Discovering wine and remembering war on the Gallipoli Peninsula

April 23, 2013

By Brett Jones

The Gallipoli Peninsula, to the south west of Istanbul, is located in Turkish Thrace, the European part of Turkey, with the Aegean Sea to the west and the Dardanelles to the east. In 1980 the Gallipoli Peninsula Historic National Park was founded, encompassing 35,000 hectares of countryside, to protect the military and natural history of the region. Although there have been vineyards for grape production on the hills of this rural region of Turkey since long ago it is only in the last few years that serious wine production has been developed.

Western Turkey map

Last year the Digital Wine Communications Conference (EWBC) was held in Izmir, Turkey, during which we discussed the origins of wine, tasted a surprisingly wide selection of wines from both Turkey and neighbouring countries, and met with a wonderful group of like-minded wine people. Beforehand I joined a group for a rather unusual winery tour to Thrace, a couple of hours’ drive west of Istanbul, with the chance to visit two recently established wineries, Suvla and Galî.

ANZAC cemetery

The Anzac war cemetery ©Brett Jones

A personal history
I had a particular interest in visiting this eastern corner of Europe where many battles had been fought and wars waged: 3,000 years ago it was the scene of the Trojan War, and in the First World War the ill-fated Dardanelles campaign.

My grandfather had fought here in 1915, surviving but so appalled by what he’d seen and endured that he never told me anything about his time there. It was also an awful experience for the Australian and New Zealand forces who eagerly joined up to help and support the Empire,  the first time that troops from so far away wanted to be involved in such a conflict.

The ANZACS, as they became known, acquitted themselves so well in such a badly planned and executed campaign that they became highly respected by their Turkish enemies, and vice versa. Indeed, with the passage of time (it is now nearly 100 years, and three generations, since the Allied Forces lost this campaign) the remembrance services on the peninsula, especially at Anzac Cove, have become very well attended by friend and foe, now all of them friends.

Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand on 25th April to commemorate those who died here and in other military operations. The battle was also the making of Kemal Ataturk who proved to be a great general and later became the father of modern Turkey.

Modern Wine Culture
In spite of a wealth of unusual, indigenous Turkish grape varieties the principal wineries here have concentrated on planting mainly classic, international vines.

First we visited the winery of Galî in Evrese, overlooking the Gulf of Soros. Both the winery and the wine cellar were constructed using local stones, which naturally regulate the humidity and temperature. This architectural set-up also allows for the wines to be produced in the gravity-flow method, without using any pumps.

Gali vineyard

Gali’s vineyard overlooking the Sea of Marmara ©Brett Jones

Galî was founded in 2005 when Hakan Kavur and his wife, Nilgün,  bought 48 hectares of land and planted half with vines, a mix of 78% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon. Hakan, who had retired as an engineer in Switzerland, studied wine in Bordeaux and decided to make two reds modelled on the Bordeaux château style.

Their first vintage release was 2009 on sale from 2011. Big, rich and juicy, the three high quality reds we tasted were a tad over laden with new oak tannins, but future vintages will have less wood influence and promise well.

Owners of Gali, Turkey

Hakan and Nilgün Kavur of Gali ©Brett Jones

We drove 13km into the countryside where we walked in their vineyards overlooking the shimmering Aegean Sea to the west and the beautiful Sea of Marmara in the east – endorsing the benign maritime climate. We enjoyed a home-made lunch in the family home after an aperitif in one of the WWII bunkers nearby! Better to store wine there rather than bombs… and that’s just what the Kavurs plan to do in the next couple of years.

We left this kind couple who are so passionate about their wine to drive further down the Peninsula to visit another exciting winery in Eceabat, by the Cannakale Strait , the Dardanelles.

After working in a variety of different enterprises, including the IT business,  Selim Zafer Ellialti decided to make wine. Seriously make wine.  In 2003, while he worked as general manager at Microsoft, responsible for the Middle East and Africa region, he and his wife, Pinar, created Suvla Wines. First they planted 44 hectares of vines, in their new Bozokbağ vineyards, mainly of international red and white varieties but some indigenous types as well.

Originally Selim sold their grapes to a big Turkish wine company but in 2009 they opened their modern winery, converted from an old textile factory, which is fronted by a smart shop and a tasting area that wouldn’t be out of place in the New World. They sell their own cold-pressed olive oil as well as other speciality local foods. In the tasting bar, one can have snacks with pairings with their wines, and meals are available by reservation for groups.

Suvla Wines Turkey

Suvla Wine’s tasting room and shop ©Brett Jones

Mainly from international varieties, Suvla produces a comprehensive range of wines, which are sought after by their Turkish clientele, though their wines from local varieties are increasing and perhaps more of interest for exports. Again, some of the wines showed a bit too much oak, but it worked particularly well with both the Syrah Reserve 2010, full of berries and spices, and their special Bordeaux blend named SUR.

We did learn that there is a good reason for why wines tasted here and elsewhere in Turkey were to our palates over-oaked – only new oak barrels can be imported into Turkey, so it will take few years for the barrels to lose their aggressive tannins.

Map of Gallipoli

Anzac Cove
As we wanted to be at Anzac Cove before sunset we didn’t have time to visit the brand new Gallipoli Kabatepe Simulation Centre, which has replaced the old war museum. The centre has 11 gallery rooms, each equipped with advanced high-tech simulation equipment.  The story of the 1915 Gallipoli naval and land campaigns is told from both Turkish and ANZAC points of view, and is well worth visiting.

At Anzac Cove our small group quietly walked around, each of us trying to come to terms with the awfulness of war, the suffering and the madness. We were all moved, each with our own thoughts.

