One of travel’s greatest pleasures is sampling local food and drink. Vineyard visits are often the highlight of a trip. For many people, they’re the main point. Wine, like travel itself, is a rich and colorful experience. A wine glass is a prism through which the world can be viewed.
It would take several lifetimes and several fortunes to visit all the world’s wine-producing regions. But it is possible to make virtual visits to a variety of intriguing vineyards and to acquire the products of the ones that appeal most strongly, by going to wine tastings and attending wine auctions.
Great wine, like great art, is found all over the world. And like collecting art or anything else, collecting wine is very much a matter of taste. Indeed, taste is paramount with a comestible like wine. A palate that has also been educated through travel, comparative tastings and reading leads to the acquisition of wines that are not only satisfying to drink but likely to provide lasting value.
Many of the world’s most sought-after wines are the products of famous French and Italian vineyards. But the romance of the grape goes back at least 2,000 years in North America. After all, when the Vikings crossed the Atlantic Ocean around 1000, they called the land they discovered “Vinland” because grapevines were so abundant.
As early as the 1500s, French Huguenot settlers in what is now Florida were making scuppernong wine from native grapes. America’s first commercial winery appeared in Kentucky in 1798. In 1830 prominent Ohio banker Nicholas Longworth began making a soon-to-be famous sparkling wine.
Wine is arguably America’s favorite beverage. In the last decade, our wine consumption has practically doubled. Only France consumes more wine. And Americans, traveling the country and the globe more than ever, are catching up as wine connoisseurs and collectors.
California became the center of American fine wine production in the Civil War era, culminating in the triumphant 1976 “Judgment of Paris,” in which a panel of French experts rated several California wines above some of France’s most renowned vintages in a blind taste test.
Traveling the world of wine, like traveling the globe, is most often begun by exploring the famous highlights — the Bordeaux and Burgundies of France, Italy’s Tuscan and Piedmont pressings, the mostly white wines of western Germany. And, of course, the fortified wines such as Sherry and Port, traditional specialties of Spain and Portugal respectively.
For many wine lovers, as for many travelers, there comes the time to venture farther afield. In the case of wine, auctions offer an ideal way to expand horizons. The wine industry is diverse and complex, and a wine auction provides you with access to wines that have been carefully curated by the auction house’s experts. Often these are older and sometimes hard-to-find bottles that are no longer available in retail stores.
Many travelers, both virtual and real world, are discovering that building a wine cellar creates a memory palace that can be revisited and shared. Like all the best travels, a journey through wine is a joyful personal adventure that is meant to be shared.
A wine cellar can develop almost by accident — a few special bottles purchased as a memento of a memorable vineyard visit, a gift to mark an anniversary, birth or promotion. As the collector’s experiences and adventures expand and tastes develop, a half-dozen bottles or a case are added. Before too long there’s a collection that is highly personal, meaningful and meant to be consumed.
Wine experts point out that people who live in the New England and Mid-Atlantic states have an advantage from the start. The temperate climate and the fact that most houses have cellars provide excellent natural conditions for the long-term storage of wines.
Travel can be enjoyed in many forms. Of course there’s boots-on-the ground travel by plane, train, ship and automobile. There’s armchair travel, through movies and magazines, books and video.
There is also the kind of travel you can do any time, in the comfort of your own home and in the company of your choice — voyaging around the world of wine. Simply pull the cork and pour a glass.