Could a wine tour be one of the most romantic trips to do with your loved one? Driving around beautiful countryside, drinking great wine at local prices and enjoying dinner after dinner in small family restaurants. India tells us why, for her, it is…
Having created my own wine tours around France, Spain and Italy, I’ve developed a certain love for the Italian wine scene. You could go basically anywhere in the country and be able to drink well. Italy is a marvellous country to explore. Coastlines. Beaches. Cliff tops. Volcanoes. Rolling hills. Mountains. Ancient architecture. Lemon trees for miles. Olive trees lining the roads. Vineyards as far as the eye can see.
All at a fraction of the cost it would be to go to California, New Zealand or South Africa (also good wine holiday destinations).
I could go on for days. In fact, I could go back right now. Here are my top 10 tips so you can come too! See you there!
1 Rent a car
The Italian roads have a bad reputation, but the sights and wineries you can explore by car vastly outweigh the constant feeling of danger and imminent death because of your fellow drivers!
Trust me. If your relationship can survive driving the Amalfi Coast it can survive anything.
2 Drink Local
Whatever region you decide to explore you should aim to drink and eat local. Italy is famous for having kept hold of traditional grapes, ingredients and recipes so be sure to sure to ask them what grapes they grow nearby, what wineries are near that village and what the local food specialities are.
3 Embrace the aperitivo
Aperitivo o’clock may be my favourite time in Italy. You should make the most of the opportunity to people watch as everyone who is anyone heads out to be seen and catch up on the local gossip. Head to a bar in the early evening to enjoy some traditional wine-based drinks like Campari, Aperol or Amaro before dinner.
4 Stay Local
The best places to stay are Agriturismos (not easy to say after all that wine). They are a type of accommodation the Italians have totally mastered, the best description is a farmhouse on a working farm, although you are a guest and not expected to pitch in. Each one is entirely unique which means that you get a real taste of the local culture, your hosts often feed you really well. There are thousands across Italy so plenty to choose from if you want to know more you can here or just daydream at Agriturismo.it. The picture above is in Sicily.
5 Do some winery homework
Organised wine tours often have their own agenda so planning your own can be a lot more rewarding. It is more than possible to do some research and then contact wineries directly and ask them for a tour and a tasting. Some will charge a fee but it is better to pay this directly to those making the wine than the tour guide anyway. Our rule of thumb is 2 or 3 per day, otherwise they all blur together.
6 Follow your tastebuds
Pick an area where you like the wine (or food) from as you will get more out of it. Do you love Chianti? Head to Tuscany. Do you love bold and rustic flavours? Visit Sicily. Prosecco queen? Go to Venice or Verona and tour the Prosecco vineyards from there.
Even if you think you know these wines it will mean so much more to see the area they are from and taste a range that probably never make it out of Italy.
7 Tap into the local knowledge
Ask at local tourist information centres or even in restaurants where you have a good rapport with the waiter for advice on activities. Italian people are very hospitable and enjoy putting people together. They will relish the chance to get their Nonna to give you a pasta lesson – this really happened to me!
8 Go Bio
Ask about organic or biodynamic wines as Italy has a huge selection of these wine even though not many make it over to our shelves. Lots of these more naturally-made wines have been made like this for centuries but the family just don’t bother with the legal bureaucratic certification.
9 Go shopping
Take some wines and local ingredients home with you to remember the trip.
10 Get the inside track
If there is a wine that you really fall in love with it is always worth asking the winemaker (or emailing if you try it in a restaurant) if they have a UK distributor. That way you can track it down when you get home and don’t need to try and pack it up to take home. Just beware of the price difference.
What’s your top wine travel tip?