Five top destinations for the wine tourist


This is a longer version of an article also published in the Financial Times.

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The greatest concentration of expensive wine in the world. St-Émilion is the prettiest wine town there. Most Médoc properties are deserted most of the year but Château Pichon Longueville in Pauillac is a welcoming exception and Alain Juppé has scrubbed up the city of Bordeaux, which is now teeming with places to taste such as the CIVB's Bar à Vins and Max on the main shopping street. (See Visiting Bordeaux from 2009.)

Fly to the handsome, arcaded town of Torino but head south to the smaller towns of Alba and the rolling Langhe hills (Barolo and Barbaresco country, pictured), where it is virtually impossible to eat badly. The most modest café seems to insist on serving at least four courses of great ingredients left mercifully untarted up. Agriturismos proliferate. Producers used to insist on appointments but 'the crisis' probably makes them more welcoming at the moment. Fontanafredda is always open. November is white truffle season.

Napa and Sonoma
California's most famous wine region has become such a tourist mecca that Route 29 is to be avoided in high season; head for the pretty Silverado Trail on the east side of the valley. Most wineries are absolutely thrilled to cut out the cumbersome US distribution system and welcome you in. Restaurants both in the Valley and in Napa town itself are excellent, but Sonoma to the immediate west is more rustic, with Healdsburg a good base for exploration. (See Being a tourist in the Napa Valley from 2008.)

South Africa's wine country has to be some of the world's most beautiful. Stellenbosch, Paarl and particularly Franschhoek can offer a wide range of places to eat and stay and Vineyard Connection specialise in shipping your wine back home. November to harvest time in March is the obvious season for visitors from the northern hemisphere. Most wineries are thrilled by visitors; Steenberg in Constantia combine top-quality wines with a luxurious hotel and golf course. See this 2003 article about Travelling in South African winelands.

Douro Valley
Port country has always been some of the wine world's most dramatic but now it has the hotels and infrastructure to show it off from. Oporto at the mouth of the river has been revitalised just as Bordeaux has with good, modern restaurants and hotels to match such as the wine-centred Yeatman owned and run by Taylor's port. In the wilds of the valley is the thoroughly hip Quinta da Romaneira, the brainchild of AXA's head of wine Christian Seely.