Less than an hour from the bustle of Lisbon, you can be in the rolling hills and vineyards of Estremadura, where some of Portugal's top wines are produced. Guided day tours of the vineyards are offered by Vitis-route: the guide owns a vineyard himself, and will take you to his favourite local villages and restaurants around Alenquer and the fishing village of Ericeira.
+351 912 002 847
The famous wine producing town of Eger is situated 128km north east of Budapest and nestles in a sundried valley between the Mátra and Bükk mountain ranges. Eger is famous for its minaret, Egri Bikavér wine and the heroic legend attached to its castle.
Bikavér is a potent hair-on-your-chest brew which suits Eger’s sunbaked hillsides and colourful Mediterranean atmosphere.
Known abroad as Bull’s Blood, the wine brings thousands of tourists to the town and surrounding valleys.
A good time to visit is during the wine harvest season, in September and October, when the 'szuret' (harvest) provides the excuse for festivals, events and enthusiastic sampling of the year’s brew.
Serious drinkers go to the source. A brisk 20-minute walk away and you are in the "Valley of the Beautiful Woman".
The 'Szépasszony völgy' lies just west of town and although most guide books suggest taking a taxi, there really is no need. A relaxing walk through pleasant tree-lined suburbs will stimulate your thirst.
As you reach the brow of the hill, there it is spread out in front of you: the wine lover’s paradise.
It's a sun-baked valley, where 200 wine cellars form a horse shoe shape surrounding a grassy park. Some cellars have tables outside, some have musicians inside.
Besides Bikavér, Eger’s vineyards also produce Medoc Noir, a sweet red dessert wine, and the white Egri leányka, which is honey-coloured and slightly flavored with herbs. Wines can be sampled for around 30p a glass. Egeszségedre!! (Cheers!)
Peljesac is the famous Croatian wine region. There you can find the best Croatian red wines made out of the Plavac Mali variety of grape. There is even more to it. Mike Grgich from Grgich Hills in Napa Valley, California was born on Peljesac, and when he came to California he saw the Zinfandel variety there, and was sure it was Plavac Mali, which he has grown since being a child, with his parents. He used his knowledge to make the best Chardonnay in the world. Later, it was genetically proven that Plavac Mali is a parent of Zinfandel. So Mike Grgich emigrated from Croatia with a diploma, and all across the Atlantic ocean he found what he left in his homeland, and made the world's best wine out of it. What a story! I have visited Grgich vinery on Peljesac this summer, near the village of Trstenik.
LCBO stores are a provincial government enterprise and one of the world’s largest buyers and retailers of alcohol beverages. With hundreds of stores in the Toronto area alone, my favourite one is the LCBO Summerhill location, a former Canadian Pacific Railway station.
Restored to its original grandeur, this 31,000 square foot space is the largest liquor store in Canada and the architecture is a great mix of the old with the new. The tower clock, modelled after the Campanile in Venice, and the high ceilings supported by marble walls nicely complement the modern interactive spaces such as the high-end kitchen and tasting rooms.
The Summerville location is known for its great selection as well as its Tutored Tastings events, held a few times per week in the evenings. With prices ranging from $25 to $50, the educational seminars feature topics such as Introduction to Single Malts, the Vineyards of Chile and Argentina, How to Taste, as well as other seminars involving food matching.
Pre-registration is required so book early. If you’re not able to attend a seminar, I still recommend visiting this beautiful shop. The staff are incredibly knowledgeable and friendly and you may even be able to taste a few samples for free.
10 Scrivener Square, Toronto, Canada
+1 416 922 0403
Google map: bit.ly/MMgtyY
* Giulia is our Been there local for Toronto. You can see her profile here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/places/canada/toronto/index.jsp and follow her tips here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/travellers/GiuliaFalsetti
Bardolino celebrates the grape harvest each year with this five day food and wine festival. Stalls are set up along the side of the lake, each one selling their own wine and a regional speciality, for example risotto with radicchio or salt cod with polenta. You buy a tasting glass for a few euros at the start and keep it round your neck in a special box. You then visit the many stalls, sampling their wines and trying some of the dishes. Local bands and dancers provide entertainment and there are fireworks over the lake every night. It's a fantastic experience and all quite cheap too. Just make sure you don't have to drive anywhere afterwards!
A short water taxi from Hvar Town takes you to the beautiful islet of Marinkovac, the highlight of which is not the amazing, sheltered bay in the southern corner, but rather the small, blink-and-you'll miss it bar by the taxi pontoon.
Having missed our boat we had to console ourselves with a glass of their own wine and were invited by the owner to take a walk around the vineyard from which the grapes came. Truly locally sourced.
The owners are wonderfully enthusiastic and knowledgeable about wines, and it was a pleasure to settle in and miss a few more boats while we chatted with them.
Take the water taxi from Havr Town to Marinkovac, the bar is right next to the pontoon.
