European countries are much-favored vacation haunts. Holidaymakers love to head to the ancient continent to soak in its rich culture while taking in the region’s plentiful historic sights. However, some vacationers specifically elect to holiday in Europe in order sample its diverse and delicious cuisines and its many varieties of wine.
Europe is the home of ‘Old World’ wines, and many of the continent's major wine-producing regions are located between 30° and 45° latitude north and south of the Equator. This region is known for its fertile terrain or terroir and its amenable climate suitable for the cultivation of various grapes used in the production of fine wines. Despite the emergence of newer wine-producing regions around the world, Europe continues to be the leading producer of wine in the world.
Wine production and consumption form an integral part of European culture and heritage. European wine producers have been cultivating wines for centuries, and their time-tested methods of wine production are thought to be the most efficient. In fact, the history aspect associated with the making of ‘Old World’ wines is a big draw for tourists and wine enthusiasts. As a result, wine tourism today goes beyond simple vineyard and cellar visits and tastings to include a whole gamut of activities. Wine and food pairing tours, wine making and harvesting jaunts, wine-themed river cruises and beauty and spa treatments and wine education activities are just some of the many components of wine tourism.
Given the above background, it is hardly surprising that the top five wine-producing countries in Europe are also the most popular locales for wine tourism.
France is currently the world’s top wine-producing country. Wine production in France dates back to Roman times, and the country produces a wide variety of wines including Pinot Noir, Champagne, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Côtes du Rhône amongst others. Bordeaux, a port city on the Garonne in the southwest of France is perhaps the country’s most famous wine destination. This spectacular city is often referred to as mini-Paris as it is renowned for its many must-see sights. The Gothic Cathédrale St-André, the Grande Place de Bourse and several fine and contemporary art museums and public parks and gardens are some of the top attractions of this port city. Bordeaux often serves as the first stop on any wine tourism tourney, which usually includes tours and visits to the chateaux of nearby villages like Saint Emilion, Saint Julien, Medoc, Sauternes, and others. Wine tourists often combine a visit to Bordeaux with expeditions to Cognac or Armagnac located to the north and south of the city.
Another famed wine tourism destination in France is the region of Champagne situated at a distance of 100 miles to the east of Paris and accessible via a day trip. The region is known the world over for the production of various varieties sparkling wines with the production of some of the biggest names in the business concentrated in the city of Reims.
Bourgogne in Burgundy, the Rhone Valley, and the Loire Valley are some of the other hotspots for wine tourism in France.
Italy’s varied landscape with long coastlines coupled with hilly mountainous regions enables it to produce several different varieties of grapes. These diverse fruits are used to craft the country’s most well-known wines like Chianti, Barolo, Montepulciano, Barbaresco, Marsala and Prosecco.
Tuscany, Sardinia, the Piedmont region, Sicily and the Amalfi coast are the country’s most popular destinations for wine tourism. Vineyard and estate tours are some of the favored activities along with visits to spectacular restaurants for fine food and wine pairings and shopping at the outlets of big name Italian designer brands like Prada.
Spain is another top wine producing country. The country grows a variety of different grapes. Spanish native grapes feature varieties such as Macabeo(a white grape from the Rioja region), Tempranillo(a rich black grape used for red wines ), Airen (a white grape hailing from the Castilla Mancha region) and Xarel.lo (a white grape from Catalonia which along with Macabeo and Parellada is used to make the Spanish sparkling wine Cava).
Andalucia in Southern Spain, Jerez located in Sherry wine country, La Rioja and its famed town of Haro and Penedès are some of Spain’s best-known destinations for wine tourism. Fiestas, bodega and estate visits and winemaker pairings hosted at local restaurants are hallmarks of the Spanish version of wine tourism.
White wines like Mueller- Thurgau, Riesling, Silvaner, Dornfelder, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Black Riesling form the bulk of Germany’s wine production. The main wine producing regions of the country include Rhineland-Palatinate, Ahr, Middle Rhine, Moselle, Nahe, and Rheinhessen.
Many fertile vineyards dot the length of the banks of the river Rhine. Several quaint villages, medieval castles, and lakes surround these vineyards and serve as additional attractions along with the various leisure activities.
Portugal is famed as the home of various varieties of Port wine like Touriga Nacional, Alvarinho and Tinta Roriz and sweet red wines like Madeira. The three main wine producing regions of Portugal are Porto and Douro in the north of the country and the picturesque area of Alentejo in South-Central Portugal. Portugal is a popular haunt for wine-inspired vacations. Wine tourism in Portugal encompasses a range of activities including stays at heritage hotels, dining with locals and at vineyards, exclusive access to private wineries and private oenologist guided tours and the like.