Wine buying has its humdrum and testing side, despite what my wife and daughters believe, but I freely admit there are also many delightful moments. One aspect I never tire of is visiting vineyards and talking to the people who make good wine. Standing with Jesus Madrazo outside the Contino winery in Rioja, tasting his excellent new vintage was one of these moments. Well-tended vines in the foreground, the river Ebro just beyond, the snow-capped sierra to the south, April sun on my back and a tempting selection of tapas on a stone table close by in the shade; what a joy.
Snow-covered Andes high above the productive vines of Mendoza, the sun glinting on Mont Canigou’s snowcapped summit from Corbières and the dramatic pointed peaks that provide a backdrop to Lake Wanaka’s vineyards in New Zealand’s South Island all have provided moments of magic. We could debate for ages which are the most beautiful wine regions in the world. For some it might be South Africa’s Cape, for others the Moselle or the Barolo hills when the valleys are a sea of mist. The Henschke’s beautiful Hill of Grace vineyard with its 140-year-old vines and Paul Draper’s winery at Ridge Monte Bello, perched above the San Andreas Fault are memorable places for me, and both make fabulous wines.
There are always new discoveries. Recently I made my first proper visit (to my shame) to Prosecco country. Though now easily accessible from Treviso airport, it has remained slightly off the usual tourist trails though it is close to the Dolomites and Venice. Charming conical hills covered in vines mostly divided into small plots, nearly all owned by local families. Don’t be surprised to see the owners setting up a picnic in the vines at the weekend. The nearby Piave river was the scene of grim fighting in both world wars but that now seems long ago. Worth a visit.
Sebastian Payne MW
Chief wine buyer