Champagne – Off the Beaten Track

May 6, 2009
Rolling landscape of the Aube

The rolling landscape of the Aube

If you drive south through France from the UK to the Alps or the Mediterranean, chances are you’ve sped past the vineyards of Champagne. Many people decide to stay overnight in Reims, but once you’ve driven past the exits to Reims, Epernay and Chalons-en-Champagne, chances are you thought that’s it – we’re done with Champagne, it’s onwards to Burgundy. Next time, stay alert and a good hour later you might notice one of those French brown tourist signs on the motorway stating ‘Vignobles en Champagne’ – it’s almost as if the sign is in the wrong place. Look to your left and you will see a slope of vineyards in the distance, in fact it looks quite pretty seen from the rest place or ‘Aire’ just there on the motorway. Better still, arrange time to break your journey.

A couple of years ago in spring, we did just that, driving north on the way to some wine visits in Reims and Epernay, we stopped to explore this southernmost region of Champagne which is called the Aube, named after a tributary of the Seine. The region seems in the middle of nowhere, and really it is. The only town of note – and it is well worth a visit in its own right – is Troyes, about half an hour to the west of the vineyard areas. The other terribly famous landmark for the French (which also merits its own brown motorway sign) is the village of Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, the burial place of General Charles de Gaulle. The whole area is sleepy but with attractive rolling countryside, interspersed with vineyards that are currently gaining attention.

The Drappier Champagne House in Urville, near Bar-sur-Aube

Drappier in Urville, near Bar-sur-Aube

Not only are these vineyards the source of excellent grapes especially Pinot Noir for several big Houses based in Epernay and Reims to the north, but in the Aube itself you can find a growing number of interesting Champagne producers to visit, who offer an excellent product at a comparatively reasonable price. We visited the well-established house of Drappier, still family owned and exporting Champagne around the world – it’s open to casual visitors for tastings and sales, but you must make an appointment for a cellar tour. You taste in a rather grandly furnished room and the whole visiting experience is much more like a visit to a mid-sized wine producer in another regions of France than to one of the famous big Houses up to the north, that’s the family angle for you.

Three generations of the Drappier family

Three generations of the Drappier family

Afterwards we headed off back to the motorway near Troyes via a walk near the vast Lac d’Orient, one of several large lakes in the Champagne region, which are havens for wildlife – this one is in the vast region park, the Fôret d’Orient.

Wine writer and Champagne specialist Michael Edwards has just completed a thorough update of our three travel guides to Champagne originally written by that other great Champagne specialist writer Tom Stevenson. In particular he’s added details on several family-owned producers making so-called grower Champagnes. In editing the three updates I was struck by the Aube guide in particular. Although still quiet, there are increasing numbers of hotels and restaurants in the region, which range from the sumptuous Hostellerie La Montagne (a recently refurbished starred restaurant and hotel near Colombey) to the modest en-suite cabins of Domaine des Foolz up the road from Bar-sur-Seine, where you can eat reliably at the Hotel Restaurant u Commerce. At last there’s an alternative to staying in Troyes for a visit to the Aube, although we also detail some fine-sounding recommendations in Troyes.

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Our Tuscany guides contributor wins big award!

April 7, 2009
Michèle Shah was presented with a silver vine leaf

Michèle Shah presented with silver vine leaf

Very proud to report that Michèle Shah who writes our travel guides to the wine regions of Tuscany has won ‘Best foreign journalist of the year’ awarded in the Grandi Cru d’Italia awards in Verona at the end of last week’s Vinitaly wine exhibition. Michèle was one of four shortlisted journalists working for UK, German and Austrian magazines – she won the award for her contributions to the wine magazines Decanter, Wine Spectator and Harpers.

The Grandi Cru d’Italia is a group of 130 Italian wineries, who, according to Michèle, represent the top wine producers in Italy in terms of quality and of market influence. Michèle spoke frankly about what the award means to her: “this was one of the most moving highlights of my working career as a wine critic. I got a tremendous warm cheer from the 130 producers at the award dinner and afterwards many came personally to congratulate me. More than merely receiving the award, it was really the individual messages from each of them that made it so special and meaningful.”

Many congratulations to Michèle who has been given proper recognition for her specialist writing on Italy’s wines and wine regions – you can see most of her published articles on her own website as well as a wealth of further information. You can also read more about Michèle on Wine Travel Guides.

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Two Travel Guides to the Rioja Wine Region Go Live

February 14, 2009
View to the vineyards outside Dinastia Vivanco

View to the vineyards outside Dinastia Vivanco

Rioja is one of those wines many people seem to have a soft spot in their hearts for, knowing it as a warming, soft oaky red wine, ideal to drink in winter a cosy wine bar with a plate of stew. But there’s much more to La Rioja in Spain than that and Tom Perry, an American who has lived in the region for 25 years, is just the person to show you what makes this region special. When he was head of the Rioja Wine Exporters Association, a post he left last year, I was part of a group of UK wine educators visiting Rioja for a few days and he created an insightful and educational programme for us.

Frank Gehry model for the Marqués de Riscal hotel

Frank Gehry model for the new hotel at Marqués de Riscal

On our visit to Rioja, just over four years ago, the fascinating Dinastiá Vivanco wine museum had only just opened, and the new Frank Gehry-designed hotel at the old Marqués de Riscal winery was simply an architect’s model. Much is happening in the region as it realizes the potential of wine tourism.

