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Wine of the times – the world's top cellar doors - Inspiration

Bordeaux, Napa, Rioja. They’re all famous – and, of course, fabulous – wine regions, and their celebrated status means they tend to attract crowds, too. But if you’re looking for a brilliant wine trip that feels a little more under the radar, Alicia Miller knows where to head. Welcome to your new wine bucket list

Salta Argentina

On paper, winemaking in Salta seems like an impossible task. Perched 3,000m above sea level, vineyards cling to mountainous terrain, accessed by vertiginous roads. They’re pummelled with sunshine by day and plunged into cold come night. But, for all the challenges faced, grape growing here is worth the effort. This edge-of-the-world region turns out delicately floral, fresh torrontés – a white grape – and crunchy, peppery malbec unlike anywhere else.

A low-key place to start your tasting tour is Bodega El Porvenir de Cafayate a 40-year-old family winery in Salta’s main wine town, Cafayate, where you can sample fine iterations of both flagship varietals. In between sips of silky tannat, another star local red wine, learn to cook pillowy empanadas (Salta’s speciality snack) or cosy up in a wood-beamed suite, nestled amid the vines.

Once rested, strike out to other corners of Argentina’s most extreme wine region, accessible by car. Hilltop Bodega San Pedro de Yacochuya makes some of the most aromatic torrontés in the area, while remote Bodega Colomé at the end of a dirt road, produces concentrated wines from gnarly vines that, in some cases, date back to the 1800s.

Undoubtedly, there will come the time when you just want to sit back, unwind and enjoy a glass in the South American sun. For that, book into Hacienda de Molinos in tiny Molinos village. Under burnt-orange tiled roofs you’ll find spacious rooms with cast iron four-poster beds, and a restaurant serving up sizzling steaks, accompanied by the ultimate luxury: glasses of icy torrontés, served beside a lick of aquamarine pool.


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Franschhoek South Africa

Franschhoek’s big-ticket neighbour, Stellenbosch, attracts all the attention. For some reason Franschhoek gets away with fewer day-trippers from Cape Town and you won’t find as many tour groups. But that’s not to say it’s any less impressive. With plummy cabernet sauvignons and elegant chardonnays in excess, plus knock-out mountain scenery and some of South Africa’s finest hotels and restaurants, it’s a must-see corner of the Cape.

Whatever your tasting inclination, you’ll find it here. Those seeking polished sessions in a swish ‘wine studio’ – sipping old-vine cinsault while gazing into a cellar filled with barrels – are well provided for, including at Leeu Estates with its Instagram-ready landscaped gardens. Prefer something a smidge more rough and ready? At boutique-style Black Elephant Vintners you can join a private ‘wine and music pairing’ in the owner’s home, sinking inky petite sirah as Prince’s Purple Rain is belted out of the speakers.

The only thing more diverse than the tasting experiences in Franschhoek are the wines themselves. Thanks to a uniquely vast range of soil types, aspects and slope inclines, winemakers can experiment with everything from aromatic viognier to that smoky South African staple, pinotage. And the wineries aren’t the only great places to sample them. At glamorous farm, cookery school and spa hotel Babylonstoren rooms are set in old Cape Dutch-style houses, with aperitif hour arriving in the form of a house-made rosé. Just outside charming Franschhoek town at Richard Branson’s hotel, Mont Rochelle spectacular mountain views are served up with tastings of smooth, easy-drinking syrah. And at one of South Africa’s finest restaurants, La Petite Colombe delicate, crafted plates – think wagyu with pickled fish, truffle and aubergine – are expertly matched with wines from the surrounding hills.

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Penedés Spain

Even if you’ve never heard of Penedès, we’d wager that you’ll know its most famous export: Cava. Around 95 per cent of Spain’s headliner fizz is produced here, just an hour from Barcelona, where xarel-lo, parellada and macabeo grapes are ripened in sun-soaked vineyards that are ringed by mountains and studded with sleepy towns.