Anzac cove

The memorial at Anzac Cove ©Brett Jones

With two exciting Turkish wineries to visit in this region packed with so much history, ancient and modern it had been a fascinating day, a special experience. I often thought of my grandfather, who would have seen Gallipoli in quite a different light, and am proud of his bravery and of all the other soldiers.

Visitors to the Gallipoli Peninsula can visit Suvla’s tasting room during normal working hours or call ahead for an appointment for a special tasting or meal for groups. Gali can only be visited by appointment.

If you would like to learn more about the military venture I do recommend Gallipoli by Les Carlyon, a great account of the events, the battles, and the hardships of the British and ANZAC troops.

With thanks to the team at Vrazon, organisers of EWBC and to Wines of Turkey who sponsored the visit to Gallipoli.

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A few highlights from our 2011 European wine travel experiences

February 7, 2012
The winemaestro, Brett Jones

Wine travel companion, wine blogger and photographer Brett Jones

The pleasures of travelling in wine regions never cease, and there were some stand-out experiences in 2011 that were unexpected, wholly satisfying or simply joyful. Below are a few highlights of our travels last year that have not been covered on this blog elsewhere.

With more than a month gone in 2012 already, here is wishing all of you fantastic wine travel experiences during the rest of the year. The best wine tours, whether in a group or on your own need plenty of preparation. Especially in Europe, when in doubt, always make an advanced appointment to visit a wine producer.

A tasting with Bernard Baudry in Chinon
In the midst of a trip researching wineries suitable to visit by a large group coming to the Loire valley, my sister with whom we were staying near Tours, asked a favour that was wholly impossible to refuse. Would we call into Bernard Baudry in Chinon to collect some wines that a friend had ordered? I’ve known Bernard Baudry’s wines for many years as I used to include one of his Chinons in the tasting selection for teaching the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Diploma class on the Loire. Wines selected for these courses need to be classic examples of their style, appellation and grape and Baudry’s Chinons are exemplary. Baudry also features as one of Jim Budd’s selections of wine producers to visit in our West of Tours guide. Finally, I had the chance to visit the domaine.

Chinon soil types

Soil samples for each different Chinon ©Brett Jones

Bernard Baudry in his quiet way, could not have been more welcoming. For us it was the end of a long day, but his enthusiasm and willingness to explain the background to all his wines provided us with a perfect educational tasting. We loved his unusual white Chinon 2009 from Chenin Blanc fermented in various barrel sizes; we adored his Chinon Les Grézeaux 2009, the quintessential Cabernet Franc redolent of pencil shavings and red fruit flavours on the nose with perfect balance on the palate; and then enjoyed experiencing some older wines too including the deliciously deep coloured and flavoursome Chinon Croix Boisées 2008. Bernard speaks little English and usually it is his son Matthieu who takes English visitors through the tasting. Like most wine estates of this appellation, the Baudrys have several vineyards on different soils, and in the tasting room the various soil types are displayed in jars, always helpful!

A garden in Vinho Verde country
North of Porto, the second city of Portugal is the region of Vinho Verde, with a climate highly influenced by the Atlantic Ocean and known in particular for light white wines, perfect with seafood or as aperitifs. On a press visit there courtesy of the Vinho Verde regional association, I tasted some good and even excellent wines and enjoyed interesting visits. Among the visits, I particularly enjoyed biodynamic producer Afros, who as well as lovely whites,  makes fascinating sparkling and red Vinhos Verdes; Reguengo de Melgaço up on the Spanish border with delicious fuller-bodied wines from the Alvarinho grape and a small country hotel on-site; and the high tech and welcoming winery Quinta da Gomariz, with a range of very enjoyable and accessible wines. However, none of these three producers could be said to be geared up for independent wine tourists, only usually receiving groups of wine lovers or professionals by advanced arrangement.

Quinta de Aveleda garden

Aveleda's goat tower ©Wink Lorch

However, we also visited Aveleda, producers of the brand Casal Garcia, as well as of several quality estate Vinhos Verdes from their Quinta da Aveleda vineyards, especially one named Follies from 50% Louriero and 50% Alvarinho. Follies is named for the several architectural follies the Quinta possesses in its beautiful gardens, which won a Best of Wine Tourism Award in 2011. Less than an hour’s drive from Porto, Aveleda has a good shop selling the company’s wines along with some local foods, open every weekday. They receive 12,000 visitors per annum and many come as part of a group for whom they can arrange tutored tastings and meals. Best of all, groups can visit the stunning and peaceful gardens, full of old trees as well as fountains and follies. One of the follies is a goat tower, and they say that Charles Back, owner of Fairview got the idea from here to build Fairview’s famous goat tower.

An unusual wine bar and some lovely ports
On the evening before my trip to Vinho Verde, I arranged to meet Oscar Quevedo, of the family-owned Port producer Quevedo. Oscar is an avid blogger (his blog was nominated for the best winery blog in 2010) and he joined the family company after a spell working in finance. Oscar uses social media most successfully to share the story of his family winery around the world, however, I had never tasted his range of Ports. With a couple of wine educators and writers, all part of the Vinho Verde trip, Oscar suggested we met in a special port wine bar in Porto named Vinologia ‘La Maison des Portos’ owned by Frenchman, Jean-Philippe Duhard.

