Why am I suggesting you should consider what we’re going to call wine travel on your vacation? Well, consider wine’s unique place in our industrial world. A beverage like Coca Cola is the same in Peoria as it is in Madagascar. Companies spend millions to ensure this consistency. They don’t cave to local tastes. The profit in their flavored sugar water is through the roof, of course—that’s the point of industrial production.
But wine is different. Even the production from a single vineyard can vary in taste from year to year. Wine reflects the place it’s grown; the French call it “terrior”. While we travel, shouldn’t we seek the things that are local and unique? Shouldn’t we be able to relive our experiences in a place by purchasing a bottle of its typical wine and drinking it with our rendering of the typical food of the place?
The best wine is produced in places that aren’t the most fertile. Many wines are produced from vineyards nearly devoid of soil. A plump grape is good to eat and refreshing, but the concentrated flavor of a stressed grape can make a sublime wine. Here is a rather monochromatic picture of vines in Provence near Menerbes.
Our sense of smell passes through one fewer synapse to be processed. The idea of bringing back a pleasant experience is enhanced by the immediacy of this “less filtered” sensation. Sniff it and you’re transported to another place, another time.
Consider that food travel is all the rage. Wine has long been thought of as food, grapes brought from the field and bottled. Wine regions like Italy’s Piemonte or France’s Hermitage offer some of the best food in their country. Fine wine attracts fine chefs.
Wine Travel Exhibit One: Autumn in the Piemonte Region
Wine regions tend to be easy on the eye, especially in fall.
Wine Travel Exhibit Two: Castles Make Fine Wine Shops
You really can combine a great lunch, the purchase of a local wine, and visit to a castle when you decide to do a bit of wine travel. It’s efficient.
Here is the famous Piemonte Castle of Grinzane Cavour. It’s surrounded by vineyards, and there are great views all around. Inside you’ll find the “Cavour” Regional Enoteca, the first to be set up in Piedmont in 1967. You’ll also find a restaurant and an Ethnographic Museum which includes “displays on truffles, rare articles relating to the local food and wine tradition, 17th and 19th-century kitchen settings, a distillery from the 1700’s, a cask-maker’s workshop, and rural life” according to the castle’s website. There is a small entrance fee for all this, but it’s worth it.
Wine Travel Exhibit 3: Wine Relaxes You
If you’re feeling a little tense, there’s no reason not to sip a small bit of wine. Even the Bible (1 Timothy 5:23) admits to wine’s curative properties when it advises to take a little wine to ease the stomach. The New International Version:
“Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.”
Ancient Romans conquered the world by the transport of wine for the troops. No longer did they need to drink dodgy water, and while their enemies were sick from the polluted streams they drank from, they were an easy prey.
The following illustrated dramatically the effect of, well, perhaps over-indulgence. The statues brighten up a space beside the chapel of the Saint Donato Brotherhood that is today Barbaresco’s regional enoteca, where you can purchase some of the fine wines of the region. See Wine Tasting in a Church: Barbaresco to get the full story.
Wine Travel Exhibit 4: Learn Interesting Things
Wine is primary for most of the populations that produce it. Let’s consider some of wine’s interesting effects discovered in studies, Like “Exposure to wine had a persistent antibacterial effect.” And it’s not the alcohol or acidity, it’s “organic compounds found in both red and white wines. — Wine Kills Germs That Cause Sore Throats and Dental Plaque, Says Awesome Study
So I’m going to turn things around here. Ancient Romans avoided the diseases inherent in drinking water from polluted streams. The pollution could be “natural” if it came from animal feces, but often rivers passing through human populated areas were polluted by sewage and industrial manufacturing like the production of leather, which uses toxic chemicals which are released into streams from the “tanner’s quarter” of medieval towns. The drinking of wine (and beer in northern Europe) could be seen as opening up essential services to an evolving population, with the harm mitigated by the switch in daily beverage. Wine saves the day.
So Why Should We Experience Wine in Italy — or the Rest of Europe?
Each region of Italy has its unique grapes. In fact, Italy is the country with the greatest diversity of grape varieties in the world. Here’s a list. By the way Bombino Bianco goes great with fish in Puglia, especially if you have it inside a fishing contraption called a Trabucco
Again, this regional diversity is unique in the world. In most industrial wine production areas, there is a concentration of just a few varieties, and a rejection of those which aren’t as popular. That’s how you make the big bucks in countries which think of wine as a luxury. When wine is an everyday event, you grow what you have nearby, and tasting becomes a wonderland of possibilities.
Where can I get these unique wines, especially in a lockdown?
A few days ago we drank a bottle of a wine called “Pietra” made from one of Europe’s rarest grapes, Susumaniello. Tonight we’re tasting a French wine: Chateau De Fesles La Chapelle Chenin Anjou 2017.” These aren’t wines you can buy in most huge American bottle shops because of the need for huge quantities to stock all those stores.
How did I come across these wines then? Not by looking at shelves of bottles. I use a service called Last Bottle. They offer wines from all over the world which come to their Napa, California warehouse, announcing them one at a time via email. At this time of year during harvest season they offer a new wine each day, with free shipping if you buy 4-6 bottles or so. I got both the above wines from them. They offer interesting, vetted wines with flowing descriptions of the wine and the terroir. They are steeply discounted. You can explore their service and get 10 dollars off your first purchase by using this link if you wish.
When I travel, how do I find the “best” wine?
If you have limited time, you might want to consult a regional expert and book a tour with them. For example, if you’re planning a trip to Umbria where Sagrantino tops the list of unique red regional wines, and wanted folks with great experience in taking you to visit the best producers, I’d recommend Mark and Giselle of Gusto Wine Tours, who can take you around in style.
Or you can do it the wandering way. Just find a wine road, hit a wintery, and enjoy the discovery. Or ask someone in your hotel, B&B, or restaurant. That’s how we found the interesting Madravite in Umbria.