Classic Old-World Destinations for Wine Lovers

If you want to explore where the iconic wines of the Old World come from, follow our guide for the ultimate trip to Italy, Germany, France and Portugal.
Photo courtesy of Michele Falzone / Robert Harding

There will come a time when you’ll feel the need to leave the comfort of your dining table and explore the wines you revere at their points of origin. It’s not exactly a hard sell. Iconic regions, after all, deliver magnificent scenery, exciting food, upscale lodging and the chance to acquire rare treasures in perfect provenance straight from cellars.

For the trip, or trips, of a lifetime, this guide divulges the hotels, restaurants and producers you should experience to savor four of the world’s most collector-worthy wines: Brunello di Montalcino from Italy; Riesling from the Mosel Valley; Port from the Douro Valley; and Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Burgundy.

Montalcino, Italy
Montalcino, Italy / Photo by Michael Housewright

Montalcino, Italy

Like other fabled Italian wine regions, Montalcino is a tale of old and new. For context, study Italian Editor Kerin O’Keefe’s book, Brunello di Montalcino: Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines, to become familiar with the region’s seminal wines and best producers. Plan visits accordingly, and make sure to secure reservations to tour top estates that are often appointment-only.

Where to Stay

Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco delivers five-star luxury at commensurate prices within the Val d’Orcia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Conjure Gladiator while you drive the cypress-edged road to Castello Banfi Il Borgo. A beautiful hamlet with a magnificent castle, it’s popular with newlyweds for its picturesque hilltop position. For intimate lodging, book an escape nestled within the vines at Villa San Giuseppe, run by the wine family behind Stella di Campalto. Villa Armena Relais exudes Old World romance. It’s the former 16th century country residence of the noble Malavolti family of Siena. And for laidback, farmhouse chic near the tiny but intriguing village of Pienza, try L’Olmo.

Where to Drink & Eat

Montalcino’s historic center dates to the end of the 12th century. Wander in search of Italy’s bottle shop/restaurant hybrid, the enoteca. Enoteca La Fortezza di Montalcino does Brunello flights in the atmospheric old fortress, while Enoteca di Piazza Montalcino’s Enomatic spouts allow for power tasting. Nearby, sleek Enoteca Franci sells bottles and reimagined Tuscan food. Book Re di Macchia for seasonal cuisine and authentic regional classics like wild boar ragù, or follow the wine pros to Osteria Osticcio for charcuterie complemented by gorgeous views. Even if you don’t stay at Castello Banfi Il Borgo, stop by the terrace to choose from back vintages of Poggio Alle Mura. Book a table for lunch at La Terrazza del Chiostro in Pienza, and enjoy vistas for days.

Wineries to Visit

Set amid Sangiovese vines, Conti Costanti’s wines are legendary, with roots in the region that date back 500 years. Tastings include an hourlong tour. Fattoria dei Barbi is another prestigious estate that deserves a spot on an icons tour. Barbi’s “blue label” Brunello is recognized around the world. Taste old vintages and dine on dishes like braised beef at its rustic farm estate, La Taverna dei Barbi. Far younger, but no less influential, Poggio di Sotto was founded in 1989 and overlooks the lovely Val d’Orcia just outside Castelnuovo dell’Abate. Visits are available, though an appointment is required. Whether or not you stay overnight at Villa San Giuseppe, don’t miss Stella di Campalto’s organic and biodynamic wines.

Mosel Valley, Germany
Mosel Valley, Germany / Photo by Michael Housewright

Mosel Valley, Germany 

Despite all its glorious, ageworthy Rieslings revered by collectors for generations, the Mosel Valley remains delightfully quiet. Few global hotel brands have penetrated the market, and most local businesses publish their websites in German only. The upside: Fairytale castles, steep hand-worked vineyards and quaint half-timber villages huddling around river bends keep the Old World allure alive.

