Do you enjoy drinking wine? Perhaps may be you are a wine enthusiast? When wine is your passion, or you would like it to be, the best place to start a wine experience is at the beginning…. The Old World of Viticulture (winegrowing).
The art of winemaking dates back thousands of years in Europe related to geography, geography and even history. Some of the best and oldest vines can be experienced traveling some of todays most popular cities in Europe.
While there may be many wine regions accessible to these five cities, I chose to focus primarily on the key wine regions.
When you think of wine the first country that comes to mind is France. When you think of France, the first city that comes to mind is Paris. The “City of Lights” is a cosmopolitan city situated along the Seine river and is a global center for fashion, art, gastronomy, and culture. The city draws the attraction of visitors for its distinctive architecture, streets lined with patisserie shops, art movements, revolutions and culture.
But venture away from Paris and you can discover some equally amazing towns and villages that all have something in common, wine.
Burgundy & Rhone
Burgundy is a historical department in the eastern central part of France. The wine region of Burgundy is located within the department along the Saone river, a tributary of the Rhone, the largest river in France and one of the major rivers of Europe.
Just an hour and half from Paris by high speed train, Dijon is the capital of the department, a cultural center that today is represented by the historical past and the modern present. The old city of Dijon is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the beginning of the Burgundy wine trail that extends south from Dijon.
Burgundy wines are separated into four classifications with the wines being named after the district, village or vineyard that the grapes are grown in instead of classified by the grapes themselves.
The majority of wines in the Burgundy region will originate from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
Cote d’or is the heart of the Burgundy wine region with red wines specializing in Chablis in the northern Cote de nuit region and roses blending Pinot Noir with Chardonnay grapes in the southern Cote de Beaune.
Further south of the Burgundy regions you will find the Beaujolais region and the Rhone regions.
Beaujolais produces the most famous French wine appropriately named Beaujolais which is a lighter red wine made from the Gamay grape.
The Rhone Valley region is also worth a visit starting in the city of Lyon today still represented by its medieval and renaissance architecture with additional influences dating back to ancient Roman influence. Moving south from Lyon along the Rhone river is where you will find vineyards producing red wines from Syrah and Grenache grapes.
Champagne is not just the name of sparkling wine, it is also the region in France that is known for the creation and production of champagne.
Located about 2 hours northeast of Paris, in the cooler region of France half way to the Luxembourg border.
Although not exactly wine, Champagne is a blend of grapes primarily from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier grapes and sometimes blended with additional other grapes from other vineyards. The blends are double fermented and sugar is added to create the bubbly creation.
If you are looking for a day trip outside of Paris, Champagne is the perfect location to explore. Don’t miss the popular champagne house of Maison de Champagne Taittinger or Maison Mumm, stop by Tau Palace and of course your visit would not be complete without a visit to the Moet & Chandon Champagne cellars.
While not an easy day trip from Paris, the Bordeaux region is the top wine region in France and still easily accessible from the “City of Lights” deserves mention.
An 8 hour high speed train from Paris takes you to Bordeaux which is the most prominent center of the wine region in France with currently over 13,000 growers, the history of wine here dates back to the ancient Romans.
Located in Southwestern France, Bordeaux is both the name of the city and the region. The city of Bordeaux sits on the Garonne river and is a UNESCO world heritage site for her historical buildings and 18th century architecture.
The Bordeaux wine region is separated into 3 sub-regions;
The left bank where they primarily grow Cabernet Sauvignon but you can also find sweet whites blended from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes called White Bordeaux.
The Right Bank offers smoother Merlot grapes and the Entre Deux Mers (between two seas) is where they grow many options of everyday table wines. Each location offers its own beautiful communes and vineyards to explore and appreciate the region in addition to the vintages they offer.
Good to know, the bulk of harvest takes place in mid-September, although picking can continue through October.
Before heading back to Paris spend a few days visiting Chateaus in the Loire Valley, another popular wine region in France.
The Loire Central valley is known for its white wines, the Sauvignon Blanc grapes which produce the lighter bodied Sancerre and fruitier, fuller bodied Pouilly Fume.
The home to the renaissance period in Italy, Florence in central Italy along with Rome and Venice are the most popular Italian destinations to visit. Spending time in Florence offers so much to do and see but escaping the city and crowds of Florence can offer an amazing journey into local food and wine. Top this all with a few days in the area that creates some of Italy’s most notable wines for the perfect Tuscan wine experience.
Italy has grown into one of the top wine regions and at the center of it all is the Tuscan region. Tuscano as it is known in Italian, is located in the central to western area of Italy. The capital is the historic city of Florence and the well known growing region, just outside the city, of Chianti is at the historic center of wine in Italy.
Pass beautiful rolling hills, cypress trees, forests and olive groves as you drive the windy roads with sites of historic hilltop castles that set the stage for the miles and miles of vineyards that surround them and attract travelers to explore the region and sample her wines.