Google map: bit.ly/LuIS1k
Tucked away on a side street behind Place Flagey you could easily walk past this wine seller and bar because from the outside it resembles a lock-up garage, whose shutters only rise Thursday to Saturday. Perhaps this is a ruse to deter noisy crowds in other bars nearby: I for one wouldn’t want to see this place lose its intimacy! A small group of people know to come on Friday and Saturday nights for ringside seats at concerts of gypsy music. “We never know quite who’s going to turn up; I don’t think even the Patron knows” says a double bassist cum guitarist. Most of the musicians are Hungarians who have been living in Belgium for many years, playing violin, guitar and cimbalom.
When he is not on tour, they are joined by whiskered virtuoso violinist Roby Lakatos , who keeps us all transfixed with his nimble bow work and finger plucking frenzy, while my poor tapping feet can barely keep up. In Lakatos’ hands the violin is variously a percussion instrument, a guitar and mandolin, and he weaves traditional gypsy tunes and then surprises us all with a variation of “La vie en rose”. A good selection of wines is available by the glass or bottle, and there are tapas and desserts so you won’t go hungry. You can be sure that everyone: staff, players, customers, folk dancer, will be having a good time.
If you’re too early for the concert soak up a beer – and witness Brussels’ Bohemian, alternative side at bar Le Murmure, no.18.
Open Thursday to Saturday from 17:00
14, rue du Belvédère/ Belvédèrestraat, 1050, Brussels
+32(0)2 640 56 10
Google map: bit.ly/H56Pox
* Bec is our Been there local for Brussels. You can view her profile here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/brussels-local-rebecca.jsp and follow her tips here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/travellers/Becinbrussels
Pick up a Chianti tour map in any Tuscan town or village and drive through the amazing hillside villages that make up the Chianti Classico collective. This wine is at the very heart of Italian culture. The people, places, food and wine on this village tour are the very essence of Italy, and the countryside is both varied and astounding. Stop off and explore each village, proudly displaying the Chianti Classico collective emblem of the black rooster, and experience Italian village life off the beaten track.
Between Florence and Sienna, covering the villages of Greve, Radda, Gaiole, Castellina and Panzano.
Google map: bit.ly/xo7rZF
..strange name for a little touch of Italy in bayside Hampton. And more curiously, this new eatery has been set up by Alastair Dobbs, previously the sommelier at the Church St Enoteca.
OS presents a classic simple Italian menu accompanied of course with an excellent wine list. Bookings are advised as OS has become very popular
Between Covent Garden and the Thames, down Villiers St off the historic Strand awaits Gordon’s Wine Bar. This is London’s oldest wine bar and must be one of the world’s best. Visiting Gordon’s is a unique experience of London’s history. Before becoming a wine bar in 1890, the building was home to Samuel Pepys and also an illustrious brothel or two. Outside, in Villiers St, the building now has the appearance of a deserted and condemned old building from Dickensian London and is often unrecognised by the most dedicated visitors. The only clue is the dusty original gas-lit lamp above the door, labelled “Gordon’s Wine Bar”. Take the narrow steps down into the unlikely darkness.
The bar has the appearance and feel of a dark basement untouched since Pepys left. Nicotine stained walls of tongue-n-groove boards, history-stained stone floors, and rickety tables and chairs under the low, brick-domed ceiling of the original wine cellars are not retro but original features. Candles light the reticent faces of illicit encounters. The staff are efficient and friendly and pull schooners and beakers of sherry, Madeiras, or port from the barrels stacked behind the bar. Excellent wines are also available by bottle or glass. Recently homemade food has been introduced, and the tables spill out into Watergate Walk to the side. But stay indoors to enjoy the uniqueness and excellence of Gordon’s Wine Bar, and drink deep the history of London.
Fantastic event for all interested in great food, well cooked and for enjoying many different wines. I went last year and can still remember the great tastes. There was also a relaxed and happy atmosphere about the whole event.
As the leaves begin to fall and recent summer activities become distant memories, we all seek some kind of indulgent escape to tide us over to the festive season.
The Northumbria Food and Wine Festival is one of the big gastronomic events of the North East calendar. This year, it has been organised by the successful and highly capable team at The Feathers Inn of Hedley on the Hill near Stocksfield.
The event is held at Tynedale Rugby Club on the outskirts of historic Corbridge, just outside Hexham off the A69. It will take place over three days featuring a host of wine tasting and buying experiences and live music PLUS the kind of classic British cuisine and culinary adventure chef Rhian Cradock is renowned for.
It's one of those occasions where you could dress smart-casual, take a civilised train journey and pontificate over bouquet and vintage without persecution. In the company of fellow wine lovers and extremely passionate vintners, you can indulge your tastes, explore some great local food, all in a picturesque, rural marquee-based setting.
Much in keeping with today's highly popular beer festivals, entrance includes tokens for wine samples and a commemorative tasting glass to take with you as you trot gracefully (or stagger) between tables.
This event could headline as part of a longer trip to Northumberland and will certainly live up to the region's reputation for taste, understated beauty and accessible culture.
