Wine & Gastronomy Indulge in some of life's greatest pleasures. Experience the great wine and gastronomy of Spain, Portugal and France with one of our exclusive 2 to 7-day private guided tours for small groups (minimum of 4, maximum of 16) available from late March through early November. Visit the Rioja, the Basque country and Navarra, the Ribera del Duero, Catalonia, old Castile, Andalucia and Galicia. Explore Portugal's Alentejo region, or the Douro and Minho River Valleys. The Irouléguy and Jurançon wine regions of the Pays Basque in southwest France await you. Experience the culinary creations of these regions most celebrated and innovative chefs. Stay in elegant boutique hotels. Enjoy VIP wine tasting at top wineries.
Self-guided tours of Spain's most popular wine touring destinations are available year around.
The Wine & Gastronomy of SpainSpain has evolved into one of the premier wine and gastronomic destinations in the world over the last 25 years and continues its remarkable explosion in quality and diversity, unprecedented in the history of wine. It's nearly endless number of world renowned chefs, Michelin-starred restaurants, exceptional vintages, spectacular scenery and welcoming nature make it the perfect destination for gourmands and lovers of great wine.
No adventure in Spain would be complete without a visit to Spain's oldest and best known wine region, considered the "benchmark" of Spanish winemaking. Stunningly beautiful year around, the Rioja is an ancient region dating from the Neolithic era, where you'll find atmospheric fortress towns on a hill, some with their medieval wall still intact and filled with Noble homes displaying their heraldic shields. There are enormous Gothic churches, each with its own amazing, ornately gilded Baroque altarpiece, but seldom seen by the visitor as these churches are kept tightly shut other that for mass. Ancient burial markers (dólmenes) lie scattered about in the fields, intermixed with the wineries; boutique, large and industrial. You'll also find a number of charming family run country inns and luxury hotels, and superb Riojan and Basque cuisine.
Wine making in the Rioja dates from the time of the Phoenicians, followed by the Romans, who are believed to have established most of the traditional vineyards in existence today. Wine making continued throughout the middle ages, pilgrims on the camino carrying back with them the reputation of the wines from the Rioja, with modern winemaking finally taken off in the late 1980s. There are currently more than 500 wineries making up the Rioja DOC, with 300 in the Rioja Alavesa, and more than 63,000 hectares of vineyards under production.
The Wine and Gastronomy of PortugalWine making in Portugal dates back more than 4000 years, to the time of the Phoenicians who were thought to have introduced winemaking in the South. The wine growing regions include the Vinho Verde, Trás-os-Montes, Porto, Douro and Dão in the North, Lisbon in the West, the Alentejo to the East and Algarve in the South, as well as the Azores and Madeira Islands.
With it's gently undulating plains and endless horizons, the Alentejo covers about a third of the country and is divided into eight DOC sub-zones. Once regarded simply as a poor agricultural backwater, the 'bread basket' of Portugal, it is a land of large estates or "Latifundios" and has recently come into its own as an internationally acclaimed wine producing region. Suffering from none of the Alentejo’s extremes in temperature because of the chain of mountains that run from the Atlantic coast to the Spanish border, the area receives more than 3000 hours of sunshine each year, and the grapes love it. It’s never too hot or too cold in the Algarve.
The Douro appellation encompasses 64,250 acres and is crossed by the winding Douro River, running some 900 kilometers from Spain's Old Castile province to Porto. Although long famous for its fortified wines, the Douro has come into its own during the last decade to become known as a producer of world-class dry table wines, especially its reds. There are now an astonishing 33,000 wine growers in the region, and surprisingly, its brittle, schistous granite soil sustains a wide spectrum of grape varieties. Tending to the vines on these vertiginous terraces is exhausting physical labor as all the work is down by hand. And many estates (quintas) still maintain the tradition of grape treading by foot in granite tanks called lagares.
Crossing the Miño from the Ribeiro, in the Ourense province of Galicia, you will feel like you stepped back 30 years in time. The Portuguese Minho, far more pristine that its Spanish counterpart, and Portugal’s northernmost wine region, is endowed with a number of highly photogenic fortress towns, their defensive walls and watch towers intact, magnificently restored churches, beautifully manicured gardens, Quintas (noble estates), cobblestone squares, and thermal spas. Vila de Cerveira, Caminha, Monção and Melgaço all delight visitors with their Old World charm. The Vinho Verde is the largest DOC of Portugal, and in Melgaço, gateway to the Peneda-Gerês National Park, you can taste the areas crisp, refreshing and slightly effervescent Alvarinho, the most prized variety of the Vinho Verde grape. Bordeaux
The Wine and Gastronomy of FranceTake a drive through the lush, hilly wine regions of southwest France; Irouléguy, Jurançon, Béarn-Bellocq and Madiran, and discover the delightful villages, belle epoch architecture and spectacular scenery of the Pays Basque-Béarn, where some of the world’s great grape varieties originated. The world famous Languedoc-Roussillon is the most productive wine regions in the world and can be combined with a trip to Provence.
Bordeaux marks the northern limits of France's "Hidden Corner," its 5th largest wine growing region, and the least populated. The region is divided into four sub-regions, each distinctive in character, climate and grape varieties. The four sub-regions are the Bergerac and Dordogne River, Garonne and Tarn, Lot River, and the Pyrénées, inside of which there are an array of communal and village appellations (AOP) Appellation d'origins Protégée. The Bergerac and Dordogne wine growing region lie just south of Bordeaux and share the same Atlantic influence, although it can be slightly warmer. The Garonne and Tarn wine growing region is named after its two major rivers and is located further east towards Toulouse, in the Midi Pyrénées. The climate here is more varied with the western portion influenced by the Atlantic, while the eastern portion is more Mediterranean with less rain and warmer temperatures year around. The oldest vineyards in this region are in the Gaillac appellation, west of Albi. The Lot River region is centered on the 2000 year-0ld village of Cahors, to the south of the beautiful village of Sarlat-la-Caneda and north of Toulouse. The Cahors AOC is the most famous of the sub-regions and the original home of Malbec. The vineyards here are on rocky slopes and the region enjoys the most sunshine.
The wines from the sub-region of the rugged Pyrénées, the mountain range that divides France and Spain, are typically more rustic and artisanal then others in the Southwest. The most famous AOP here is Madiran, that has been popular for centuries due to it's broody black fruits, spice and silky tannins. The village of Madiran is located in the gently rolling countryside of Gascony, in the Hautes-Pyrénées.
The Irouléguy AOP in the Pays Basque lies in the lush green rolling hills along the northern slopes of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques boarding the Basque Country (País Vasco) of northern Spain, and produces fruity, tannic reds, full-bodied, tangy whites and intensely fruity and deeply colored rosés. It is one of the smallest wine growing regions of France with only 14 vineyards covering 240 hectares and some 15 villages, with winemaking here dating back more then 2000 years. Wine making here followed a path similar to other parts of France, first being introduced by the Romans and later developed in part by the monks of Roncesvalles, who made wine for the pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela, following the Route of Saint James to Galicia.