The best European wine holidays

Grapes hang in the town of Agrigento, Sicily. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Grapes hang in the town of Agrigento, Sicily. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

As the summer holidays approach, Jeremy Dunn, chief wine tutor at Norfolk Wine School, explains why wine holidays are a great way to get to know a country or region and shares three of his favourite European wine holiday destinations and a wine recommendation from each to get you in the holiday spirit.

Explore the Rhone Valley on a wine holiday. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Explore the Rhone Valley on a wine holiday. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

In every glass of wine there's a story waiting to be told. The story of the country or region it comes from, the story of the grape variety it's made with and the story of the winemaker.

What kind of wine they are trying to make and what food it should be enjoyed with.

That's why a wine holiday is a great way to explore the history, culture and gastronomy of a country or region because wine is an expression of the place where the grapes are grown and the people who make it. Through a wine holiday you can experience the past, the present and sometimes even get a glimpse of the future culture of the place you are visiting.

One of my favourite wine destinations is the beautiful Spanish city of Barcelona. Bustling and cosmopolitan it's both a shopping and foodie heaven. Look out for the old gothic quarter packed with specialist food shops and the world-famous market, Mercado de San José de la Boquería. Take in the sights, smells and sounds of the market before stopping for tapas at any one of the many tapas stalls and you will be served tasty bite sized portions of fresh fish, spicy chorizo and fiery potatoes all washed down with a glass of chilled Cava, the sparkling wine of the surrounding region of Penedès.

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After a day in the city, take a train from Barcelona to the pretty town of Sant Sadurní D'Anoia, just 40 minutes away, and you are in the heart of the main Cava region. There are many Cava producers who offer visits and tours. The two biggest producers, Freixenet and Cordoniu, have fantastic visitor's facilities where they explain how Cava is made (just like Champagne!) and how the taste is influenced by the local grape varieties they use. It's a calming contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city that will set you up for another day of shopping and sightseeing.

France, of course, is a firm favourite wine holiday destination. Outside of the classic regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy, France's river valleys offer a taste of a different side of French wine and one of my favourite river regions is the Rhône Valley.

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The valley stretches over 200km from Lyon in the north to Avignon in the south, from where you have easy access to the glitz and glamour of the Southern French Mediterranean coast. The valley splits neatly into two parts with the northern Rhône famous for Syrah based wines such as Côte Rotie and Hermitage. Here the valley is steep and the best vineyards hug the valley sides. The southern half of the Rhône Valley is very different terrain, much less rugged and with a hotter feel. Here the big-name wine is Châteauneuf du Pape, famous for having up to 13 different grape varieties in the blend but this is also home to some of the UK's favourite French reds, Côtes du Rhône and its 'Village' wines. Allow five to six days to travel the length of the Rhône Valley.

Stop off at the many wineries open to the public as you make your way down the valley and compare the structured elegance of the wines from the north with the richer, rounder and more alcoholic wines of the warmer southern end of the valley.

If it's heat you are after, then you should consider heading to the sunny Italian island of Sicily, that shines like a jewel in the bright blue Mediterranean sea. Sicily has a lot to offer with a whole host of natural wonders and cultural and historical sights as well as golden sandy beaches and a thriving local wine scene. The hot Sicilian sunshine is just perfect for ripening grapes to perfection creating deliciously full-flavoured wines. You may never have heard of local grape varieties like the white Carricante, or the red Nero D'Avola, but trust me, they produce some absolutely delicious wine. Sicily also boasts some of the world's most exciting wine 'terroir', the rich volcanic soils on the slopes of the islands most famous landmark, Mount Etna where the wines are surprisingly steely and fresh. The island is increasingly geared towards wine tourism and although the island is big, there are 12 wine roads that cover the culture, winemaking traditions and grape varieties of a specific region making it easy to focus in on a couple of areas which would be easily manageable during a 10 day trip.

For a genuine wine tour experience in the southern Rhône, Norfolk Wine School, via its national network, offers a very special wine trip hosted by local expert Linda Field of the Auberge du Vin, a beautiful Auberge in the heart of the Ventoux vineyards. The comfortable Auberge has a pool and overlooks the stunning scenery of Mount Ventoux. The four day holiday includes accommodation, at least four local vineyard trips and dinners followed by tastings a top local restaurant and a local farmhouse that specialises in organic produce. The next trip is in October 2017. See Norfolk Wine School for details.

Jeremy's top wine picks this month

1.The Society's Cava Reserva Brut NV

The Wine Society £8.75

In my opinion one of the best value Cava's on the market. Aged for 30 months on its lees giving the fizz a yeasty richness and complexity rarely found in wines at this price. Simply delicious.

2.Les Coteaux Cotes du Rhône Village 2014, Boutinot

Harper Wells £10.99

Classic Côtes du Rhone made with premium fruit sourced from some of the famous Village sites. Ripe and round with warming bramble fruit, a lick of spicy oak and a smooth satisfying finish.

3. Catarratto, Fedele, Terre Siciliane

Adnams £6.99

A firm favourite at the wine school, a glass of Sicilian sunshine. Ripe and fruity, this is a real crowd pleaser and fantastic value.

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