New year, new wine destinations! Treat yourself in and start exploring the fine wine regions of the world. I’m sure you’ve heard about Piedmont or Champagne, but how much do you know about these European wine regions?
The good news is you don’t have to be a wine expert to enjoy a trip to wine country. However, understanding some essential information will help ensure you make the most of your wine travels. More importantly, this knowledge will help you enjoy your Italian or French fine wine even more.
That’s what this guide is here for.
The easiest way to visit these regions is by car. You can reach the main closer city and rent one. Alternatively, you can rent a bike. This is how I visited the region of Bordeaux. No worries about how to transport wines while on the bike. In case you want to buy some, you can have it delivered. No excuses.
The Magnetic Fine Wines of Piedmont
Piedmont is probably the reason why I am in love with wine. Everything here looks and tastes perfect to me. No significant presentations are needed. It’s one of the top Italian fine wine regions. Often compared with Burgundy, they similarly divide their lands into small vineyards and “grand cru” systems. Some of the most exclusive vineyards in the Langhe area reach a similar price to those of Burgundy.
Main grapes: Nebbiolo, Barbera, Cortese
Main wines: remember the 3 Bs: Barolo, Barbera, Barbaresco. But don’t forget Gavi, Moscato D’Asti and all the local varieties.
The region is well-known for its red fine wines. Elegance and ageing potential are two key factors. While in Piedmont, try to taste different ones from diverse areas and producers. That will help to understand the differences and appreciate all their unique expressions.
Main areas: Langhe, Monferrato and Roero. All of them are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Some Fine Wine Producers: Michele Chiarlo, Gaja, Giacomo Conterno, Prunotto, Roagna, Oddero, Conterno Fantino
Piedmont Travel Tip
If you have enough time, take a tour of the region and discover the less touristic naturalistic gems and monuments like the Fenestrelle Fortress, the smaller, Italian version of the Great Wall of China.
The Classy Fine Wines of Burgundy
If you enjoy and appreciate Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, you definitely need to visit this French wine region. Burgundy symbolises the best expression of these grapes. On the contrary, if you think you hate Chardonnay, you should give it another chance by trying Chablis (yes, it’s a Chardonnay from Burgundy).
A fascinating fact about Burgundy is its geology. Over the last 150 million years, it has culminated in a wide variety of soils. As a result, the character of Burgundian wines embodies distinctive qualities and personalities. Burgundy fine wine represents the essence of this concept. Here you can find some of the best French wines, including the most expensive ones.
Main Grapes: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, already mentioned, are absolute superstars. Burgundy Chardonnay ranges from citrus-driven with high acidity to full-bodied with tertiary flavors. Burgundy Pinot Noir is well-known for its elegance and ageing potential.
Gamay deserves a special mention for its fruity simplicity and ability to pair with a variety of foods. Two factors which contribute to its increasing popularity around the world.
Main Wines: Gevrey Chambertin, Chablis, Puligny-Montrachet, Pommard, Mersault, Beaujolais.
Main Areas: Chablis, Côte d’Or, The Maconnais, Côte Chalonnaise
Some Fine Wine Producers: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Domaine Leflaive, Domaine Armand Rousseau, Domaine Leroy
Burgundy Travel Tip
Burgundy is a quintessential fine wine region with breathtaking nature and quaint villages. You are spoilt for choice. One hidden gem is the Fontenay Abbey, an evocative Unesco World Heritage site situated in a rural wooded valley.
If you’re a wine lover, you’re probably aware that abbeys and monasteries were essential in the Middle Ages. Wine production for religious celebrations preserves it from disappearing and being replaced with other crops like cereals. Isn’t this enough to visit and say thanks?
The Inspiring Fine Wine of Bordeaux
Bordeaux is the reference area of the winemaking industry. Its production history started very early compared to most world regions. Additionally, Bordelaise producers are constantly researching to improve the quality of production.
If small plots and vineyards characterise Piedmont and Burgundy, Bordeaux is the opposite. Here everything is more prominent for historical reasons. The lands, which often enclose beautiful Chateaux, were owned by Lords and wealthy families. They were divided into large portions and each family could have their own vineyards.
Main Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc. Have you ever heard about the Bordeaux blend? These three grapes are the primary ones. Smaller portions may include Petit Verdot and Malbec. Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon are the main white grapes in Bordeaux.
