RTW wine



David Whitley picks out some of the best wine regions that can be built into a Round The World ticket, and offers some wine tourism tips.


The humble grape can do magical things when treated right, and with many New World wine regions easily built into a Round The World ticket, there’s a chance to go and visit the people who get it very right indeed. Over the last couple of decades, wine touring has gone from being seen as the preserve of the specialists to big business. You don’t have to be able to scribble down detailed tasting notes to be able to enjoy a trip round the wineries – many cater for the clueless-but-interested. If you can learn a little whilst tasting, then great, but if not, there’s no crime in just going along for the ride and enjoying the tipples.


Wine tour tips


The first key point about going on a wine tour is that, if you genuinely want to enjoy it, you’re probably going to need someone to drive you around the wineries. Forget about all that spitting it out nonsense – if you’re going wine tasting, you may as well taste the good stuff properly. Alas, that’s probably going to put you over the driving limit in most countries.In the wine regions, there are usually a fair few tour companies. The cheapest tend to drive a large bus around and if you can avoid these tours, it’s for the best. They tend to be rather impersonal and due to the sheer numbers, they’ll often only visit the big, commercial wineries. It’ll be slightly more expensive to organise a personal tour, but surprisingly not that much more per person – particularly if you can get a group of four together. 


Smaller, personalised tours are usually a much better experience. The driver will be able to tailor it to your tastes, picking out the wineries that produce the drops you’re likely to enjoy rather than the ones that can cater for 30 people at once. The other key thing is that you should be prepared to experiment – try varietals you’ve never heard of and go for recommended small wineries rather than the big boys. After all, if you know exactly what Jacob’s Creek and Wolf Blass wines taste like after buying them in a UK supermarket, what’s the point in going to the other side of the world to try them?


RTW wine tours - USA


The area of California known as ‘Wine Country’ lies just to the north of San Francisco, and of the regions that make up ‘Wine Country’, the Napa Valley is the best known. It’s the place to go to for cabernet sauvignons, while zinfandels are increasingly popular. The Napa Valley can get extremely busy – particularly on weekends – so it’s worth looking at the less hyped likes of the Sonoma Valley and Dry Creek Valley. But whilst Californian wines are best known outside of the US, there’s also an increasing emphasis on wine growing in Oregon further north. World class pinot noir and pinot gris is being produced in the likes of the Willamette Valley and Southern Oregon regions.


RTW wine tours - Chile


A number of wine regions are within spitting distance of the Chilean capital, Santiago. The best known of these is the Maipó Valley, which is most famous for cabernet sauvignons. The Rapel and Curicó Valleys slightly further south are highly regarded for cabernets and chardonnays respectively, although you’re likely to get a taste of some good merlots and carménères. The latter is the variety that is seen as fairly unique to Chile, even though it originated in France’s Bordeaux region. 


RTW wine tours – Argentina


The Mendoza region – just on the other side of the Andes from the main Chilean regions – is Argentina’s major wine hub. And whilst it used to just pump out as much cheap plonk as possible, the desire to feed the export market has seen quality rise hugely in the last decade or two. This has led to another nice bonus – a huge boom in tourism as people come for wine tasting, juicy steaks and spectacular mountain views. Big, fighty malbecs are the key varietal in these parts, but tempranillos, cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays also get a major look-in.


RTW wine tours - South Africa


The Cape Winelands outside Cape Town have a spectacularly stark look about them in the height of summer – but the regions of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl are well set up for wine tourism. A lot of the wineries have a neat little gimmick to draw in the guests (one has its own cheetah sanctuary, another has goats meandering around a Rapunzel-like tower) but the quality is generally good. Pinotage is the varietal most readily associated with South Africa, although Chenin Blanc is the most-planted grape.


RTW wine tours - Australia


Australia is the place where it’s easy to fall into the big bus around the well known wineries trap. It really pays to look for the more personalised options here, even if the big wineries won’t exactly disappoint. South Australia is the daddy of the wine-producing states, with the Barossa Valley being almost synonymous with a bold shiraz. Great cabernet sauvignons can be found in the Coonawarra, while McLaren Vale is a good bet for a range of styles. The Margaret River region in South-West Western Australia is known for its quality over quantity approach, with a good mix of varieties, while Tasmania’s cooler climate has led to very promising rieslings, pinot noirs and sparkling wines. From Sydney, the easiest wine region to reach is the Hunter Valley (a couple of hours north). Wine tourism is big business there – and chardonnays, semillon blancs and shirazes are common.


RTW wine tours – New Zealand


Marlborough, in the north-eastern corner of the South Island, is often regarded as producing the world’s best sauvignon blancs. The region – which has Blenheim as the hub – is the biggest in the country. Further south, the Central Otago region near Queenstown is gaining a reputation for excellent pinot noirs. On the North Island, Hawkes Bay is the best wine touring area in New Zealand for those who prefer reds – they’re often blends, mind – and has some nice sauvignon blancs and chardonnays as well.