Where to Discover Europe’s Finest Wines
Sip the fruitiest, silkiest reds and savour the crispest, lightest whites while you’re away on a Lakes & Mountains holiday. Europe accounts for two thirds of the world’s wine production, so you’re never far from a local drop.
Most of Austria’s wines are produced in the east of the country, particularly around the north-east regions of Niederösterreich and Vienna. Zweigelt is one of its most popular red wines and is now the most widely grown grape variety in the country. If you think you don’t like red wines, give this one a go – its smooth, fruity and aromatic notes might just turn you.
One Austrian grape to look out for on wine lists is the white Grüner Veltliner. It only started to thrive 10-15 years ago but it now accounts for 30% of Austria’s vineyards due to its great ageing capability and spicy, peppery hints.
In Austria, it’s very common to have either white or red spritzers with lemonade – sweet, or soda water – sour. Wine purists may turn their nose up, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
You might not have tasted Swiss wine outside of Switzerland, but this isn’t because they don’t make any. In fact, they’re the tenth largest wine producer worldwide based on the proportion of land used. But Switzerland only exports around 2% of its wine. It’s so good, they’re keeping it for themselves.
Swiss wines taste very different to Austrian wines for a few reasons. It’s common for winemakers to encourage the second fermentation for a less acidic taste, and they then increase the final alcohol content by adding sugar.
At the centre of the wine production in the Rhone valley, between Montreux and Zermatt, is Sion. Vineyards have stretched across Sion since the Roman period, and it’s known for no less than four recognised grand cru varieties. Get a glass of the dry white Fendant from the chasselas grape, or if a red takes your fancy, the very light Dôle and fruity Syrah are commonly found in bars and restaurants.
The three largest Italian lakes lie across a collection of regions well known for their wine production. Veneto, Trentino, Lombardy and Piedmont produce some excellent varieties of red, white and rosé.
The Veneto now produces 20% of all Italy’s wines, with over 90,000 hectares of vineyards. Try a crisp white Soave from Soave itself, just 50 kilometres to the east of Lake Garda. On the lake itself, the town of Bardolino gives its name to the locally produced Bardolino, a red wine best drunk young. Or for a smoother, full-bodied variety, try the Valpolicella – look out for the top-quality ripasso or superiore variations for a little treat to take home with you.
Across the Lombardy region, the Lugana white – commonly drunk in a ‘spumante’ or sparkling variety – is popular, although the balance of whites and reds produced is pretty equal. In the Trentino region, you’ll find the international Ferrari wines – sparkling whites using the chardonnay are your best bet. If you fancy something a little different, try the local wines in jam form at the De Tarczal cantina near Riva del Garda and Torbole. To the west of Lake Como in the Piedmont region, well known red varieties like Barolo and Barbaresco are produced from the nebbiolo grape variety, which in Lombardy’s Valtellina area, is known more commonly as chiavennasca.
Visit by rail
Rail transfers in Switzerland are scenic adventures: a chance to see the Swiss countryside and a great way of spotting Swiss vineyards. In particular, the route from Geneva to Zermatt is anything but a transfer. Glide along the shores of Lake Geneva and into the heart of the Rhone valley. Look out for the famous Lavaux vineyards as you approach Montreux, swish through the Vaud canton and Valais canton, both covered with vineyards. Further towards Zermatt, you’ll pass through Visp, which is famous for having the highest altitude vineyards in Europe. With only fifteen hectares, the Heida variety is only grown here and is known to be one of the best Valaisan white wines around. As the parent or even grandparent to the sauvignon blanc, it’s got to be good.
Most transfers in Northern Italy will also take you an impressive scenic route. Much of the landscape is made up of rolling hills just covered in vineyards. And in the more mountainous areas, you can’t imagine how winemakers and farmers could attend to their harvest on such steep, terraced land. The Veneto region at the south of Lake Garda is much flatter, and the vineyards here lie amongst other agricultural farmland including peach, kiwi and olive groves. What a drive.