Producers in Bordeaux make wine with a blend of two or more of these varieties. They constantly work to make the most balanced and unique result. The French wine region is more famous for red wine, which represents the vast majority of production. But white wine also reaches outstanding levels, especially in their sweet versions.
Main Wines: Rather than a specific wine name, you’ll find a series of information on a Bordeaux label to give you an idea of the producing area. Subsequently, you can determine from what grapes the wine is made.
Main Areas: Médoc, Pomerol, and Saint Émilion.
Some Fine Wine Producers: Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Margaux, Château Latour, Château Haut-Brion, Château Pétrus, Château d’Yquem
Bordeaux Travel Tip
It goes without saying the list of stunning places to visit is vast. Anyhow, if you want to learn more about wine while having fun, you can’t miss a special place called Cité du Vin. Here you’ll immerse yourself in an interactive and sensory adventure in the world of wine. You can actively smell flavors, touch objects, watch videos and listen to stories in an involving way.
The Revolutionary Fine Wine of Tuscany
Among the fine wine regions we cover in this article, Tuscany is the one influenced by the Mediterranean climate. Its central position, hilly landscape, and vicinity to the sea all play a role in exceptional winemaking here. Tuscany combines tradition and modernity. It’s the land of Chianti, one of the most representative areas of Italian wine history. But it’s also the origin of an unorthodox way to make Italian wine–Super Tuscans. The best examples of which were born in Bolgheri and are still produced there today.
In the 1960’s, some producers decided to break the rules of Italian wine legislation and introduce international varieties, which was illegal at the time. As a consequence, they lost the highest appellation status but gave life to some of the best Italian fine wines. We couldn’t be more grateful for their bravery!
Main Grapes: Do you remember the Bordeaux Blend? This inspired Tuscan producers to blend Sangiovese, the region’s flagship, with varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Each of these grapes produces mono-varietal wines as well. Local varieties like Trebbiano Toscano and Vernaccia di San Gimignano deserve a mention and a try, too.
Main Wines: Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Bolgheri
Main Areas: Bolgheri, Chianti, Montalcino, Montepulciano
Tuscany Travel Tip
Tuscany has a wide selection of unusual and spectacular places to visit, such as the Bottini di Siena. It is an elaborate system of medieval underground aqueducts that are used to supply water to the city of Siena. The Bottini di Siena still provides for some of the city’s fountains. It’s definitely one of the most unique places you can visit.
Champagne: The Most Iconic Bubbly in the World
If there’s one wine associated worldwide with the concept of elegance and luxury, it’s Champagne.
Champagne is the most representative region of fine sparkling wines and one of the three regions that deserve mention when talking about French fine wine (but not exclusively).
If you know something about Champagne’s story, you’re probably aware its sparkling version was discovered by accident. We’ll probably never know who the true inventor of Champagne was. Numerous stories involve Dom Pérignon, but many discrepancies show he doesn’t have this merit.
Regardless of who the first forward-thinking person was, the creation of Champagne changed the wine world forever. The rest is history. Take a tour and find out the best Champagne for you.
Main Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunière
Wines: Champagne, Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir
Main Areas: Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs, Côte des Bars
Some Fine Wine Producers: Louis Roederer, Dom Pérignon, Krug, Pol Roger, Veuve Clicquot
Champagne Travel Tip
Champagne caves and wine cellars represent fascinating spaces below ground. Romans used them to mine chalk and salt. Nowadays, they are perfect for keeping and ageing fine Champagnes. Visiting some caves will be an evocative and unforgettable experience that you can’t miss.
Even though these areas are the home of iconic wineries, and definitely worth visiting, I encourage you to discover smaller producers as well. In most cases, they are family-owned businesses that will make you feel incredibly welcome, tell you a lot about the history of the area, and give you the chance to try incredible wines at affordable prices.
Enjoy your wine travels!
About the Author
Alessandra Mastrantonio is a sommelier, wine writer, and content creator backed by wine industry experience throughout Europe. She is WSET certified and an accredited FIS sommelier specializing in Italian, French, and fine wines across Italy and the UK. Over a 10-year hospitality career in fine dining and luxury hotels, she gained direct-to-consumer and B2B industry experience while refining her wine knowledge through wine list development and purchasing.
Currently at Prestonfield, a 5-star hotel in Edinburgh, Alessandra continues to hone her service and communication skills delivering VIP experiences to A-list clients, elite politicians, and the who’s who of the business world.
She’s currently building her own wine community and communications platform. Follow Alessandra on Instagram @thereasonwine.