Vinologia Porto

Bar dedicated to Port ©Wink Lorch

Vinologia only sells Ports, but it has a huge selection, with over 200 available by the glass. Plates of cheese, dried fruits and nuts, or luscious chocolate desserts are available to accompany your Port selection. A fluent English speaker Jean-Philippe can even tutor a tasting for groups. It’s a wonderful little place. Oscar Quevedo served us five Ports to taste starting from the white, through a gorgeous, nutty Special Reserve Tawny, a vibrant and lively Colheita 1992,  Reserve ruby and finally the youthful but excellent Quinta Vale d’Agodinho Vintage 2008. My three colleagues were more experienced than me in tasting Ports, and were really impressed with the quality from Quevedo. It is rare to find small family wineries in the Port region as five of the 70 Port Houses control 83% of production in the region. My thanks and Saύde for their welcome and generosity to Oscar and Jean-Philippe.

An intriguing wine producing hamlet near Trieste
After the European Wine Bloggers Conference 2011, held in Brescia, Italy, we were able to attend a three day press trip to the north-eastern wine region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. I had been to Collio in Friuli before and a little beyond, but one completely new region to me was the Carso DOC on the Istrian peninsula south of Trieste, bordering Slovenia. We spent a morning and lunch visiting three small wine producers all located in the hamlet of Prepotto, near Duino Aurisina. I had never heard of the village, knew little about Carso, and then we discovered a grape variety that I’d never heard of either, Vitovska, that produces some fresh-tasting, stoney whites.

Carso in Friuli

Zidarich's cellar, dug deep into the earth, in Carso, Friuli ©Brett Jones

The pleasure of walking from one producer to the next in this tiny place, learning about how they had revived the region, dug out the amazing cellars, and are now making highly unusual, but delicious wines, to me epitomized the excitement of wine travel even for a seasoned wine traveller like me. The wines of producers Skerk, Kante and Zidarich are exported a little and well worth trying. I am also sure they would welcome you to visit this extraordinary place if you are planning a trip to Trieste or Friuli.

All our group were smitten by the Carso region, and among others two wine blogger colleagues have written comprehensive, excellent blog posts about our visit, Rock the Carso by Simon Wolf and  Wine Kings of the Carso by Paola Tich. My thanks to Pierpaolo Penco and the Friuli Venezia Giulia wine region for making this visit possible and hosting us.

Wine Travel Guides Membership
If you are planning a wine tour in France, Rioja or Tuscany in 2012, remember to check out our travel guides, and note that you can access all the latest versions of the PDF guides by buying annual membership. You can still use the promotional code D2BLG1111 for a 30% discount until 29th February 2012. Happy wine travels!

P.S. For the most unusual wine production ‘equipment’ I saw in 2011, watch this little video. This waterfall ‘dynamizes’ the water used for biodynamic preparations by Vinho Verde producer Afros.


The history, art, food and wine of Chianti

November 22, 2011

Tuscany is known to be one of the most beautiful places in Italy. Many a writer, film maker and tourist passing through the region have been charmed by the countryside where cute villages, monasteries and castles blend in perfectly in the rolling hills. At its heart is the beautiful Chianti Classico district, home to red wines from Sangiovese and a host of welcoming wineries.

This guest post is written by wine consultant and sommelier Caroline Henry, who visited Chianti in October on a sponsored trip following the European Wine Bloggers Conference. It was Caroline’s first trip to the region and we are delighted that she could share her impressions here.

The Chianti region is situated between Florence and Siena. The hillsides are a patchwork of oak, cypress, chestnut and pine forests, intermingled with vineyards and olive groves, splendid in their blazing autumn glory under the pleasant Tuscan sun. The region has a long and rich history dating back to the Etruscan and Roman times. In the Middle Ages, the area became the theatre for the fierce battles between the city-states of Siena and Florence. Around the same time it became a stronghold for the church which meant that several monasteries, fortresses and castles emerged all over the region. During the Renaissance, in times of peace, several of these buildings were converted to stately homes and villas and became wine and olive oil estates.

Chianti Classico landscape

Castello di Ama with a typical Chianti Classico vineyard landscape ©Mick Rock, Cephas

Whilst visiting Chianti Classico, we learned that 13th century Chianti was a white wine blend of Malvasia and Trebbiano. However, over the centuries Chianti developed into a red wine based on the Sangiovese grape. Sangiovese often shows flavours of fresh black fruit – black currant, cherries and blackberry – with a hint of sweet liquorice and is characterised by a high acidity and chewy tannins which will soften with aging. Chianti Classico wines are from grapes grown on the original sites defined as far back a the 17th century and renowned as the best vineyard sites in the area. The Chianti Classico district compromises about 70,000 hectares (ha) of which only 10,000ha are vineyards and 8,000ha olive groves.

Chianti Classico Heartland
We spent three days in the heartland of Chianti Classico between Gaiole and Greve starting our trip at the Santa Maria al Prato convent in Radda. Originally a Franciscan Monastery dating from the 14th century, it today hosts the ’Welcome Centre’ of the Chianti Classico Wine Consortium. It also has plenty of information on the different wineries to visit in the area and the history of Chianti. In 2012 a contemporary art centre will open on the 2nd floor with collections from all over the world.

Radda, the capital of Chianti Classico, is a beautiful medieval walled town with a rich culinary history. A must try gastronomic specialty is Ribollita – a hearty soup made from left over bread, canelli beans and inexpensive vegetables such as black cabbage, carrots, onions and spinach.

Tuscan wine estate

The abbey of the good harvest at Badia a Coltibuono ©Peter Harvey

Next we visited the Badia a Coltibuono wine estate, a converted Abbey originally built by the Vallombrosan monks. The monks were known for having revolutionized the local agricultural practices and were among the first to plant Sangiovese here. The Abbey was secularized when Napoleon annexed Tuscany in 1810 and was acquired by Michele Giuntini. In the spirit of the monastery the Stucchi Prinetti family, current owners and ancestors of Guintini, have transformed the wine estate into a sustainable modern centre for food and wine appreciation. Besides the winery, Badia a Coltibuono also includes an Agriturismo, a cooking school offering one day and residential traditional Tuscan cooking classes and restaurant featuring live jazz or classical music during the summer.