Where to Stay 

Mosel lodging skews old-fashioned. The Weinromantikhotel Richtershof in Mülheim will make the cut for any grand tour. This sprawling property in a 17th-century winery has several spots for a drink or to dine. You can even walk through nearby vineyards. In Traben-Trarbach, the Romantik Jugendstilhotel Bellevue has a choice location on the river. Dining in the Belle Epoque restaurant affords lovely views of swans and boats. For a touch more modernity, take a two-minute walk to the recently updated Das Neue Moselschlösschen. Otherwise, sleep like royalty in Lieser at Schloss Lieser, a private castle turned five-star hotel that’s situated on a 27-acre Riesling vineyard.

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Where to Drink & Eat

Explore Michelin-rated restaurants in the Mosel. Start with three-star Victor’s Fine Dining by Christian Bau. In quaint Piesport, dabble in edible art at two-star Schanz Restaurant, paired with top wines from surrounding vineyards. Explore the tasting menu at Becker’s Restaurant, or take a break from lengthy meals with a glass inside at the weinbar. Rüssels Landhaus in Naurath offers exquisite food and a deep cellar. Owners have devoted a section to Nik Weis of Weingut St. Urbans-Hof, a familial relation. Humble dishes belie the renown of one of Germany’s greatest collections at Zeltinger Hof – Gasthaus des Rieslings. It offers a study in regional wines, replete with German Pinot Noir, or Spätburgunder.

Wineries to Visit

Tackle several classics first. Book a stop at Weingut Selbach-Oster for mineral-flecked Riesling. By appointment, make time for one of the Mosel’s most famous producers, Joh. Jos. Prüm in Wehlen. Ernst Loosen is a celebrity for his gregarious personality and collectable wines. Pick from several tasting options that include a four-course pairing menu at his recently revamped estate just outside Bernkastel-Kues. To sip without an appointment, stop at Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein’s vinothek. Biodynamic farming and textured whites make Weingut Clemens Busch a must. A father and son team runs Weingut Carl Loewen, founded in 1803. There, you can sample Riesling from some of the oldest vineyards in the world.

Burgundy, France
Burgundy, France / Photo by Konstantin Kalishko / Alamy

Burgundy, France

A breathtaking region recognized by UNESCO, Burgundy is the apex of wine travel for collectors. Yet, small productions and high prices, exacerbated by a spate of poor harvests, have led many domaines to cut back on or not offer tastings. The key is to know where to go and to book in advance.

Where to Stay

Like its wines, Burgundy’s lodging epitomizes elegance and discretion, rather than volume and power. In Chablis, Hostellerie de Clos occupies a 12th-century winery and converted hospital. Starwood devotees should book Château de la Resle for its outdoor pool and design-savvy interiors. Just outside of Beaune, Hostellerie de Levernois is a Relais & Châteaux venue that boasts a pretty streamside location surrounded by woods. The five-star Hotel Le Cep in Beaune maintains a genteel, Old World sensibility despite its modern, world-class luxury spa. Maison Lameloise in Chagny, 25 minutes outside of Beaune, offers simple, contemporary rooms you can roll into after an epic feast downstairs.

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Where to Drink & Eat

In Chablis, Hostellerie de Clos offers fine dining with a choice of nearly 900 wines. For a taste of regional specialties and local sips, Le Bistrot des Grands Cru is only a minute walk away. A trip of a lifetime deserves dinner with pairings at three-Michelin-star Maison Lameloise. Plunder the Burgundy-rich wine list at Hostellerie de Levernois in either the Michelin-starred dining room or on the terrace at market-driven Le Bistrot du Bord de l’Eau. For more variety, glass and bottle options abound at gastrobar La Maison du Colombier. In Chambolle-Musigny, Le Millésime serves traditional French fare. Le Relais de Saulx eschews classics for simple seasonal creations with organic and biodynamic bottles. Snag picnic supplies at Beaune’s best butcher, Boucherie Vossot.

