Here is a recent travel report that might be of use to future travellers.
I recently returned from 23 days in Germany, France and Italy. Just over 3600 kilometres of driving! Pretty well kept to wine regions, but just played it by ear this time. However, this meant that I rarely had time to make any advance reservations to taste, which cut down on the quantity and quality of my winery visits. Also, my partner had demanded that we not spend 100% of our time wine tasting. After the shock of this announcement wore off, I had to admit it was reasonable, in a twisted kind of way! Mornings were usually spent wandering, and afternoons and evenings were left for wining and dining.
Man, did we eat a lot of amazing food and of course we drank some amazing wines as well.
We flew into Frankfurt, as I find it's really easy to get in and out of, unlike the Paris CDG airport, which is a bit of a nightmare. After a recovery night in Frankfurt - we tried some local apple wine and tried a couple of regional dishes at a neighbourhood applelwein tavern - we went to nearby Alsace. The weather was a bit sucky here - lots of rain - so we only spent 2 days here. Only hit a few wineries, including Trimbach, Hugel, and Pierre Sparr. Bought a lovely vintage cremant from Sparr (9 euros) to celebrate the start of our trip, and a even more wonderful Hugel 1997 Pinot Gris 'Hommage a Jean Hugel' (28 Euros) to savour later. Had a nice dinner at Caveau Morakof in Neidermorchwihr, and dealt with our craving for an Alsacian tarte at St Martin's restaurant.
But warmer climes called, so we drove about 7 hours to Piedmont. Again, it was pissing down when we arrived. We stayed near Alba the first night, at the Paitin winery, but it wasn't that great, so we moved to the La Morra area the next day. In Piedmont you really need reservations, so we only visited 4-5 wineries in the next 4 days. We stayed at an amazing place (Monesteria - 90 Euros) near La Morra that had the sweetest owner you could ever meet, and she got us into a few wineries no problem. An amazing room with an even more amazing breakfast, including 4-6 regional cheeses and a different home made pastry and tarte. We had a great visit at Elio Altare, and his vivacious daughter gave us some excellent restaurant recommendations. We also went to Manzone, and that was one of my favorite visits of the trip. Very welcoming and warm people there, and in a realy beatuiful site (though most places are here!). Visited Settimo too. Found 'Osteria La Salita' restaurant, a real winemakers haven we were told, and sure enough the first night we were there a group of 12 racous winemakers next to us. Magnums of Barolo kept appearing at their table with alarming alacrity. But most of the barolos on the menu were recent vintages, so I ordered a Clerico - but the Dolcetto d'Alba 2004 only, I'm afraid. 15 Euros from the list, the best Dolcetto I've ever tried. The food was amazing, and outstanding value. The whole 3 course meal cost less than 50 Euros for two, including the Clerico and some Moscato to start. The food and wine was better priced in Italy than in France, that's for sure. Went to a nice little Dolcetto tasting in La Morrra, where we tried 11 different Dolcettos from local producers - quite fun and very informative.
Next up was the southern Rhone. I like staying in the Gigondas/Vacqueras region, as everything is so close from there. We found an amazing gite to stay in at the Domaine le Clos de Caveau, a restored 15th century farmhouse at the winery. Great out of the way location in amongst the vines. Lots of wineries visited here. One thing that became clear to me is that I'm not a fan of the 2003s in the southern Rhone. Just too unbalanced in terms of the tannins now, though this might change in the medium term I guess. The 2004s are more my style. In Gigondas, two producers stood out: the Ch St Cosme 'Valbelle' 2004 was outstanding, up to and surpassing many CNPs. For 21 Euros at the winery, I couldn't resist bringing one home. Domaine Bouisierres' 'La Font de Tonin' 2004 was another outstanding Gigondas. A great winery to visit in CNP was Bosquet des Papes in CNP. They had a range of vintages, from 1999 to 2004 on tasting. The star of the show to me was the 2001 A la Gloire de Mon Grand Pere', a 98% grenache cuvee: a killer wine that was only 21 Euros at the domaine. Chateau Beaurenard was another good visit, and at Ch de la Gardine, they opened up the 2003, 2001 and 1998 for me, which I appreciated! Paul Autard was an interesting visit with an uncomprising modernist - all barriques all the time. I visited Lirac and Tavel too, and am still kicking myself for not buying some Mordoree Lirac 'Les Reines de Bois' 2004 for 14 Euros. I was embarrassed for buying a demi bouteille of the D'Aqueria Tavel Rose for 3 Euros! We loved buying half bottles, as it allowed us to try more wines over the 3 weeks.