Expect an enticing jumble of varieties to explore: big-name brands like Codorníu and Freixenet with glossy tasting rooms and cavernous cellars sit alongside intimate, family-owned wineries spilling out from farmhouses. Point a finger at the map and get driving. No matter which of the 150 wineries you end up at, you’re bound to find deliciously fine fizz at a fraction of the price of wines from Champagne, although it’s made here using the same traditional, labour-intensive production method.

Mas Comtal makes a solid first stop, with its 40 organic hectares sprawled at the foot of Garraf county; breezes from the nearby Mediterranean give its old-vine xarel-lo grapes an extra something special. Carry on to Juvé y Camps with its century-old cellars – six floors of underground tunnels – and nutty, briochey La Capella bubbly, a dream match for freshly landed Balearic seafood.

But then, good food is a given around here. You could go swish at architecturally daring Mastinell a winery-hotel that was designed to mimic a row of stacked wine bottles; the restaurant dishes are intricate, and might include scallop tartareor passion fruit sponge cake with rum granita. But really, the most rewarding meals around here are the unbuttoned ones. At Michelin-approved Cal Ton in Vilafranca del Penedès, which has been going strong these past four decades, trad white tablecloths and tiled floors provide a relaxed setting for Catalan favourites such as cannelloni with ceps or juicy steak. All washed down with aged local Cava, no less.

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Barossa Valley Australia

If you think new world wines don’t come with history, just take a look at the Barossa Valley. With twisted old vines planted up in the 1850s, and family wine brands stretching back generations, it’s got pedigree to rival some of Europe’s most illustrious regions – and a wine tourism route just as enticing, thanks to the folksy veranda-fronted houses and wholesome towns.

Begin your journey to the past at Rockford a stone-fronted cellar door. It might only have been founded in the 1980s, but they do things the traditional way, crushing quality shiraz grapes in an old-fashioned basket press – producing a deep, luscious wine for your glass. Next, hit Australia’s oldest family-owned winery, Yalumba where the rambling European-style grounds and in-house cooperage are just as impressive as the fine selection of cabernet sauvignons, grenaches and organic chardonnays.

But the real show-stopper? Well, that has to be Seppeltsfield only 15 minutes’ drive away. Here, a vast old ageing room is filled to the brim with fortified wines in worn barrels. You’re here to sample their 100-year-old tawny – raisined, sticky and syrupy, and it’s basically your chance to sip liquid history.

The Barossa isn’t all old-school, mind. There’s a smart hotel scene to provide you with mod cons – look no further than The Louise which is nestled romantically in vineyards. Then there are top-quality but casual restaurants such as Ferment Asian where yellow kingfish curry is paired with one of the best wine lists in the whole of the Barossa. Or else hire a holiday home and cook up a storm for yourself with goods from the sublime Barossa Farmers Mark – open Saturdays. One of the region’s greatest culinary joys is stocking up on their nutty dukkahs, homemade jams and gooey triple-cream bries.

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Mosel Germany

When it comes to the great white wine regions of the world, the Mosel takes some beating – even the Romans knew it, as evidence suggests viticulture has thrived here for thousands of years. But there’s more to love than the world-class rieslings, famous for their diversity (from dry and tart to richly golden and sweet) and ability to age, sometimes for decades. This is also one of Europe’s prettiest winemaking corners, with vineyards plunging down astounding 70-degree gradients; photogenic towns with half-timbered buildings; and the namesake Mosel River, snaking through it all.

Drop your bags at Becker’s for an unorthodox introduction. It’s in the outskirts of Trier, the Mosel’s photogenic gateway, but don’t expect German village clichés; slick contemporary rooms and a two-Michelin-starred restaurant dishing up chic wild turbot with macadamia and asparagus will welcome you instead. If you’re seeking a classic resort vibe, the Mosel can oblige on that front, too. At Hotel Villa Hügel a grand pink and white-washed building, days touring the vineyards can easily be broken up with sessions in the sauna, dips in the pool or leisurely meals at its own celebrated restaurant.

