kilometres north of Bucelas, that features a six-bedroom house with private pool, which should be available for rental from 2012, and a recently-built, temperature-controlled winery, surrounded by 13ha of (mainly white) vines. Producer Mário Soares Franco is a fluent and chatty English speaker, and assisted by winemaker Hugo Mendes, he runs the estate and welcomes groups (the guided tour takes 45 minutes). Phoning ahead is advisable even for individual visits.

Most of the estate’s white grapes go into making the Quinta da Murta Bucelas, which is Arinto-dominant with just a drop of Rabo de Ovelha; I tried both the steel- and oak-fermented versions. They use their Touriga Nacional to make a red Quinta da Murta Tinto, full of raspberry flavour and firm tannins.

Hearty home-cooked lunch
After all that tasting, I badly needed some sustenance. Heading back into the centre of Bucelas, I liked the look of the wonderfully authentic Barrete Saloio restaurant. This spacious, blue-and-white tiled former hostelry (it takes its name from the traditional headgear worn by local farmers) serves hearty, home-cooked dishes that are typical of the Lisboa region.

The kindly owner suggested a mixed plate of starter-specialities that included farinheira (a game and flour sausage with an unusual texture – a welcome contrast to the ubiquitous pork) and queijo fresco (fresh goat milk cheese, eaten sprinkled with salt and spread on bread). Amongst the main courses, the traditional black pudding stew served with favas à saloio (country-style beans) is undoubtedly one of the most authentic and filling options, but I opted for some grilled fresh fish and a simple salad, paying around €15 for lunch, excluding wine.

Useful Information:
If you plan a tour around the wine regions of Portugal, do invest in Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter’s Wine and Food Lover’s Guide to Portugal.

Wines of Portugal – Information on all the wines and wine regions.

Quinta da Romeira Tel: +351 219 687 380

Quinta da Murta Tel: +351 210 155 190

Barrete Saloio Tel: +351 219 694 004


Filed under: Vineyard Visits Tagged: Arinto, Bucelas, Louise Hurren, wines of Portugal