Can there be a better wine tour destination than the classic vino countries of France and Germany? Though sitting side by side in Europe, both produce hugely rich, very different varieties of the fermented grape, from Germany’s fragrant white Mosels to the earthy Burgundies and sparkling Champagnes of France. Words by Ben West.
France is arguably the premier destination for international wine tourists. Tastings at the great chateaux, tours of grand estates and a discovery of the famous terroirs alongside samplings of France’s fabulous regional cuisines is complete heaven for wine lovers.
There is a good choice of wine tours to French wine regions, whether you want to focus on the Rhone, Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Loire, Alsace or elsewhere. Each region has it’s own charms, as well as widely different wines. It’s possible to hike, bike, cruise by boat or simply drive, in your discovery of France’s wine regions.
France produces many of the greatest wines on the planet, from a good number of celebrated villages such as Morey-St Denis in Burgundy and Sancerre in the Loire. Whether you want to discover the great appellations such as Bordeaux or Burgundy or less known ones like Gigondas, Bandol, Minervois or Vouvray, there’s something for everyone.
A trip to the Champagne region is ideal for visitors to Paris with little time available, as it is the closest and most accessible wine tour destination to the French capital. Epernay, about an hour east of Paris, is the main base for wine tours here – visits to such grand houses as Moet and Chandon, Mercier, Pol Roger and Perrier-Jouet.
Once you have experienced a tour and tasting, learning about the method champenoise and viewing thousands of bottles aging in ancient chalk caves, you’ll appreciate every glass of bubbly even more keenly than you did before.
The Bordeaux wine region is especially popular and visiting wineries – such as Mouton-Rothschild, Chateaux Margaux, Latour and Haut-Brion – often requires an appointment and even the help of a pre-arranged tour service.
The far smaller Burgundy region is pure bliss especially for Pinot Noir fans, with Beaune an ideal base for discovering the 21 wine appellations.
With the French Riviera the most popular French tourist destination outside Paris, by default Provencal wineries are eternally popular too. The beautiful landscapes here are dotted with vineyards and more than 500 wineries, and seeking some of these out, as you drive along rural roads flanked by lavender and sunflower fields, is an especial pleasure.
The French government’s tourist web site (www.franceguide.com) is a great place to start planning, while www.frenchwinesfood.com provides a basic background of French wine and an overview of the different wine regions.
There’s much more to German wines than the cheap, mass-produced, sweet liebfraumilchs seen in supermarkets. Indeed, connoisseurs recognise that Germany produces some of the world’s most elegant and aromatically pure white wines as well as a good selection of reds.
A tour of some of the country’s vineyards has the bonus of unravelling some of its most beautiful countryside too: lush hills and river valleys and pretty, unspoilt villages, perfect for motorists, cyclists and walkers alike.
Germany has 13 official wine regions and each has its own winemaking customs and traditions and offers a wide variety of organic, specialist and mainstream crisp rieslings, silvaners, rivaners, pinot noirs and other grape varieties.
The best vineyards are situated along rivers such as the Rhine and a tributary of it, the Mosel, and indeed about 60 percent of German wine production is located in the federal state where these rivers flow, Rhineland-Palatinate. There are more than 5,000 wineries in 125 wine villages lining the Mosel river alone.
The countryside along the Mosel and Rhine rivers contains everything from small, privately-owned vineyards to large state-of-the-art wine-producing operations. At many you can often drop in for a wine tasting without an appointment. Visiting some such vineyards – along with discovering the local cuisine – makes a delightful holiday whether you’re a wine buff or not.
The region surrounding the Mosel river, and its tributaries the Saar and Ruwer rivers, is Germany’s oldest wine region. Large-scale wine production has been here since Roman times. The sheltered Mosel valley is ideal for riesling and the area produces some outstanding light-bodied, fruity varieties with great depth of flavour.
With more than 1,000 wine festivals held in Germany annually, mainly between August and October, the opportunities for wine tasting are endless. In addition, many towns hold festivals featuring local wines, and most of the major winegrowing regions now have well-marked wine trails.
Visiting the German Tourist Board’s website (www.germany.travel) and putting ‘wine’ in the searchbox reveals a wealth of wine-themed holiday opportunities and wine trails.