Vine times for travellers

The Henschke Hill of Grace vineyard in the Eden Valley produces an iconic Australian wine. — DRAGAN RADACAJ

The more you travel, the more you realise how little you know about the world. The more you read travel lists, the more you realise how little you know about travel.

Like many of us, I’m distracted by “best of” lists as well as wines, so when I saw an announcement of the “World’s Best Vineyards”, I sat up and paid attention. I have a mental list of great vineyards I have visited during my many years of “research” into wines (that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!).

Writing about wines involves considerable research, and the best research is done in the vineyards and wineries of the world with the vintners and vignerons who create the great joys that are wines.

Wine is a reflection of where the grapes are grown and the people who make the beverage. There is considerable enjoyment in seeing where the grapes are grown rather than just admiring wine labels and bottle shapes on a supermarket shelf. There is also something magical about seeing the vines flourishing and speaking to the passionate people who are involved in turning vines into wines.

Wine touring is both pleasurable and educational, and for me, it’s an essential component of an overseas holiday in countries where wines are produced (that’s some 70 countries from Algeria to Zimbabwe).

Selecting the best vineyards in the world is very subjective, but the Best Vineyards Of The World Academy was established to help narrow down the tens of thousands of wine estates into a manageable list.

Each member of the academy submitted seven nominations for the vineyards that impressed them the most in their travels. There were 500 nominations, and from this, the Top 50 estates were selected.

Wine academy

The best vineyards list recognises the best wine tourism or oenotourism opportunities around the world, with a focus on the best travel experiences for wine lovers and not simply the quality of the wines.

These days, producing wine is merely one function for many wineries, with numerous other activities creating reasons for wine lovers to visit. These include wine tastings, cellar tours, dining, retail sales and even on-site accommodation. So, the wines are just one component in compiling the list.

If you have ever visited a wine region and several wineries in one day, you know that some stand out from the pack – a chance encounter with the owner, a seven-course degustation paired with aged vintages from the estate, a Frank Gehry-designed visitors’ centre, or the cute dog sitting in the corner of the tasting room.

A global team of acknowledged wine experts was selected, and then they recruited their own regional experts who regularly visit vineyards. The only criteria was that the vineyards had to be open to the public, but then the teams of experts, including wine writers, travel writers, sommeliers and wine authors, were left to decide the best, with each voting for just seven vineyards.

These votes were then tabulated to determine the Top 50 List.

The winners’ circle

Catena Zapata in Argentina’s Mendoza region was voted #1 in the 2023 World’s Best Vineyards Awards at a ceremony recently staged in Spain’s famous Rioja wine region.

Founded in 1902, the oldest Argentine family winery is highly regarded for its pioneering role in bringing Malbec to the fore. Catena Zapata became more appealing as a winery destination when the Angelica Cocina Maestra Restaurant opened in its La Piramide Vineyard.

The architecturally stunning and somewhat whimsical Marques de Riscal in Rioja came in second place, as well as winning Europe’s top vineyard. Founded in 1858, the winery is where the first Rioja wines were bottled, back in 1862. It is also where the trend of covering bottles of Rioja in golden mesh began as a seal of authenticity.

Today, the vineyard is also known for its futuristic Gehry-designed hotel located among the vines. With just 61 luxurious rooms and suites, the two buildings are linked by a spectacular cantilevered walkway.

The Chilean vineyard VIK, with another Gehry-designed hotel, was awarded third place. Positioned on a hill in the middle of the valley, the estate incorporates spectacular views of the towering Andes Mountains.

South Africa’s Creation, with on-site holiday cottages, was placed fourth. Fifth was the highly-regarded Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte in Bordeaux, France.

The other top 10 vineyards were: Bodega Garzon (Uruguay), Montes (Chile), Schloss Johannisberg (Germany), Bodegas Salentein (Argentina), and El Enemigo Wines (Argentina).

Global wineries

From the Top 50 list, I identified several vineyards that I had visited: Weingut Dr Loosen, Germany (#12), Domane Wachau, Austria (#14), Klein Constantia, South Africa (#32), and, d’Arenberg (#17), Henschke (#26) and Penfolds Magill Estate (#44) – which are all in Australia – and realised, I still had a lot of wine touring to research.

While I have not visited many vineyards on the list, I was satisfied with my accomplishments to date. My vineyard touring list includes some wonderful estates.

The Dr Loosen Estate beside the banks of the Mosel River in Bernkastel is one of Germany’s most picturesque wineries.The Dr Loosen Estate beside the banks of the Mosel River in Bernkastel is one of Germany’s most picturesque wineries.