Wineries to Visit

To explore Burgundy is to dial into the granularity of terroir. Starting in Chablis, William Fèvre, Domaine Christian Moreau and Domaine Laroche demonstrate how Chardonnay manifests in this northernmost appellation. South in Nuits-Saint-Georges, Domaine Faiveley covers the most important appellations and beyond. By appointment, Olivier Bernstein shows his sensual premier and grand crus. In Gevrey-Chambertin, Domaine Marchand-Grillot is a lesser-known, welcoming family outfit. In Beaune, flights at Bouchard’s Cave du Château reveal a range of exquisite Pinot Noirs. The price to taste at Maison Joseph Drouhin depends on the selection, though should include one of its glorious Côte de Beaune Chardonnays, whether Puligny or Meursault.

Douro Valley, Portugal
Douro Valley, Portugal / Photo by Thomas Stankiewicz / Robert Harding

Douro Valley, Portugal

In a decade, Portugal’s obscenely beautiful Douro Valley has evolved from a sleepy hinterland of remote vineyards to a wine collector’s dream destination. Infrastructure improvements and a new crop of hotels offer fresh enticements beyond the city. Romantic Porto, detailed with cobblestone streets, tiled façades and historic Port houses, deserves several days.

Where to Stay

The Yeatman hotel, a member of the Relais & Châteaux group, has long been regarded as Vila Nova de Gaia’s pinnacle property. Nestled on a hill, its Instagram-friendly pool affords splendid views of Porto. To reach the valley, you can drive, sail, fly or ride the train. If you’re traveling by car, book luxury newcomer Six Senses Douro Valley, housed in a 19th-century manor house blessed with river vistas. Of course, sleeping at a quinta, or wine estate, is a must. Quinta do Vallado supplies a modern spin on a 300-year-old property, while boutique hotel Quinta Nova offers splashy arrivals by boat or helicopter. By scenic train, opt for antique-rich heritage hotel Vintage House Hotel in Pinhão.

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Where to Drink & Eat

For an iconic wine tour, the Michelin-starred The Yeatman Gastronomic Restaurant is a great starting point. A deep wine list reflects Portuguese classics and newcomers alike. Sip chilled tawny Port on the terrace of Vinum Restaurant & Wine Bar, a farm-to-table spot connected to The Graham’s 1890 Lodge. Celebrity chef Rui Paula operates the venerable DOP and DOC restaurants, armed with serious wine cellars. Castas e Pratos serves contemporary bites and well-priced bottles in Peso da Régua. Worship Bacchus at the altar of Capela Incomum wine bar. In Pinhão, sip a Port cocktail at the Library Bar at Vintage House Hotel, then tuck into Douro classics like codfish with peppers at The Rabelo Restaurant.

Wineries to Visit

To visit Port houses is a rite of passage. In Vila Nova de Gaia, Ramos Pinto and Sandeman offer thoughtful museums, while old Colheitas are generously opened at Kopke. To understand the Douro’s heroic viticulture, ride the rails to Pinhão and visit Quinta do Bomfim’s tasting room and museum. Fonseca’s Quinta Do Panascal was one of the first houses in the Duoro region to welcome visitors. Historic house Quinta do Noval offers tastings from scenic terraced-vineyards. While the Douro Valley’s fame derives from its fortified wines, a new breed of dry, structured reds has ignited interest. Leading the marketing charge are the Douro Boys, a group of five wineries that includes Quinta de Nápoles, owned by Dirk Niepoort.

Published on November 19, 2018
Topics: Travel
About the Author
Lauren Mowery
Contributing Editor, Travel

Lauren Mowery is an award-winning writer, photographer, and blogger who has contributed wine- and spirits-related travel content to publications like Fodors.com, Lonely Planet, Voyeur (Virgin Australia’s inflight publication), Forbes, USA Today, Men’s Journal and TimeOut, among others. Pursuing her Master of Wine certification, she has also been a regular wine and spirits writer for Tasting Panel, Somm Journal, Punch and SevenFifty Daily. Mowery is a graduate of the University of Virginia and Fordham Law School, and transitioned from a Manhattan law career to wine via a role with the wine group at Gilt Taste. Today, she spends nearly six months of her year on the road. Email: lmowery@wineenthusiast.net




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