I was delighted when Tom agreed to write the two wine travel guides to Rioja and he’s done a great job in his recommendations, focusing on wineries that welcome visitors, the most central and interesting places to stay for a wine tour in the region, and restaurants and shops with a real local wine focus. Here’s an excerpt from the ‘Around Haro’ guide about taking a ‘tapas crawl’:

La Herradura is the area of Haro where the town’s tapas bars are located in the old town around Calle Santo Tomás. The street is called ‘la senda de los elefantes’, or the elephants’ path, because the Spanish word for an elephant’s trunks is trompa, which also means ‘tipsy’. Tapas-hopping is a way of life in northern Spain, when friends meet to go from bar to bar ordering a glass of wine or beer along with a bit of food. Each person in the party is supposed to pay for a round. With large groups, everyone puts a few Euros into the kitty and the fun lasts until the money runs out! Recommended places to visit are Mesón los Berones, Bremen and Bar Los Caños, on a small square off Calle Santo Tomás. There are also several bars on the Plaza de la Paz, notably the Café Suizo.

Our two Rioja guides bring to 50 the number of travel guides to wine regions, all of which go through a regular updating process. These 50 guides each cover a bite-sized chunk of larger wine regions. When looked at in PDF form, the 50 guides cover more than 600 pages and have around 1250 recommendations of wine producers to visit, places to stay, eat and shop, and attractions, all selected by writers with insider knowledge about their regions. Do take a look at the website and if you are planning a private wine tour this year, subscribe – the guides will save you a lot of research time and will be a great companion on your wine travels.

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Our Loire Valley Contributor – Jim Budd – Wins Award

February 1, 2009
Jim Budd

Jim Budd

Delighted to report that Jim Budd, English writer famous for his loud shirts and his deep and ever-growing knowledge of the Loire Valley and its wines, has won an award from the French.

Jim is currently in Angers where the annual professional trade fair Salon des Vins de Loire is taking place. He has just learnt that he is the winner of the Journalist’s category of the Wine Blog Trophy organised by the Salon. Whilst there Jim’s also sniffing out new wine producers, restaurants and places to stay for the five Loire guides featured at Wine Travel Guides.

Jim only launched his blog, Jim’s Loire, a few months ago, but he has somehow managed to post an interesting piece almost every day. The blog is a treasure trove for passionate lovers of Loire wines and anyone intending to visit the region for several days should not only arm themselves with our guides, but dip into his blog too.

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Plan a wine tour in Tuscany with Wine Travel Guides

January 18, 2009

By Wink Lorch

For anyone who loves beautiful countryside, art, history, architecture, and perhaps above all wholesome food and wine, Tuscany in Italy is a legendary region to visit. I’m really excited to have cajoled Michèle Shah, a top writer on Italian wines, food and travel to contribute to Wine Travel Guides and we have just launched her first two on-line travel guides to Tuscan wine regions which are also our first guides to wine regions outside of France.

Towers of San Gimignano and surrounding vineyards

Two of the towers of San Gimignano and the surrounding vineyard landscape

The area between San Gimignano and Siena is home to so many sensational wine producers that I don’t quite know how Michèle managed to narrow down her Chianti Classico and Vernaccia di San Gimignano selection. The restaurants and bars sound mouth-watering and the places to stay she has chosen range between homely and sheer luxury.



As for Montalcino and Montepulciano, home to the Sangiovese grape, the basis for nearly all the great Tuscan red wines, the guide gives all you need to plan a really interesting wine tour in this fascinating area.

If you are not yet a subscriber to Wine Travel Guides and you are planning a visit to Tuscany, now is the time to remedy this to get access to these wonderful guides.

Michèle lives in Florence and really understands the culture of Tuscan food and wine. In editing her guides, I couldn’t quite include all her words of wisdom, but saved this to share with you:

Salt-free bread is a pillar of the Tuscan diet. There are several theories on why Tuscan bread is salt-free, the most common being that its food is so rich in flavour that bread becomes a necessary accompaniment to hearty meat dishes. It is also used to thicken soups such as ribollita and pappa al pomodoro, and grilled to make bruschetta, drizzled with tangy local olive oil. Tuscan crostini, traditionally made with a chicken liver paté mixture, need a neutral base to enhance the flavours of their toppings. In summer stale Tuscan bread  is the main ingredient used in panzanella salad mixed in with freshly cut vegetables, herbs and a tasty dressing – simple and delicious – just try it!

Tuscany’s hunting heritage provides for all the roast meats and game which still play a fundamental part in their traditional and more formal cuisine –  at times evocative of medieval banquets. It’s all complemented by the archetypal Sangiovese-based red wines and by white Vernaccia, often enjoyed as an aperitif.

Buon Appetito!

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Weekly Tweet to win a Wine Travel Guide PDF of your choice

January 7, 2009

By Wink Lorch

Follow WineTravel

Follow WineTravel

Win a Wine Travel Guide PDF of your choice by being the first person to tweet the correct answer to a tricky question, which I shall post here and on Twitter once a week on Wednesdays at 7pm Central European Time (that’s 6pm GMT/UK time; 1pm EST, 10am PST and sorry … some terrible time in the early morning for Australia and New Zealand readers).

Follow me on Twitter and as long as you are a member of Twitter, you can answer the question, then I will tweet as soon as I receive the right answer, announcing the winner to all my followers. All the winner has to do is to DM me (send me a Direct Message on Twitter) with your email address and your choice of PDF travel guide to send you.

Choose a PDF guide

Choose a PDF guide

For the winner: choose your French micro-region travel guide you would like to receive as a PDF.

Please check back for the first question later today.

Welcome to our blog

December 17, 2008

This exciting new development for Wine Travel Guides will give you news and tales from around the world of wine and travel. This will be a multi-authored blog with posts from contributors to our guides and a few others authors too.

Expect the first posts to come on stream during this week, thereafter, we plan to add posts once or twice a week.

Please read About our Blog for more information and come back soon.

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