From the best seasonal food, to the most stunning backdrops for autumn leaves, buyer Joanna Locke MW gives us her ultimate travel tips for exploring the world's greatest winelands this autumn.
Visiting vineyards in autumn: should I stay, or should I go?
Many of you contact us for recommendations of places to visit during your summer and early autumn holidays in Europe. Depending on the year and the region, this may either coincide with producers' holidays (much of Europe still holidays for at least the first half of August) or with the grape harvest, neither of which is ideal.
‘ Stunning autumn scenery in Italy’
The upside of the latter is you may see plenty of action in the vineyards – the downside that this is the busiest and arguably the most important time of the year for growers, who are likely therefore to be unable to receive you. And if you go later, the vineyards will honestly not be looking their best, so our advice is either to avoid this period in the vineyards themselves, or to observe from a distance, whilst noting the weather conditions and the happy or stressed faces which will give you a first indication of expectations for the vintage!
So why else might you travel to, or include wine producing regions in your autumn itinerary (other than the love of wine, that is!)? Well, for the food, flora and fauna, if any excuse be needed….
Where to go for autumn leaves…
Head to the mountains where the evergreen firs are interspersed with a multitude of deciduous trees that are simply spectacular in autumn.
En route to the French Alps, stop and meander the steep slopes of the Jura, or go further still to Savoie. Both regions provide numerous, less familiar grape varieties to explore, along with breath-taking country for hiking and biking, and plenty of wholesome local dishes to reward you afterwards.
Just over the border into Italy, the Valle d'Aosta offers stunning views of traditional old terraced vineyards, and it's then only a short-ish hop into the rolling hills of Piedmont and the delights of Italian cuisine.
'The one Americanism I have always loved is 'the fall' which sounds so much more romantic than autumn. To combine stunning scenery with wine here, Sarah Knowles MW suggests that Santa Barbara or Sonoma would be lovely coastal spots to visit in the fall, when jostling crowds of tourists are largely gone, and the stunning seascapes and mountain ranges look beautiful set against a beautiful backdrop of autumnal foliage.
Where to go for seasonal food…
Whilst in North America, your dates might just coincide with Thanksgiving, as important a festival there as Christmas is for many of us, and the perfect time to share your favourite wines. But if you are stuck closer to home, there's always Sarah Knowles' popular Thanksgiving Dinner at Wine Society HQ, but you will need to book early to avoid missing out.
As we head into the cooler months, shellfish is back in season, and there is no better place to enjoy it than the Atlantic coast of France, or Portugal. Try Bordeaux and the Nantais for their range of oysters and learn about the different regional examples of this cold-water delicacy (you can learn to love them; I did, building up slowly from half a dozen small ones to a dozen medium by the end of a week, with a good glass of Muscadet or Sauvignon in hand).
Bordeaux négociants Thomas, Archie and Ivanhoé Johnston enjoying a classic pairing of white Bordeaux and oysters.
And while you are in Bordeaux, and if the early autumn has been less kind weather-wise, indulge in ceps, prepared any which way (you need go no further than an omelette – preferably baveuse if you are happy to go Francophile).
If truffles are your treat, then head to the Rhône, or of course to Italy, where there is perfect pasta, pizza and culture to fall back on.
Alsace has a longstanding reputation for being a culinary destination, and that's still the case if you play in Michelin star territory. Beyond that, Alsace fare is simpler, hearty and filling (handy when you are touring wine country) and as you head towards winter, preparations are underway for the glühwein and festive brews that populate the famous Christmas markets of the region. We have written about these before and can thoroughly recommend them, (at least once!) but remember to book accommodation early, as the area does get very busy.
For far-flung flora and fauna …
Autumn (up to November) is a great time for whale watching in South Africa, where you may be lucky to spot whales around much of the coastline at this time. The small coastal town of Hermanus is the popular destination, where you will also find plenty of good food and wonderful wine from the Hemel-en-Aarde valley to accompany the experience. But if you would prefer quieter contemplation of these majestic creatures at play, go a little further and drive slowly through the De Hoop nature reserve, which will reward with budding fynbos and roaming tortoises en-route, and watch from the sand dunes.