LIKE LOVE AND MARRIAGE, or the horse and the carriage, food and wine are meant for each other. Napa or Niagara, Bordeaux or Burgundy, wherever you find great wines being made, you’ll find interesting cuisine.
Driving through Tuscany, we discovered how the splendours of art and architecture go hand-in-hand with the pleasures of food and wine. Between Florence and Sienna, two-lane highways snake through the countryside, past tile-roofed homes, silvery olive groves and hillside vineyards, switching back and forth up to ancient hilltop towns.
To get close to the land, stay at an agritourism (a farm B&B), and day trip around the region. Since not all wineries are open for tastings, you can discover local wines at village enotecas (wine shops). Best known for its Sangiovese-based red wines, including Chianti, Brunello de Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
If you go: April/May or September/October are the best times. Take a few days to explore Maremma, Tuscany’s less development, west coast.
Stellenbosch, South Africa
Stellenbosch, located 40 minutes east of Cape Town, is a charming university town where giant oak trees shade streets lined with Cape Dutch buildings. The surrounding area, typically regarded as a red wine district, has undergone a quiet renaissance. Young winemakers, not bound by tradition, are making wines with passion and conviction – and they’re making the world sit up and take notice. The drive along the Wine Route, past lush vineyards ringed by craggy mountains and dotted with sparkling white, gabled homesteads, is unparalleled. Cabernet Sauvignon, the region’s most widely planted grape variety is often combined with Merlot to create Bordeaux Blend wines.
If you go: Enjoy a bottle of Pinotage, a lusty red, considered South Africa’s national grape. Pair it with bobotie, the country’s national dish – a delicious mixture of curried meat and fruit, with a creamy golden topping. A memorable meal awaits at The Vine Bistro at Glenelly Estate.
Okanagan Valley, BC
Forty years ago, roadside stands along the 240 km-long valley highway offered up fruit, fresh from the orchards. Accommodation was, for the most part, in trailer parks or ‘50s-style motels and there was nothing memorable about the meals or the wines, produced by a small number of struggling wineries.
Fast forward to today and the area has ripened into a Mecca for oenophiles. The fruit stands that sell tree-ripened produce in season are still there and so are many of the trailer parks. Motels, for the most part, have been replaced by charming inns and modern hotels in Kelowna, the region’s busy entrepreneurial hub. The valley, blessed with more than 2,000 hours of sunshine annually, still boasts more than its share of picture postcard scenery. The best wines are dry reds and, in the white department, Chardonnay and Riesling.
If you go: Do a wine run south from Kelowna along Boucherie Road with visits to two family-owned wineries – Mission Hill and Quails’ Gate. Enjoy their award-winning wines in delightful, upscale restaurants. Then visit the recently opened District Wine Village in the heart of the South Okanagan, billed as Canada’s first true wine village
Waiheke Island, New Zealand
At 100 Square KMs, Waiheke Island is neither the largest nor the most famous of New Zealand’s seven wine-producing regions, but engaging and tourist-friendly, it certainly is. Situated in Hauraki’s Inner Gulf, the island is a 35-minute ferry ride – and a world apart – from the big-city bustle of downtown Auckland. Oneroa, the main town, is a lively village with an infectious Mediterranean-like atmosphere, it boasts a centre for imaginative arts and crafts. Cafés dot the landscape where millionaire weekenders rub elbows with barefoot backpackers, some with greying ponytails.
The Verandah Café, Stonyridge Vineyard
More than 30 boutique vineyards are scattered around the hilly landscape where the climate and soils are perfectly suited for Bordeaux-style red wines. From many, you can view the sea sparkling on the horizon. Stonyridge nestled in a shimmering valley of olive trees and vineyards, produces what is reported to be the country’s most expensive bottle of wine. If you’re a fan of French-inspired cabernet blends, you won’t want to miss this one. Or the delicious menu suggestions at The Verandah Café.
If you go: The white sandy beach at Oneroa slopes gently into the Hauraki Gulf and is perfect for swimming, kayaking, or picnicking.
Once the private vineyard of the popes, the little town of Châteauneuf du Pape lies at the centre of one of France’s loveliest, richest wine-producing areas, the southern Rhône Valley. Perched on a stony outcrop, it offers an ideal location from which to tour the region. The sheer variety of surrounding pastoral landscapes guarantees something for everyone and signs everywhere offer ‘degustation’. The wines here and in neighbouring Gigondas and Vacqueyras are warm and generous blends. Grenache dominates but Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault play supporting roles. Close by, the village of Tavel is rosé central.
Each year, the release of the new vintage Côtes du Rhône is celebrated on the third Thursday of November. Hundreds of vintners gather in Avignon, resplendent in the robes and regalia of their appellation for an après-sunset parade through the streets of the old town, that culminates with the cracking open of the first bottle of the latest vintage amid a magnificent fireworks display.
If you go: Visit a village market to pick up a freshly baked baguette, some artisanal cheese and fresh country pâté to have for lunch with a local wine – preferably in a sunny park.
Understandably, the first stop, for anyone who hasn’t already visited, is to gape slack-jawed at The Falls. With that accomplished, you can spend a delightful two days, by bike or by car, wheeling around Niagara-on-the-Lake and the well sign-posted Niagara Wine Route, tasting great wines at a broad spectrum of wineries and indulging in some mighty fine fare.
First-time visitors quickly realize that Niagara ranks among the world’s great wine regions. The number of wineries has jumped from 18 in 1989 to over 50 today. In fact, the broader Niagara region is home to more than 200 wineries! Several have lured top-notch chefs to run their restaurants and you can expect exceptional dining at Inn on the Twenty, Vineland Estates and Peller Estates. Some wineries have incorporated unique attractions to complement their tours and tastings, such as concerts in the amphitheatre at Jackson Triggs or Niagara’s only winery cooking school at Strewn.
Strewn Winery Cooking School
If you go: In mid-May you’ll find the orchards are in bloom and the land is brushed with a myriad of fresh spring greens. Or time your visit for fall to celebrate the harvest at the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival with more than 100 events, including grape stomping and barrel tasting. Maybe you’ll choose to bundle up and make a winter visit for the Ice Wine Festival.
Written by Anna Hobbs for Cruise & Travel Lifestyles (Winter 2021/22). Main photo: Quail's Gate Winery in Kelowna, BC (courtesy of Quail's Gate).