Heading abroad? Immerse yourself in the wine culture

Renee Kuo
The best souvenir might be the memories of a visit to vineyards
Where will your holiday plans take you this summer? If to the hills of Tuscany or the beaches of France, chances are you will have no qualms about ordering Italian or French wines on your travels. Likewise if you plan to visit California, Australia, or South Africa. If, however, your destination is somewhere more exotic, you may be more inclined to stick with the safety of beer with your meal or a familiar but less-than-exciting wine label. Having just returned from a trip to Japan, I would urge you to break free from the familiar and instead to try the local wine, at least once. If you can’t imagine seeking out a McBurger when abroad, shouldn’t experiencing a new culture extend to wine as well as food?

During our trip, my husband and I had the pleasure of joining 5th generation winemaker, Ayana Misawa, at her family’s vineyard in the foremost grape growing region in Japan, about two hours away from Tokyo by express train. There, we sampled some of the best wine from the Koshu grape I have ever tasted. Koshu, a grape native to Japan, makes refreshingly crisp and acidic wines which pair perfectly with sushi and sashimi. It’s a wonderful alternative to sake, especially at around just 13 per cent alcohol by volume rather than sake’s 17 to 20 per cent. Unfortunately, almost all Koshu wines are consumed domestically and very few make it to the UK. For this reason, I suggest purchasing your favourite wines abroad, and if you cannot ship cases back easily, you can always stow a few bottles away in your luggage. Protect a bottle in your luggage by ensconcing it in a pair of socks (clean, preferably), and a few layers of clothing (dark, preferably) and you’ll have a wonderful souvenir to savour upon your return.

Of course, if traveling to a country with renowned wine regions, you’ll likely find yourself spoiled for choice on restaurant wine lists and in retail shops, although a recent visit to Florence proved there were little savings to be found in Tuscan retail wine shops versus UK retail merchants.

In this case, the best souvenir might be the memories of a visit to vineyards or chateaux. Bordeaux and Tuscany are visitor-friendly; visits can usually be scheduled a few weeks in advance after emailing a contact found on the estate’s website. Burgundy and Piedmont can be more challenging as the estates tend to be smaller and family-run, meaning less time to focus on tours if there’s work to be done back at the winery. Still, it’s always possible to join a guided tour of a handful of larger wineries or take your own cycle tour through the vineyards. I’ve done this in Burgundy as well as Napa Valley; Napa also offers hot air balloon trips. Wherever your travels take you this summer, I hope you enjoy an adventure in wine, whether tasting something new or touring your favourite wine region by cycle or air.


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