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Straight to the vine

Jane Anson visits the cities renowned for their vino, and finds some ideal venues for a business meeting, with a chance to sample the local produce thrown into the bargain


Visiting wine properties in person used to be strictly for the over-enthusiastic. Until ten years ago, certainly in Europe, you’d be lucky if you found a bathroom in the cellars, let along an English speaking guide or something to eat. But wine tourism is suddenly sexy, and wine regions are waking up to the potential of it, both in terms of getting closer to their customers, and finding new revenue streams for their properties. In 2004, nearly 15 million people visited Napa, and the same year saw nearly five million visits to Australian vineyards. A short cut to finding out the best ones is by making use of the Great Wine Capitals (GWC) network – an association of eight cities all centred around wine, who hold annual awards to recognise the best wine tourism projects. I came across this group in Argentina last year, and it seemed like the perfect thing for those of us who believe that wine always tastes better on location… and if you go one step further and organise your corporate events in wine properties, it would definitely be one way of making sure that all your delegates attend

Bordeaux: Chateau Giscours
Try their: Chateau Giscours, Margaux 2004, with wood pigeon and roasted shallots

‘Coming to Bordeaux without visiting a wine property is like going to Las Vegas without sampling a casino.’ So says Marc Verpaalan, the events director at Chateau Giscours, with good reason. Not only has Giscours been a classified growth since 1855, but it was the 2007 international winner in the conference and events category of the GWC awards (WiFi in the 19th century meeting rooms may have swung the judges), and is soon to start holding cricket matches in its extensive grounds. The wine is often very well priced for a classified Margaux, and both Giscours and its sister property Chateau du Tetre have invested heavily in quality over the past few years. This 2004 is a wonderful inky colour, with layers of liquorice, woodsmoke and plenty of ripe, enticing blackberries. Sit back, and sink in.

Florence: Castello di Gabbiano
Try their: 2003 Chianti Reserva with wild boar pasta

This gorgeous wine has the traditional chianti strawberries, leather and soft summer fruits, but with great depth of flavour and bite, and more concentrated and structured tannins than their rather thin basic chiantis. Besides this Reserva, the estate produces two turbo-charged Super Tuscans – Bellezza and Alleanza – both of which are worth tracking down. And what a place to bring clients. You’re just a few miles from Florence here, in a 12th century castle with ten bedrooms, a modern winery, and relaxed restaurant. And remember, this is Italy, so you’re not just getting the wine experience, but also grappa, extra virgin olive oil, olives and balsamic vinegars.

Rioja: Marques de Riscal
Try their: Marques de Riscal Reserva 2002 with salmon fish cakes and crisp green salad

For a more glamorous business event, and one where you’ll have a hard time stopping partners and wives from attending, the Marques de Riscal in Rioja is hard to beat. Frank Gehry, fresh from his triumph at the Guggenheim Bilbao, designed this ‘city of wine’; €60 million worth of red, gold and silver titanium and stainless steel ribbons, billowing over a 43-roomed hotel, conference centre, museum and spa. Marques de Riscal is one of the oldest producers in Rioja, bottling its first vintage in 1862. Its Reserva wines are aged for two years in American oak, and the 2002 manages to combine great tannic structure with a healthy dollop of acidity, and that tell-tale strawberry sweetness of a good tempranillo.

Melbourne: Tahbilk
Try their 2006 Marsanne with a grilled tuna steak and roasted peppers

This winery is in the heart of Victoria, about two hours from Melbourne. It’s been recognised by the GWC awards for the past three years, primarily for its wetlands and wildlife reserve along the Goulburn River.  Back in the winery, one of their most interesting bottles in the Marsanne – a native white grape of the northern Rhone that is fairly unusual to find it in Australia (in fact the whole country has less than 250 acres of vineyards given over to it, so you’ve really got something to talk about). Even more unusual are such deftly made examples as this 2006, which manages to keep the typically rich, lucious amber colour while accentuating the more delicate floral, honey-suckle flavours that can be teased out of the grape.

Napa: Saint Supery
Try their: Cabernet Sauvigon 2004 with a filet steak, green beans and pancetta

This is Napa, so you don’t have to worry about entertaining your guests: at Saint Supery, you can choose from barrel tastings, food and wine matching, harvest weekends, blending masterclasses, plus there’s an art gallery and concert evenings. But all this is back drop to the wines. The 2002 Cabernet Sauivignon is a perfect example of what makes this place stand out – dense and rich, with layers of plum, cherry and blackcurrant, and no hard edges.  The wines from this estate are also perfectly capable of ageing, so feel very comfortable trying out some older vintages.
Porto: Ferreira
Try their: 20 Year Old Tawny with goats cheese and onion compote

There’s something magical about both the UNESCO World Heritage city of Porto, and the way in which port is made, that makes it a fabulous destination. Ferreira can date its origins in the Duoro Valley back to 1751, long enough to perfect its technique. Their 20 Year Old tawny is a near-perfect example of why we should never forget about this sometimes unfashionable drink – coppery hues, hidden depths and the perfumed flavours of oxidation. Your mouth is filled with dry fruits, spices and a hint of marmalade, all of which just seem to go on and on. And remember; no need to decanter a tawny.

Cape Town: Spier
Try their: Spier Private Collection Shiraz 2004 with a Goan prawn curry

Probably best to head straight to the top at this estate, with their Private Collection, and this bottle, where the shiraz has 5 percent viognier to lift it. The white grape keeps things on the right side of spice and power, allowing the layers cinnamon and new oak vanilla to be tempered by savoury hints of white pepper. On the tourism side of things, Spier is one of the most developed wineries in South Africa, with a conference centre, hotel, yearly music programme, and until recently a train that ran directly between the estate and Cape Town. Safe to say that you’d find plenty to do to keep your delegates occupied…

Mendoza: Familia Zuccardi
Try their Zuccardi Q 2004 Chardonnay with smoked haddock

A truly fresh producer – both in terms of their wines and winery. Not only is there a shop with plenty of as-yet-unreleased wines (although I have to say I tried a very unwise 15 percent-alcohol pinot noir), but an art museum, restaurant and entertaining space. Their premium wine is Zuccardi Zeta, a blend of tempranillo and malbec that practically needs a room to itself. The 2004 chardonnay is from the excellent value Zuccardi Q range. This one too is hardly shy and retiring – you almost have to scoop the honey off the side of the glass – but there are some beautifully engaging slices of passion fruit and citrus that pick up the palate.

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