Tuscan castle

Castello di Brolio ©Caroline Henry

Historic castles and Modern Art
On the second day we visited the Castello di Brolio, an iconic castle in the history of Chianti. Built in the 11th century it was restructured by Baron Bettino Ricasoli, a prominent politician and the creator of the first known ‘Chianti recipe’ in 1872, proscribing 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo and 15% Malvasia Bianca. Today’s Chianti Classico wines are 80-100% Sangiovese and white varieties are no longer allowed. The castle has a small museum which hosts a centuries old collection of arms and armour of the Ricasoli family and gives a good insight in the political and agronomical work of Bettino Ricasoli. The castle grounds are stunning and in summer visitors can enjoy traditional Chianti fare and the Barone’s wines in the large garden of the Osteria dell Castello. Situated a little down the hill is the Barone Ricasoli tasting room and wine shop.

Another wonderful place to visit is the Castello di Ama in Gaiole. The winery was established in 1972 and was taken over by Marco Pallanti in 1995. Of the 250ha which make up Castello di Ama 90ha are planted with vines (predominantly Sangiovese) and there are 40ha of olive groves. In 2000 Lorenza and Marco Pallanti started the ’Castello di Ama per l’Arte Contemporanea’ project in which they invite a prominent artist to live on the property for several months and create a permanent artistic installation. These artworks are dotted around the buildings and the land of Castello di Amo and are part of the guided winery visit.

After indulging in modern art we were transported back to the Middle Ages visiting Vignamaggio Wine Estate. The oldest part of the Villa of Vignamaggio dates back to the 14th century, and legend has it that Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa was born here in 1479. It was also the place where a large part of Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado about Nothing was filmed. The estate has been in the hands of the Gherardi family since the 16th century and they produce excellent Chianti Classico, Super Tuscans, Vin Santo and olive oil. The beautiful villa is also an Agriturismo and offers a wine tourism programme which includes guided walks, tastings and wine dinners.

Beef heaven

The kitchen at Solociccia ©Caroline Henry

Culinary Traditions
We ended the day with a fabulous  ‘Whole Steer Dinner’ at Solociccia in Panzano. Solociccia is the brain child of butcher-poet Dario Cecchini, also owner of the Antica Macelleria Cecchini, his butcher shop across the street. Dario’s aim is to respect the animal by using every part in the best possible way. At Solociccia guests eat a set menu of ’butcher foods’ at a communal table in a convivial atmosphere. The menu consists of six meat courses served with seasonal vegetables and the traditional Tuscan white beans with olive oil and bread. After that there is cake and coffee. A quarter litre of house wine and a grappa are also included in the amazing value menu price of €30.

On our last day we first visited Caparsa, a small winery near Radda. It is owned by artisan winemaker Paolo Cianferoni who farms organically and makes wine in a ’natural’ way. Caparsa offers a 45 minute guided cellar and wine tasting tour which can be booked via their website.

We concluded our tour of Chianti Classico at the Castello d’Albola wine estate and the beautiful Villa Marangole with its magnificent views from the large terrace. The villa is available for holiday rentals and it sleeps up to 12 people. Two kilometres up the hill lies the Castello d’Albola, a 15th century fortress which today houses the winery, tasting room and cellars of the Castello d’Albola wines with daily guided tasting tours of their wines and olive oil.

Chianti has a rich culinary history and the various Chianti Classico producers we met emphasized that the wines are made to be enjoyed with local food – it enriches the experience as the different flavours really enhance each other. It is a Tuscan tradition to drink Vin Santo at the end of a meal when guests are visiting. Vin Santo is an elegant dessert wine made from dried Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes, which are then slowly fermented and aged for at least  three years in small casks. It has rich flavours of apricot, peach and nuts and is often accompanied by some biscotti. A glass of Vin Santo and a biscotti are the perfect way to end a great meal among friends, and it was the perfect way to end our trip.

Caroline would like to thank the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico  for their generous sponsorship of this trip and the European Wine Bloggers Conference for making it possible.

For more information, take a look at our very comprehensive Wine Travel Guide Between San Gimignano and Siena written by wine writer Michele Shah, who lives in Florence. Gift Membership to the website giving one-year access to download all the latest PDF Guides makes an unusual present. Until the end of the year we are pleased to offer a 30% discount off annual membership to readers of this blog who use the code D2BLG1111.


The River of Riesling, Grüner and Apricots

June 30, 2011

By Wink Lorch

It was the apricots, appearing in a multitude of different forms, that surprised me. I had long been wanting to explore the Wachau, in a gorgeous situation on the Danube river, and Austria’s finest wine region for high quality dry, white wines from Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. Yet as ever, when you finally visit somewhere you know only virtually, there is always something unexpected in store.

Marille (apricots) in all their forms ©Brett Jones

On our first morning we drove alongside the river from Spitz, where we were staying, to explore the very sweet and colourful village of Dürnstein, perhaps the most famous of the Wachau wine region, very busy in summer, but calm mid-week in October. I was expecting wine bars and wine producers, but everywhere in shops and restaurants, there were references to Marille, a German word I’d never heard before.

It turns out that Marille is the word used in Austria, South Tirol and Bavaria for apricots, and recognising the traditions of growing apricots particularly in this region, Wachauer Marille is a protected appellation, with 250ha of apricot trees grown here. Shops sell the apricots bottled and made into a really wide range of products including jam, compote, fiery schnapps and sweet liqueurs – a yellow theme pervades. On menus, Marille appears in many guises including as dumplings or the delicious Marillenpalatschinke – apricot pancakes.