Dr Loosen, in the Middle Mosel Valley near Bernkastel-Kues, has been championing deliciously fruity German Rieslings. The estate near the famous Himmelreich and the Zeltingen Sonnenuhr (a giant sundial dating back to 1620) creates a magical backdrop for the wines of the Mosel. My tip for wine touring here is to book into the Hotel Zeltinger Hof, get acquainted with the genial host, hire a bicycle, and set off down the valley to take in all that it has to offer.

Take an interest in the region’s delicious Rieslings and ask Markus Reis, the hotel’s owner, if he will show you his cellar brimming with ageing wines from estates such as Selbach-Oster, S. A. Prum, Schloss Lieser and Fritz Haag.

Few vineyards are as picturesque as Domane Wachau, located on the northern banks of the Danube River in the Wachau region of northern Austria. Sections of the river and its steep terraced vineyards from Melk to Krems are protected as a Unesco World Heritage Site, the same as the famous Lavaux stretch of vineyards in Switzerland (how estates like Patrick Fonjallaz perched here over Lac Leman remain a mystery to me).

They have been making wine in Austria for aeons, but the wine world is only waking up to the fact that indigenous grape varieties such as Gruner Veltliner produce superb food-friendly wines. Domane Wachau champions terroir, technology and authenticity in the wines that it produces from hand-harvested grapes (such is the rocky site; they claim they turn rocks into wine).

Check into the Loisium Wine and Spa Resort in nearby Langenlois and hire a bike to explore the wineries along the Danube.

A vineyard with both character and characters is d’Arenberg in South Australia’s McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide, the state capital. The winery has evolved to embody the very essence of the place.

Located where ancient soils are layered beneath rolling hills close to the coast, d’Arenberg comes under the spell of a mild Mediterranean climate that is perfect for grape production.

Chester and d’Arry Osborn craft their magic here with a variety of grapes, but especially Grenache and Shiraz. They have been described as “serious in the vineyard but ribald around open bottles”. They make Old World wines in a New World setting and now dabble in varieties such as Tinto Cao, Tempranillo, Cinsault and Nebbiolo. Their Dead Arm Shiraz is an iconic Australian red wine.

While d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant captured the early attention of discerning diners, it is the d’Arenberg Cube (in the shape of a Rubick’s cube) that lures discerning global diners.

On a global scale, Henschke at Keyneton in South Australia’s Barossa Valley has developed a huge reputation that extends over six generations of winemaking. Currently, Stephen and Prue Henschke oversee the operations, but their children are in the wings, ready to keep the family flame burning.

Johann Henschke migrated from Silesia in 1847 and, soon after, purchased farming land and began establishing vineyards. The legendary Hill of Grace vineyard unfolds in front of the Gnadenberg Lutheran Church, and the Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz is a benchmark wine that, even at $A950 (RM2,936) per bottle for the current vintage, has sold out.

A winery with an even longer history is Klein Constantia in South Africa. Simon van der Stel, the governor of the Dutch East Indies Cape Colony, established the picturesque estate in 1685. The granitic soils and cooling sea breezes were ideal for grape production. Its Cape Dutch-style homestead, flower gardens, vines and cellars make it one of the world’s most picturesque wine estates.

The vineyard captured the attention of European nobility, and the 500ml bottles (or in a magnum) of golden nectar made from Muscat de Frontignan have become an icon of dessert wines.

Precious wine maturing in barriques in Penfolds Magill Estate in suburban Adelaide.Precious wine maturing in barriques in Penfolds Magill Estate in suburban Adelaide.

Penfolds doesn’t need much introduction, but its Magill Estate in suburban Adelaide (South Australia) might.

Dating back to 1844, Magill Estate, just 8km to the east of the Adelaide CBD, is the home of Penfolds. It is where Dr Christopher Penfold planted vines that he had imported from Europe. He wisely advised his patients of the virtues of drinking wine and the company expanded.

Penfolds Grange is now one of the most highly regarded wines in the world. Visitors to Magill Estate can experience Grange and other famous Penfolds wines at Magill Estate, including dining at Penfolds Magill Estate Restaurant and pairing seasonal ingredients with Penfolds wines.

Use this best vineyards list to research your next wine-touring holiday:

World’s Top 10 Vineyards

1. Catena Zapata, Argentina

2. Bodegas de los Herederos del Marques de Riscal, Spain

3. VIK Winery, Chile

4. Creation, South Africa

5. Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, France

6. Bodega Garzon, Uruguay

7. Montes, Chile

8. Domane Schloss Johannisberg, Germany

9. Bodegas Salentein, Argentina

10. El Enemigo Wines, Argentina

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