7-9 October 2011
Tynedale Park, Corbridge, NE45 5AY
Google map: bit.ly/oBYTt3
Hedley, Stocksfield, Northumberland NE43 7SW
+44(0)1661 843 607
Google map: bit.ly/oScxq5
Northumbria is home to many of the country's surviving farms and food producers, and this new event - reckoned to be the biggest of its kind in the north east - gives them a showcase alongside the region's leading wine importers and distributors. Sounds like a recipe for a good day. One of the main exhibitors is the Feathers Inn at Hedley on the Hill, which is well known as the county's finest gastropub, having won the Good Pub Guide's Northumbria Dining Pub of the Year in each of the last four years under chef proprietor Rhian Cradock, who'll be running a pop-up restaurant. Essentially it's a sort of giant farmer's market combined with a wine festival. There's live music too, and it's all in floored and heated marquees, so a pretty weather-proof day out.
7-11 October 2011
Tynedale Park, Corbridge, NE45 5AY
Google map: bit.ly/oBYTt3
Hedley, Stocksfield, Northumberland NE43 7SW
+44(0)1661 843 607
Google map: bit.ly/oScxq5
Two minutes from the Old Town square but tucked away on a side street this place has everything - a restaurant, a wine bar, a café and a food shop.
On winter evenings it’s a lovely place to go with friends for wine of varying prices but consistently good quality. Many are available by the glass. During the summer, sit in the peaceful courtyard at the back of the restaurant for al fresco dining.
The evening menu is very good but the real bonus is the daily lunch menu - choose between two and three courses, with or without wine, and you will have change from 200CZK.
Expect European cuisine with a twist of Czech including duck, rabbit and dumplings.
Independent wine importers and retailers Vera and Robert certainly know their stuff when it comes to vino, and when it comes to entertaining their guests. During the week this wonderfully cosy yet very modern wine bar is frequented by office workers (Karlin, where Roberts is situated is a burgeoning business district). However, on Friday evenings and weekends Roberts is also open to locals seeking (high) quality wine at affordable prices. Roberts offers a very wide range of wines, really tasty nibbles to accompanying them (the best pecorino romano I've had in Prague, or elsewhere), friendly and knowledgeable service and an in-bar wine shop. Oh, and very comfy sofas that make a quick visit utterly impossible.
Book a table ahead as Roberts often closes at the weekend (but is very happy to stay open for small groups).
Take a day trip to Montalcino, a medieval walled town set high on a hill. Spend the morning wandering around its narrow streets and squares before going to sample the world famous Brunello wine. The most atmospheric place to do this is in the Enoteca La Fortezza, situated inside the 14th century fortress that dominates the skyline. The stone vaults are filled with excellent wines and you can also buy local prosciutto, salami and pecorino cheese. Glasses of Brunello start at about €4 and the friendly staff are happy to help if you need some advice on which wine to choose.
What a brilliant destination for an affordable weekend getaway. A super-smart rail link from the airport takes you into the city centre for a couple of euros, and everything's in walking distance from there. In fact, wandering around this beautiful city is the best way to discover the amazing murals of blue and white painted tiles (azulejos) - don't miss those in the Cathedral cloister. After a stroll through the ungentrified medieval quarter of the Ribeira, cross over the feat of ironmongery that is the Dom Luis bridge to sample the lifeblood of this region - the deservedly famous port wine. The oldest of the wine cellars which throng the quayside is Croft which was established here in 1588, the year of the Spanish Armada. A visit to their vaults is unmissable - watch out for the bats - followed by a complimentary glass of their finest nectar. Tchim-tchim as they say!
Had a fantastic long weekend in Bordeaux recently and spent a day touring vineyards with Caroline of Bordeaux Uncorked.
It felt like the obligatory thing to do (when in Rome, etc) but the wealth of local knowledge and personal service provided by Caroline really made the whole trip for us. I don't think we would have had access to many of the vineyards on our own and having Caroline greeted everywhere by first name made us feel like we were visiting old friends, with very impressive chateaux and wine cellars!
Highlights of the trip: Chateau Figeac and it's ancient cellars. Also recommend lunch in the courtyard at L'Envers du Décor in Saint Emilion.
In Bordeaux itself, pay a visit to Max Bordeaux - a must if you love wine but restricted by budget. Here you can taste some of the most expensive wines by the (small) glass. Taste the liquid gold of Chateau Yquem for under €15? Not a problem. Thanks Bordeaux Uncorked!
Bock Bistro is a great restaurant serving traditional Hungarian cuisine with the perfect local fine wine to accompany the food. József Bock, one of the founders, is a legendary wine maker so you can be sure of the quality of the reds on offer here.
A great excursion from Lima is a visit to the desert city of Ica and the nearby oasis, called Huacachina. There are numerous hotels around the oasis to suit different budgets, as well as several restaurants.
From Huacachina you can ride in a sand buggy over the dunes, or, my preferred activity, you can visit the local vineyards and pisco distilleries. Pisco is a kind of Peruvian non-aged brandy, which is something of a national icon.
Your hotel in Huacachina should be able to organise a tour to visit three or four local vineyards and distilleries where you can sample Peruvian wine (surprisingly delicious), pisco and pisco sour.
There are modern mechanised and artisan distilleries, you should visit one or two of each on the tour.
Ica is a four hour bus ride from Lima. From Ica, a taxi to Huacachina should take 15 mins and cost a few dollars.
Google map: bit.ly/i62C6l
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