Understanding Wachau wines
A little away from the centre of Dürnstein is Domäne Wachau, the regional wine cooperative. One of the most respected wine cooperatives, not just in Austria but in Europe, it accounts for about one-third of the output of Wachau wines and is one of the largest wineries in Austria. If you come to the Wachau, this is an ideal first visit for three reasons: in its great location on the site of an old abbey winery you will find an excellent winery shop open every day all year, a beautiful Baroque palace and cellar, and you should receive a very thorough introduction to the wines of Wachau. Oh, yes, and there’s a superb range of nervy, dry white, food-friendly wines too!

Terraced vineyards in Dürnstein ©Brett Jones

We were lucky to meet the dynamic manager and Master of Wine Roman Horvarth together with experienced cellarmaster and oenologist Heinz Fischengruber. There are two main lessons to be learnt in the Wachau. Firstly, about the climate that varies in particular between the cooler vineyards in the west, more influenced by the far-off Atlantic, and those significantly warmer vineyards in the east towards the town of Krems, which have influence from the Pannonian plain with warm winds funnelled up the Danube river. Within this, there are a multitude of microclimates due to the varying steepness, terraces and aspects of the vineyards, and varied soil types too.

The second important lesson is that back in the 1980s a group of Wachau wine producers created a new appellation named Vinea Wachau, which included a code of practice and three designations for their main production of dry white wines from either Grüner Veltliner or Riesling, based on alcohol content. Steinfeder is for light-weight, fruity wines up to 11.5%; Federspiel, the most important category, for mid-weight wines; and finally Smaragd, named after the lizards that bask in the sun on the stone walls supporting the steep terraces, for rich and powerful wines, usually from late-picked grapes, and only released after May 1st following the vintage

Heinz with the vineyard map ©Wink Lorch

As a large cooperative, Domäne Wachau has several wine ranges. The mid-range named Terassen (from grapes grown on the steep terraced vineyards) exists for Steinfeder, Federspiel and Smaragd in both Grüner and Riesling, and provides excellent representatives of each style. For greater individuality the higher quality, single vineyard wines (mainly at Federspiel and Smaragd levels) show the wide range of great vineyard sites in which members of this wine cooperative have holdings. They include many classic vineyard names of Wachau including from west to east along the valley 1000 Eimer Berg (in the village of Spitz), Achleiten (in Weissenkirchen) and Loibenberg (in Dürnstein).

The cooperative has invested quite heavily into wine tourism and frankly admits that this is very cost intensive, but is convinced that for its worldwide reputation it is worth it. The shop, where you can taste of course, is well worth a visit, and if you can arrange a tour of their cellars and beautiful restored palace as well, this is something really special.

A river runs through it
The Wachau region, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000, is around 1000km from the source of the Danube, one of Europe’s most important rivers, and about 1400km from its end in the Black Sea. With a history back to Roman times (the Danube was the northern limit of the Roman empire) the vineyards are on the steep sides of the river, in parts on both sides, and also up the side valley running west from the village of Spitz, where we visited the excellent family winery Weingut Johann Donabaum (one of six producers with the last name Donabaum!).

Since he took over from his father, Johann Donabaum has put the estate on the map, expanding the vineyard holdings and improving wine quality greatly. Typical of the region, he grows 60% Grüner Veltliner, 35% Riesling and 5% of mix of other grapes (we tasted a good grapey, dry Muscateller and a medium sweet, spicy Neuburger). At present he uses no wood for maturation, but may do in future for his Smaragd wines. Tasting in a lovely cellar tasting room, we loved the wines as they are, especially the Riesling Offenberg Smaragd, grown here on a slate soil, to me reminiscent of German Rheingau Rieslings.

The Danube car ferry ©Wink Lorch

One way of understanding the geography of the Wachau is to take a leisurely drive criss-crossing the river Danube. There is a bridge at the western end at Melk, the best route into the region driving the 90 minutes from Vienna, and another in the east at Mautern, but there are delightful, slow car ferries pulled by overhead cables – at the villages of Spitz, Weissenkirchen and Dürnstein – and it’s well worth at least one journey on the ferry.

The village of Weissenkirchen is home to some of the finest wine producers in the Wachau. As in much of the region, many are open to visitors only by appointment. We had an appointment at the winery owned by the understated Roman Jäger, who at certain times of the year operates a Heurige wine bar. Jäger owns plots in some of the prime vineyard sites. I was developing a taste for wines from the Achleiten vineyard, and here was a full, spicy and peppery Grüner Smaragd 2009 that was delicious. To understand the scale here, Jäger owns 3 parcels of vines in this vineyard, about 1ha (2.5 acres) in all, out of a total 20ha for the Achleiten vineyard.

Wachau vineyard walk above the Danube ©Wink Lorch

We also took the opportunity to take a walk up through the vineyards on the edge of Weissenkirchen, high above the river. There are well-marked vineyard walks throughout the Wachau, ideal to take a picnic, or to work off a good lunch.

Fine Wines and Gastronomy
Food and wine matching is almost inevitable everywhere in the Wachau, whether in a simple café like the Altes Presshaus (old press house) in Dürnstein, with soups and snacks, offered with decent wines by the 1/8 litre; or in the typical Austrian wine region Heurige (we enjoyed two evenings at the Lagler Heurige, walking distance from our hotel in Spitz); or at the gastronomic level, such as offered by the restaurant owned by Weingut Jamek in Joching, who also have an upmarket hotel. How lovely it was to find a wide range of wines by the glass and by the bottle at reasonable prices at whatever type of eating establishment we chose, and how well the dry Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners matched the wide range of food.