Off to the Loire next, a first visit here. I thought I knew my wines, but I couldn't identify 10% of the wineries here! Lots and lots of producers I never heard of. We stayed at another great converted 15 century farmhouse among the vines just outside Chinon. Just missed a wine festival in Savennieres by one day - what a bummer! - but loved the visit there anyway. Went to Baumard and Closel, both great visits. Also went to the Domaine aux Moines, when Madame Larache, the winemaker, asked us if we were more interested in the newer or older wines. When offered a choice, I go with older wines, so she started with the 2000 vintage and we worked back to the 1992 vintage! I was dead set on buying the 1992 when she asked if we liked sweet wines too. When a hasty 'yes!' was offered, she opened up a rare sweet savennieres from the 2002 vintage, and we had to get that. She rather discouragingly noted it was much easier to drink, and seemed a little disappointed with us, but we bought the moulleux to bring home anyway. What a great wine! A visit to Huet in Vouvray was a highlight too - they poured a lot of wines for us from the 2000-2004 vintages. The 'Les Annees 30' was a great restaurant in Chinon, with an amazing four course set menu for 26 Euros. The Chinon area proved to be a nice base for the Loire: a cute little town with coblestone streets and some nice restaurants. I liked the 2002s and 2003s here better than the few 2004s I had: a nice vintage, but not up to the two previous vintages.
A quick stop in Chablis was next, as I wanted to try the 2004 vintage. I'm not a fan of the 2003 vintage here, but the 2004 vintage was much more to my liking. Lots of nice wines here, as always. Great 2004 lineup at Fevre. Bought several older vintage chablis wines to drink. One of our favourite B&Bs in the whole world, a place on a truffle farm and winery, had closed - quel malchance!, so we just stayed in the Hostellrie des Clos.
Then it was off to the Moselle Valley in Germany for a quick 2 day visit. The weather was again a little lousy, but we wandered around and visited a few wineries. Several towns in the middle Mosel were having an open house for wineries, so we wandered around and tried a glass of wine at several wineries we had never heard of. Good fun! The Indian restauarant in Bernkastel - believe it or not - is excellent! A killer paneer (cheese) dish! I think it's called the Tak Mahal.
We were going to stay there a while, but decided to head to the Pfaltz in hope of better weather. We based ourselves in Deidesheim, at the heart of the wineroad. Had some great visits here, including one of the most memorable on this trip. I had heard of Weingut Koehler-Ruprecht, but had never tried their wines, as they aren't available in Canada. We were met at the door by Herr Philippi, the winemaker, who lead us into a great tasting room and somewhat gruffly sat down down beside us. He spoke excellent English, so I was able to grill him about his wines. You got the impression right away that you were talking to a real maestro. He eshewed cultured yeasts and belived in long slow fermentatrions with no temperature control during fermations. When I mentioned we were from BC, he mentioned he had been invited to BC to plant vines for some company. I didn't ask who, but regret it now! We both agreed the Okanagan made reasonable table wine, but that was about it. When I suggested that some of the ice wines were world class, he firmly stated that ice wines weren't 'real' wines, and he never made them himself. A real curmugeon, but a winemaker who wasn't afraid to mince words or take any shortcuts. The wines were outstanding, really a notch above some stiff competition. I regret not bringing one back, but we didn't meet him until the day before we left, so I had already bought all the wines I could bring back.
Other nice visits in the Pfaltz were Bassermann-Jordon (who bottled some of their wines with a neat glass stopper), Dr Burklin Wolf, Biffar, von Buhl and Kurt Darting. The latter was a special visit, and the wonderfully kind woman in the tasting room brought many many bottles for us to taste. BTW, the number of wines made by many German wineries is incredible, but Darting takes it to another level, as they make a lot of less common wines (e.g., Muskateller, Scheurebe, Huxelrebe, Rieslander, Weisburgunder, Sauvignon Blanc and even a Chardonnay) as well as the normal multiple riesling bottlings. And that's just the whites! The woman mentioned we missed Terry Theise by 2 days: very sad, he's one wine person I'd really like to talk to. We brought back a half bottle of a Weissburgunder TBA from Darting - wow, what a powerful sweet wine! The 'Kirchenstube' (right beside the church in Deidesheim) is a great local restaurant.
The German wine regions and wineries are wierd to visit in a way: about 90% of their production is trocken style wines, yet we rarely see them here, and indeed very little is exported. The 10% or so of fruity or sweet style wines are shipped to places like Canada. It's a wierd dichonomy. I tried as many trocken styles as I could, but I still can't say I am a huge fan. I agree they can be much better with food, but I guess I am too used to the fruitier versions. Only tried a few of the 2005s, so can't say much about the vintage. Most producers talked about the amazing purity of the botrytis in the vintage, though.
What do I miss the most? The cheese!!! Why do we submit ourselves to such lousy cheese in North America?!?!?