Master of Wine Tan Ying Hsien gives his picks for the world's best wine regions.
The homeland of pinot noir and chardonnay, Burgundy has produced wine for more than a thousand years. Such a heritage means that there are opportunities to experience the depth of the region's history and wine culture at every turn. The Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction each November is something for the diary — encompassing a weekend of festivities, it culminates in an exciting charity auction of premium wines that is overseen by famous auction house Christie's. Part of the festivities include an extravagant dinner hosted by one of the world's earliest wine fraternities, the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, at the historic Chateau de Clos de Vougeot. The Confrerie also holds dinners throughout the year at the chateau.
The largest fine-wine-producing region in the world, this area is a personal highlight, being home to the first wine estate I ever visited, more than 30 years ago — Chateau Batailley. My experience there was the epitome of the hospitality you can expect in the region — warm and welcoming by the owner of the estate, Emile Casteja. His son, Philippe continues the tradition. A port-city, Bordeaux is easy to reach, particularly by plane, and you have ready access to a plethora of world-class wineries, where beautiful wines are produced by the millions of bottles each year. There are numerous properties that can be visited in the Medoc and Graves, where the dominant grape variety is cabernet sauvignon, and on the other side of the river Garonne, where the wines of Saint-Emilion, Pomerol and their satellite regions are based on merlot as the predominant grape variety. For those with a sweet tooth, there are the many delights of the wines of Sauternes and Barsac.
Just a 40-minute train ride from bustling Paris can take you to the doorstep of stunning wine country that is steeped in history. A familiar region to many, thanks to the sparkling wine that bears its name, wine houses in Champagne are well-organised to receive a constant flow of wine-loving visitors. The two principal towns to visit are Reims and Epernay. Reims is home to the famous cathedral where the kings of France were crowned. Many of the most famous houses of Champagne can be found in both Reims (Veuve Clicquot, Krug, Louis Roederer) and Epernay (Pol Roger, Moet Chandon), and Bollinger is famed for its association with the James Bond movies and its very rare wine made from old original rootstock, La Vieille Vignes Francaises.
Located in the north-eastern corner of Italy, this is a substantial wine region of three highly productive areas, each of which are suited to specialise in different varieties, both international as well as very distinctly local Italian varieties. It is a classical region in European wine history and there is a real renaissance underway in the quality and volume of wines being produced here. Conveniently located near tourist meccas of Verona and Lake Garda in the west and Venice in the east, there is plenty to see and do. And although not technically part of the Veneto, the wine country further to the north-east — places like Trento and Alto-Adige — are also worth a visit for their landscapes and wines.
This Spanish region can be accessed via a quick flight into Bilbao, where you can also take in the likes of the Guggenheim Museum. The region established its reputation in the late 19th century when merchants from Bordeaux were looking for alternatives at a period when their vineyards were being ravaged by the pest phylloxera. There are many traditional family vineyards and producers to explore and wine plays an integral part in Spanish culture and cuisine.
Many of the top names, including Lopez de Heredia, CUNE, La Rioja Alta, Artadi among countless others, can be found on the route from Bilbao to Logrono passing through Haro. Marques de Riscal, a leading producer had its new hotel and winery reception designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry who also designed the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum.
Wine expert and educator Tan Ying Hsien qualified as the first Singaporean Master of Wine in 2015 and owns Taberna Wine Academy in Singapore. He is in New Zealand to judge at the New World Wine Awards being held in Wellington from Tuesday (July 31). The Top 50 wines and Champions of each varietal will be available through New World stores later this year.