At the very traditional Gasthof Prankl in Spitz one evening we drank a gorgeous, minerally Grüner Felderspiel 09 from the well-respected Spitz grower Franz Hirtzberger, available for 28€ a bottle and working brilliantly with my medallions of pork with Veltliner crust and mushroom risotto. At the Jamek restaurant, I gave a toast to the late Graf Matuschka of Schloss Vollrads in Germany, from whom I learnt that wines should be matched to the strongest flavour in the meal, usually the sauce. Here, we compared a glass of Ried Klaus Riesling Federspiel with a Smaragd from the same vineyard, both 2009. Initially surprising, the former was ideal with Brett’s Steakburger with noodles and mushrooms sauce, but could not cope with my zander (fish) and paprika cabbage; of course, the reverse was true with the Smaragd, which as the bigger wine could deal with the paprika – lesson confirmed.

Marillenlikör, perhaps not for breakfast ©Brett Jones

The Hotel Ulrike where we stayed was a simple family one, of which the Wachau has plenty – it reminded me of a good Logis de France style of hotel. Home-made Marillen jam was on offer with breakfast of course, and when we talked with our helpful hostess about the Marillen, she immediately asked if we had a little longer to enjoy breakfast, and when we said we could, she rustled up a gorgeous plate of warm apricots, wrapped in bacon – a great start to the day.

Thanks to our hosts, in particular at Domäne Wachau, who also supported the European Wine Bloggers Conference, which encouraged us to Austria in the first place, and to Julia Sevenich, who gave us excellent recommendations and help to plan our two days in the Wachau, especially an introduction to the wonderful grower Rudi Pichler, where we enjoyed a special visit and tasting beyond the scope of this article.


The unexpected great wine capital in Austria

December 27, 2010

In over 30 years working in wine, I’ve had the chance to travel to most major wine regions of the world, but in October I finally managed to fill a gap in my wine travel experiences and visit the vineyards of Austria. Inspired by the fact that the European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC) 2010 was being held in Vienna, Brett and I decided to attend the conference and extend the trip a little to explore some of Austria’s best wine regions.

Snow in the west, vineyards in the east

I have tried a few Austrian wines regularly in London, enjoying particularly their luscious sweet whites, and over the years I have become increasingly impressed by their Riesling and Grüner Veltliner dry whites as well as some interesting reds from local grape varieties, Blaufränkisch, Blauer Zweigelt and St. Laurent. In this trip, I wanted to get to grips with the regions and the geography, to actually visit the wine producers and vineyards, and to taste the wine in Austria’s own restaurants, the only way to really learn about a country’s wines.

At the conference, we were given an excellent introduction to Austrian wines by the ebullient head of their promotional body and main sponsor of the EWBC conference, Wines from Austria. Willi Klinger told us the perfect way, especially for me as a wine and ski lover, to think about Austria’s geography: “Snow in the west and vineyards in the east”. Luckily for wine travellers, Vienna, Austria’s beautiful capital city, lies also in the east, with vineyards actually within the city boundaries, and good connections to most of the important wine regions.

Vienna, City of Wine

In 2009, as a guest of the Great Wine Capitals organisation at their AGM in Bordeaux, I learnt their definition of a Great Wine Capital, but in Vienna, I felt that here was another great wine capital, even though Vienna is not part of the group, and may well never be – the group’s entry criteria is quite stringent. Vienna recently began styling itself as ‘The City of Wine’ and it has certainly proved itself to me as an ideal city for a wine travel lover to visit.

View from vineyards to the city of Vienna

Vienna is particularly famous for its Heuriger – traditional wine taverns mainly in the northern suburbs where you will find most of the city’s vineyards (a not insubstantial 600+ hectares). Heuriger are owned by wine producers and Austria gives them a special licence to open only for a certain number of days in the year, usually restricting them to selling only their own wine, plus some simple regional food dishes. The locals visit them especially to taste the latest vintage (known as Heuriger wine) in the months leading up to the end of the year, but actually the taverns are open on and off all year.

With EWBC we had a great meal and tasting of Vienna wine at the delightful Mayer am Pfarrplatz Heuriger. The tasting was of wines from the WienWein group of six small Viennese wine producers who have linked up to market their wines together.  I made a point of tasting a Vienna wine speciality Gemischter Satz, a designation for white wines from one single vineyard, growing a ‘field blend’, a large range of grape varieties that are all vinified together, each grape providing the wine with a different characteristic. The result is typically dry, fresh and aromatic with a plethora of different flavours. I really enjoyed the delicious Rotes Haus 2009 Gemischter Satz from Weingut Mayer, which we had also tasted at the Austrian Undiscovered Stars tasting presented by Wines of Austria and UK on-line retailer Naked Wines – we bloggers chose this wine as our favourite for Naked Wines to import.

Austrian wine regions along the waterways

Wachau on the Danube

Wachau vineyard path ©Wink Lorch

What also makes Vienna such a great wine capital is its proximity to Austria’s major wine regions. You can easily take a day trip to several by road or public transport from the city; you can even cruise on a Danube boat trip to the vineyards.

Only around an hour north, further up the Danube, is the spectacularly beautiful Wachau wine district, a UNESCO world heritage site, famous for its superb dry whites from Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. I will write more about our 2-day visit there in a future post. Also part of the greater wine region Lower Austria and only just further east is Kremstal and the large, up-and-coming Weinviertel wine district making a name for its wines from Grüner Veltliner, which some EWBC participants took a hand in harvesting for an afternoon.

