Shopping and eating are great, but my favorite activity to do when traveling is wine tasting. I love learning about the different processes and it’s a fun way to meet the locals. My two favorite regions for this are the Languedoc region of France and Tuscany region of Italy. Both are different and special in their own way.
France’s Languedoc region is located in the south-western part of the country. The region is France’s biggest producer of wine and most importantly (for me) it makes great Pinot Noir. The region has recently become a popular holiday spot for the French and other Europeans and is still somewhat of a hidden gem. The landscapes in this region are stunning with Mediterranean vegetation, lavender fields, and plenty of hilltop castles.
Tuscany is world renowned not only for its wine but some of the most recognizable renaissance architecture and amazing food. My favorite Italian red, Chianti comes from a sub region or Tuscany. I could spend days looking over the rolling green hills, sunflower fields, and cypress trees that characterize Tuscany’s landscape. Unlike Languedoc this region is saturated with tourists from allover the globe, but for good reason: there really isn’t anything else like it in the world.
How to go for a tasting
You can always book a tour and do wine tasting that way, but my suggestion is to head out on your own! In the Languedoc region of France my friends and I found some truly hidden gems by simply knocking on the door of the vineyard and saying “degustation”. Nine times out of ten we would be invited inside to try the wine and some excited producers even gave us an impromptu tour. Anywhere in France you can also go to the local Cavu and fill up your own tvessel (empty water jug, etc) of wine for only a few euro. We found some lovely rosés for drinking by the pool this way!
In Tuscany most of the vineyards tend to charge for tasting, but if you end up buying the wine they will sometimes discount the charge or even refund it. Some of the more popular vineyards even ask you to reserve a time to do a tasting. During high season I would recommend calling ahead to see if you need to make a booking or not. Another option for wine tasting in Tuscany is going to a wine bar. You will be given a card that you can load up with money. You then stick the card into a wine dispenser and choose which wine you would like a splash of. It’s basically like an adult vending machine. One place we went to had over 150 wines to try!
How to taste
Step 1 Look. Hold the wine up in the glass and look at the color and notice how much light it able to penetrate.
Step 2 Swirl and sniff. Swirling increases the aromatic compounds of the wine making it better for smelling.
Step 3 Taste. Take a small sip (making a slurping sound) and allow it to move across your tongue.
Step 4 Spit or swallow. Spitting the wine is not considered insulting or rude. If I plan to do a lot of wine tasting in one day I will usually spit after each taste so that I don’t get too tipsy.
When I first started tasting wine I had no idea what I was doing. Taking a wine tasting class helped to give me the basic foundation of how to taste. I now try to refine my pallet by comparing tasting and smelling notes with friends or whoever is leading the tasting. Sometimes I will be way off, but that is how you learn!
After you taste do not feel pressured to purchase a bottle. If you are traveling back home by air check what the restrictions are on wine! In the US the max is two bottles per person, so make them count! If you want to bring more than two bottles back many vineyards will ship for you. I always check first that I can’t already get the wine locally before I do this.