And as for the wine? You’re spoiled for choice. Must-try names include Dr Loosen in Bernkastel-Kues, Willi Schaefer in Graach an der Mosel or Clemens Busch in Pünderich, but you’ll find sublime riesling – along with müller-thurgau and stone-fruity pinot blanc – wherever you go. Keep eyes peeled for some excellent pinot noirs, too.

Finally, if the wine’s going to your head, make the most of the thriving restaurant scene, which swings happily between well-cooked peasant fare and cheffy tasting menus. Lunch at Alte Zunftscheune in pretty waterside Traben-Trarbach, is an essential; one bite of the hearty mixed grill proves that in the Mosel focus is just as much on enjoying food as it is on sublime drinking.

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Bessa Valley Bulgaria

If you’re looking to get even further off the beaten track, try a break on the wine trail in Bulgaria, where you can combine days touring Bessa Valley with trips to the Black Sea coastline, hikes through lush mountains and wanders through handsome capital Sofia. While the winemaking scene has seriously old roots, dating back centuries, the modern tourism circuit is still underdeveloped – and that’s no bad thing. Not only does it make a refreshing change, but the prices make everything accessible – even the finest aged Bulgarian reds come in at a comparative steal.

You’ll find large swathes of the country under vine, but plan to check into Plovdiv, an ancient city – about 8,000 years old, to be exact – which is a cork’s toss from many of the finest tasting rooms. Boutiquey Hotel Gallery 37 channels old-world-meets-modern vibes with historical-inspired wallpaper, button-back headboards and contemporary statement lighting. It’s just moments from the 1st-century Roman theatre and St Dimitar Church, too, so that you can get a bit of sightseeing in before you start sampling.

When it comes to the tasting, make your way directly to Bessa Valley winery set in the rambling Thracian Valley, under an hour’s drive away and bordered by the forested Rhodope Mountains. Ask to see the cellar, which is dug right into the rock and the perfect cooling place to age the deep, rich reds made from international varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot.

Further south, Villa Melnik showcases the spicy local variety mavrud in its daily tastings, which take place in a hilltop pile overlooking vine-carpeted hills. After that, call in at Villa Yustina to taste a creamy, barrel-fermented chardonnay with a buttery vanilla palate. At the end of a day’s touring, return to Plovdiv, where the simple delights of a slow-cooked pork knuckle and a long local wine list will be ready and waiting for you at Restaurant Memory along with an atmospheric side of jazz.

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Provence France

Sun-drenched olive groves, scented with rosemary and lavender; glittering sea, awash with bobbing yachts; sleepy squares with pensioners chattering over boules. Even the word ‘Provence’ evokes plenty of holiday imagery – plus an irresistible thirst for a giant glass of crisp, pale rosé. Here, pink winemaking is elevated to an art.

Dry, minerally and barely-there blush in tone, Provençal rosés may all seem similar at first glance. But a variety of sub-regions, plus a long roll call of permitted grape varietals – ranging from grenache to syrah, mourvèdre to cinsault – means you’ll find surprising diversity on a tasting tour. The best way to learn more about the differences, and find a favourite bottle to suit your palate, is undoubtedly on a road trip. Roll leisurely along from Marseille to San Tropez, zigging up into the hills, and zagging down to nudge the coast. With hundreds of producers to choose from, it’s best to invent your own stops as you go. But whichever route you choose to take, kick things off with the benchmark that relaunched rosé to stylish status in the early 2000s: Château d’Esclans home to the famed Whispering Angel. The vast honey-hued château is a true sight to behold, complete with 12th-century cellar and palm tree-flecked grounds.

Another big hitter, with a vast variety of rosé wines to sample (plus a pink gin), is Maison Mirabeau – and, thankfully, there’s no need to hold back on pours, because you can book into one of its two villas, with private gardens and pool, to sleep everything off. That is, if you haven’t already snagged a room at Terre Blanche with its rambling resort-style grounds, cookery classes, a Michelin-starred restaurant and a ray-drenched terrace on which to work through the tome-like wine list. The danger is that you may be tempted just to do all your tastings from here.

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