A great playground for the Viennese is the large Lake Neusiedl to the south of the city under an hour away. Part of Burgenland, we didn’t get to visit the great sweet wine vineyards near the lake on this trip, but we were able to explore the Leithaberg, Mittelburgenland and Südburgenland districts slightly beyond, famous in particular for their red wines as well as their friendly hospitality. I will expand further in a future post, but for the impatient wine lovers amongst you, do read this excellent post about Blaufränkisch from a fellow wine blogging traveller Tim Lemke.

Eating and drinking beyond the Heuriger

Back in Vienna, we found the city offered wine lovers much more than just its Heuriger, with a profusion of wine bars including an excellent chain incorporated in the Wein & Co wine shops. We frequented a branch, by the Naschmarkt food market, which has a wonderful selection of wines from both Austria (all styles available from really top producers) and from around the world. The wine bar allows you to select any bottle of wine from the shop for a 6 euro mark-up – a great deal, and they serve good, simple food platters and have knowledgeable, attentive staff too.

Weibels restaurant

Weibels, Vienna ©Brett Jones

And then, there are the Viennese restaurants, with superb wine lists, proudly showcasing their own country’s wines, though including others too. We ate one night with a group of wine bloggers, needing a change from Austrian food, at Dots Lounge, a Japanese, ‘experimental sushi’ restaurant and were spoilt for choice on their wine list, and by the way, many Austrian wines go brilliantly with Asian cuisine. The wine list was excellent too at an ultra traditional Austrian restaurant, not far from the superb St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Weibels Wirtshaus where Brett and I enjoyed our final lunch in the city. Notably, both restaurants include a link on their websites to their wine list, something I rarely find on London restaurant websites.

Vienna measures up for me ©Brett Jones

Apart from its wine offerings, I was enchanted by the city of Vienna and it is already on my list of cities where I want to revisit to explore its beautiful buildings and museums. Now that I realise that it so much of a great wine capital too, with easy access to not only fine Austrian wines and foods, but also to its wine regions, I won’t fail to return soon.

One day I would love to include Wine Travel Guides to Austria on the main website, and I have already found just the right person to write them, Julia Sevenich, an American wine writer and educator, and long term resident of Austria, who helped enormously with planning our trip. For now, take a look at her enjoyable series of articles, The Austrian Wine Adventure Tour on Haidu.net.

Many thanks to Gabriella and Ryan of Catavino plus Robert of The Wine Conversation, the hard-working organisers of EWBC, and to all the sponsors, especially Wines of Austria for encouraging us to make this much overdue trip!


Wine Tasting Cellars – Should they charge?

December 23, 2009

For most people, the best part of any wine tour is visiting the cellars and tasting the wines, but the experience in Europe is often quite different from that of visiting New World wine regions. The main reason is that most European wineries are small family-owned estates many of whom lack proper facilities for receiving visitors. In the New World, where the average winery size is much larger, tasting rooms are the norm for most and the facilities offered are much greater. Also, if you travel in California wine regions, it’s almost standard practice to pay for tastings; in Europe, this remains the exception rather than the rule.


Last month at the European Wine Bloggers Conference in Lisbon, sponsored by Wines of Portugal along with a host of others, I was part of a panel debating Wine Tourism and Social Media. Much of the debate was taken up with how wine travel in the New World and the Old World differ. Our panel was moderated by American Amy Lillard who owns the small southern France wine producer La Gramière, and she voiced that wine bloggers (and I would add travel bloggers) need to make sure their readers appreciate these differences.

Busy California tasting room ©Brett Jones

Wine tourism has been raised to a fine art or perhaps you could say an industry in New World wine regions, led by California and South Africa. Tasting rooms, shops, a range of options for vineyard and winery tours, picnic areas and children’s facilities may be just some of the offerings, usually at a price. In the Old World, if the wine producer has time to be there and you can communicate sufficiently in each others’ language, you might have the experience of a lifetime with a personal tasting and tour all at no charge. But arguably, there’s a hidden cost. Amy pointed out rightly that small family wineries are often too busy in the winery or the vineyards, or even delivering wines to customers, to be able to look after someone who is simply visiting for the experience of tasting wines in their place of production. You may not have to pay for tasting in the Old World but there might be no dedicated tasting room staff or tasting room, and the producers might simply not have time to receive you. It’s a dilemma that we at Wine Travel Guides try to address by recommending on our guides only producers who welcome independent wine travellers; in most cases we suggest that you make an advance appointment to visit.

Europe is beginning to change slowly as it starts to embrace wine tourism more fully, but many wine producers still believe that the reason for welcoming wine tourists is to sell wine. Anthony Swift of Wine Pleasures, who organises wine tourism events and group tours in Spain, asserts that producers should learn to separate completely the idea of welcoming tourists for a visit from the act of selling wine, and he tries to encourage wineries where he brings groups to accept payment. My brother is in aviation, has may planes, we’ve been fortunate to travel by small plane to these great vineyards. I totally agree and know that for the independent wine tourist, travelling home by plane, it’s obvious they cannot buy wine at the time, though it’s true if they are given an easy contact to follow up they may well source the same wine they tasted when they get back home.

Bordeaux tasting by appointment ©Brett Jones

It’s only recently that wine producers in Europe have started to look at the wider picture of wine tourism and to treat it as a good public relations activity for not only their own winery, but for their wine region too. Nevertheless, the facilities needed to welcome visitors properly cost money and even more, so does the time for someone to host visitors, and not all producers have this money available. Sunday openings are rare in Europe as family-owned producers use this day to catch up with paperwork and things at home including spending precious time with the next generation of wine producers. To pay for someone to look after the tasting room on a Sunday would also be considerable.