The Tuscan sun makes it the perfect location for Sangiovese, the primary grape of Tuscany. Chianti is where you can find the well known varietal of Chanti Classico and Chianti Rufina. Further south visit the Montalcino growing region to indulge in Brunello di Montalcino also from the Sangiovese grape. Or head west to the warmer region of Bolgheri located between Chianti and the Tyrrhenian sea for the newer arrival to the Italian wine world, “Super Tuscan” wine.
Frankfurt, in central Germany, is one of her largest cities and is also a major financial center. With both historical and modern architecture there are many sites to visit including museums, cultural centers, gardens and nightlife. centered around an international airport that connects most of Europe and the United States. Frankfurt’s central location also makes it a key starting point for connecting by air or rail to most any city in Central Europe.
Germany is best known for its white wines that are grown in 13 regions throughout the country. However less than a 2 hour drive from Frankfurt is the key winemaking area, the Mosel wine region.
The Mosel river is a tributary of the Rhine river and is considered by many to be the most beautiful river in Germany. The Mosel wine route that runs along the river is 311km (194 miles) starting in France and goes down into Germany leading you to and past some 26,000 acres of key French and German vineyards and wineries.
The largest growth area along the Mosel and the most beautiful to see from the water is the middle Mosel where the best of the best for the region are grown along the sloped terraced vineyards.
Starting in the city of Bernkastel, a key wine center you will find timber-homes and a medieval village as you follow the river as it curves stopping along the way at some of the small romantic towns and villages each with its own personality and story as you head north to Koblenz.
A bicycle path runs along the middle region of the Mosel all the way to Koblenz. But unless you have a full day (10+ hours) with stops, ending in Cochem, will give you a full day’s experience.
There are so many reasons for visiting Barcelona. The regional capital of Catalonia offers beautiful beaches, historic sites, art, music, culture and is well known for it’s fine dining. With gastronomy being a central part of Spanish culture it is no surprise that wine would be part of the equation.
Easily reached within an hour’s drive from Barcelona, the Penedès wine growing region offers quaint villages, scenic mountain views and of course, wineries.
Penedès is considered the best wine in the Catalonia region and is also one of the best wine regions in Spain after the Rioja region in the Northeastern part of Spain. One of the oldest wine regions in Europe, Penedès has vines that date back to Phoenician occupation of the area in the 6th Century BC.
With its location near the Mediterranean and other micro-climates, the area is best recognized for it’s white and rose Cava (greek style) sparkling wine made from local Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel·lo grapes and red wines from the Spanish black grapes, Tempranillo and Grenache.
The Penedès region is the location of the most modern wines that are produced in Spain today with hundreds of vineyards that include both large growers and also family owned vineyards. The most well known in the region is family owned, Bodegas Torres for their still wines and large grower Freixenet, for Cava, as the largest producer in the world.
The capital of Portugal is a beautiful coastal city on the North Atlantic. Also popular for its beaches, the city’s pastel buildings, old historic regions, rich architecture (representing many periods), prominent museums, galleries and artistic influences offers many options for the traveler.
But, less than a 3 hours drive from Lisbon is the Upper (Alto) Douro wine region, a UNESCO World Heritage site for the wine complexes, villages, chapels and roads that were all constructed around the winemaking process that occurs here.
Portuguese wine of the Douro like many of the towns and cities of Portugal dates back to Roman occupation in the 3rd – 4th centuries AD. But the region itself really took form as a key wine region during the medieval period around the 12th century when Catholic Monks embraced the practice of winemaking creating table wines.
The 17th century brought an expansion of the wine industry along the Douro and the development of Port wine. Today Port is the most popular wines of the Douro region using a large number of grape varieties that are grown on terraced vineyards along the river. Each vineyards Port are unique blends of wines that are only found from the specific vineyard who produces it creating originality of the wines only to Portugal and the Douro region.
Port was named after the city of Porto since this was the area that packaged and exported the popular wines created along the Upper Douro river. Porto is the second largest city in Portugal next to Lisbon, is also on the Iberian Peninsula and is where the Douro river meets the N. Atlantic Ocean. The region is a UNESCO World Heritage site as one of the oldest European cities dating back to the Roman Empire.
You can travel the Douro river from Porto by car, train or along the river itself for scenic day trips or for the best views of the region spend at least 2 – 3 days exploring the villages and wineries.
Where to Next?
Old World wine holds a very special place in many key cities in Europe, making it an additional reason to visit and explore the cities and their surrounding regions.
Because the majority of the old world vineyards can be found along the river banks, one of the best ways to explore and experience these regions is by river cruise.
A seven day river cruise will not only immerse you in the areas, familiarizing you with the local towns, cultures and vineyards but also provide you a relaxing boutique experience while unpacking just once.
Are you curious about exploring some of these cities and would like to know if river cruising is for you and next steps? Take our quiz to receive an immediate match of your personality to river cruising as well as free information.