Take wine tasting to the next level with these all-new estate hotels an tasting experiences, advises Alice Lascelles
Wine and wanderlust have long gone hand-in-hand. Now, a fresh crop of hotels, retreats and tasting rooms are offering oenophiles the chance to get straight to the heart of the action.
New for New Zealand is the Cloudy Bay Shed (cloudybay.co.nz), a beautifully appointed cellar door in Central Otago, the South Island region that famously served as the spectacular backdrop for the Lord of the Rings movies. Set in a lush garden among acres of vines, this state-of-the-art, glass-walled tasting room is the place to sample the Cloudy Bay vineyard’s celebrated pinot noir, before enjoying a barefoot barbeque under the stars. If that whets your appetite, Cloudy Bay also offers ‘From Forage to Table’, a six-day gourmet extravaganza of spear-fishing, oyster-shucking, foraging, wilderness picnics, vineyard tours, helicopter flights over fjords and glaciers, and private dinners at its HQs in Central Otago and Marlborough, accompanied by lashings of its top wines. I had a little taster of this, and all I can say is: prepare to be amazed.
The curator of this – and many other – exclusive wine trips is Clos 19 (clos19.com), the online ‘lifestyle retail house’ from luxury drinks company Moet Hennessy. With access to a whole portfolio of illustrious wine estates and distilleries around the world including Krug, Ruinart, Hennessy and Glenmorangie, as well as New World wineries including Cloudy Bay, Newton Vineyard in Napa and Argentina’s Cheval des Andes, it’s a one-stop shop for epicurean adventure. Choose from a range of prêt-à-porter packages, or talk to them about arranging something tailor-made.
Bespoke travel specialists Black Tomato (blacktomato.com) have also teamed up with online restaurant magazine Eater to create Eater Journeys, a new series of itineraries taking in some of the world’s top eating and drinking destinations. A highlight for wine lovers would be the Paris & Burgundy trip, which begins with a safari through some of the city’s most famous restaurants, bars and food shops, before culminating in truffle hunting and wine tasting in the heart of Burgundy.
Despite its glamorous reputation, Champagne used to be curiously short on good hotels, but that’s all changed since the arrival of the Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa (royal champagne.com), a sumptuous, creamy-coloured retreat among the vines, just outside Epernay. The panoramic views from the roof terrace are glorious, the spa is delightful and the champagne list to die for, but what this five-star hotel offers above all is the contacts to create a wine trip that’s really unique: a one-to-one champagne tutorial for instance, or a private visit to Hautvilliers, the spiritual home of Dom Perignon, as well as access to the kind of cult, independent champagne houses that are not normally open to the public.
One of my favourite jaunts of the last year was a visit to the sleepy but utterly enchanting appellation of Sauternes in the south of Bordeaux. Oft overlooked in favour of its more high-octane neighbours in the north of the region, Sauternes is now seeing major investment. Lalique CEO and wine magnate Silvio Denz has poured huge amounts of time, love and money into the 13th-century Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey (chateau-lafaurie-peraguey.com), restoring its famous winery, and adding a Michelin-starred restaurant and a crystal-encrusted hotel. Situated just a short bike ride from several other eminent chateaux – including the ravishing Chateau d’Yquem – this dramatic property is a wonderful base from which to explore this lovely region.
Just down the road from Lafaurie-Peyraguey, the luxury hotel group Six Senses (sixsenses.com) is also in the process of revamping the Grand Cru Classé Château d’Arche. An opening date has not been set yet, but having stayed at Six Senses, Douro – a hotel with a very cool, pared-back aesthetic, wonderful wine list and glass-walled room looking out on the valley’s vertiginous vineyards – I have high hopes for this one.
Sometimes simply looking at the vines is not enough. At the five-star Castelfafli (castelfalfi.com) resort in Tuscany, wannabee vignerons can now adopt their own row of vines (or an olive grove) on the 1,100-hectare estate. Prices start at €260 for a row of organically farmed sangiovese vines, a tasting and tour of the estate, 20 bottles of Tenuta Castelfafli wine and an invitation to join the harvest. Even if you’re not in it for the wine, this cluster of farmhouses, cottages and apartments in a restored 800-year-old medieval hamlet is well worth a visit as it’s simply so unique.
If you’re heading down south to Sicily, be sure to arrange a visit to Tasca d’Almerita’s stylish new tasting room on the north face of Mount Etna (tascadalmerita.it). This sparingly renovated ‘palmento’ (a traditional Etnean wine cellar) lies just yards from the winery’s spectacular 99-terrace vineyards and is fully equipped for hosting private dinners and tastings, either in the lofty stone dining room or in the more cosy drawing room by the fire.
One of the most hotly anticipated openings in the US this year will be the Four Seasons Resort in California’s glitzy Napa Valley (fourseasons.com/napavalley). Blessed with its own vineyard, spa, garden-to-table restaurant, farmhouse-style lodgings (without the mud, of course) and views of the Palisades Mountains, it promises winemaking tutorials with the hotel’s renowned winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown, as well as tastings and vineyard tours by bike.
Closer to home, Lympstone Manor (lympstonemanor.co.uk) – chef Michael Caines’ romantic vineyard hotel on the Exe Estuary in Devon – will celebrate its first harvest this autumn. If you want to be sure of a front-row seat (and you can, quite literally, see the vines from your bedroom window) book sooner rather than later. And leave room for a Michelin-starred dinner of truly epic proportions.
But why wait until you get to your destination to pop the cork? Private jet company Vistajet (visajet.com) now offers in-flight tastings as well as expert advice on buying and investing in fine wine. The company’s well-connected concierges can also arrange a spin around your favourite wine region: how about a 3-day tour of Tuscany and Umbria including dinner with the Antinori family, helicopter vineyard tours and accommodation on the family estates?
Oenotourism has well and truly had an upgrade.