In many New World wine regions, especially California, and in a few in Europe, notably Champagne and more recently Bordeaux, it’s become normal to pay to taste the wines. In some of these wineries, there is a sensible policy that if you buy wine at the winery tasting room/shop (and in Europe this isn’t always possible at high-end wineries), they will refund the tasting fee. On the other hand, traditional wine producers in Europe are worried that they will put off visitors who might be potential buyers, as they have never before levied a charge, so they are still reluctant to do so. In my view, by paying for a tasting, a wine tourist helps contribute to the wine producer’s time, the cost of the facilities and the wines tasted. And, as long as there’s no dumbing down of the welcome and someone who really knows the wines and the winery is there to taste with you and show you around, then a small charge with longer opening hours can only be a good thing for both wine producers and wine tourists.

So, over to you, do you think European family-owned wineries should charge for tasting? And if so, how much on average? Please visit our Facebook page and participate in the poll (you need to become a fan first), and if you have any comments, I would welcome them here.

We have more than 500 recommended European wine producers on Wine Travel Guides who are ready to receive visitors, though many insist on advance appointments. Few currently charge. You can cruise around the site to find them when planning your next wine tour and we provide their visiting hours. To have full access to print the PDF guides you need to join as a Gold Member, and Membership makes an ideal Gift for a wine lover planning a trip to Europe in 2010.

Thanks for reading over the past year and I wish you a fine finish to 2009 and happy planning of your Wine Travels for 2010!

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Visiting vineyards by Vespa and speaking Slovenian

September 10, 2009

By Wink Lorch

Everything seemed yellow on our first wine tour in Collio in north-east Italy, right on the Slovenian border. The sun shone brightly, some of the wines were curiously yellow and the Vespa parked outside our delightful agritourismo in the vineyards was bright yellow too! Unfortunately we were not on a leisurely trip, so we zipped around with four wheels rather than two in order to see as much as we could in a short three days.

Yellow Vespa waiting for wine tourists

Yellow Vespa waiting for wine tourists

Collio, part of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, is well-known to the inner circle of Italian fine wine fans as the source of the country’s very finest white wines. We were lucky that just before our planned visit we were invited to a launch of a new book on Collio’s wine and food by Carla Capalbo, an American living in Italy. This travel guide with a focus on wine and food provided incredible in-depth information, clearly presented and I would highly recommend buying a copy if you plan a visit there. Wine Travel Guides will add guides to this area soon and I’m very much hoping that Carla will be our specialist contributor.

Cherries in CollioThe local Consorzio, who both govern production and promote the wines of Collio, want to encourage wine tourists and supported publication of Carla’s book whilst leaving her a free hand to write as she wanted. Providing a range of Vespas for tourists to rent is also the Consorzio’s initiative, along with plenty of leaflets and maps available in the growing number of excellent agritourismo accommodation, restaurants and, of course, winery tasting rooms that are dotted along the wine route. Incidentally part of the wine route also doubles as the cherry route – something that back in May we enjoyed at each breakfast!

The heart of Collio, around the town of Cormons, is less than a couple of hours east of Venice and we soon discovered it is in deep countryside with the Julian Alps often in view. The views from the wine producers we visited were of rolling hills with forests high up and vineyards with little villages below. For those not used to being in border country, it might seem strange to find that not only do many wine producers in this Italian land speak to each other in Slovenian (or a local Friulian dialect), but when they show you the view, they carefully indicate: “that village is in Slovenia, the few houses next to it are in Italy, the next village is Slovenia …” and so on. Collio is named Brda in Slovenian.

Vineyards in Zegla in the heart of Collio

Vineyards in Zegla in the heart of Collio

The predominantly white wines are generally dry and full-flavoured from a range of grape varieties. Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio and Friulano (formerly named Tocai Friulano) are the best known, though there is good Chardonnay and classy Sauvignon Blanc too, along with a handful of curiosities, most notably Ribolla Gialla, which made in the traditional way with a long maceration on the skins (most unusual for whites) is positively yellow and delicious. Most producers also make a blend which is simply designated as Collio DOC and is often the top of their range. It’s a good thing these white wines are full-flavoured because the hearty local food might, on first taste, call out for red; but persevere and you’ll find the full-bodied whites match really well. My enduring memory of tasting with the wine producers is being served fabulous dried hams (notably from the famous producer Lorenzo d’Osvaldo) and salamis, plus cheeses with great bread and olive oil.

There are few towns of any great size in Collio, the most important being Gorizia (which also has a Slovenian sector called Nova Goricia). We enjoyed exploring the smaller town of Cormons, especially sitting down on a balmy evening outside in the main square for a couple of glasses of wine and a plate of food at the friendly Enoteca di Cormons. We were also told about a joyous wine and food street festival in Cormons that we missed by a day – Fieste da Viarte, which is held on a Sunday at the end of May.

Patrizia Felluga in her vineyard

Patrizia Felluga in her vineyard

Back on the food trail, we had a lovely casual lunch at Luka, a trattoria in the important wine village of San Floriano del Collio. Owned by Patrizia Felluga of the famous Felluga wine dynasty, Patrizia also owns her own winery Zuani, producing just two excellent Collio DOC blends, and is the president of the Consorzio. Together with our friendly agritourismo hosts, wine producers Savina and Renato Keber, we also had a fabulous evening out at La Subida, one of the most important restaurants in the region.

La Subida is more than just a restaurant, as they also offer accommodation, have an equestrian centre and an informal trattoria down the road. Eating a meal at the beautiful La Subida restaurant is a real event, in a relaxed environment, with excellent local food and a huge wine list: if you have the budget to splash out, you should definitely seek advice on the wines to choose from the sommelier. The quality of La Subida, of the local white wines and the warm Slovenian-style welcome combine to show that Collio is a real heartland of gastronomy, something that until recently has been perhaps restricted to those ‘in the know’.

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