Why it's just as important to travel for wine as well as food

It's the ritual that puts a lot of people off. All the swirling and sniffing, the sipping and spitting.

Does anyone really know what they're talking about? Or is this all an elaborate bluff, a boozy version of the emperor's new clothes where no one is entirely sure what they're doing or why they're doing it, but are just following along because everyone else is and they don't want to look silly?

That's the world of wine, and in particular the world of wine tasting. We might all like to drink wine – it's pretty much as popular as beer in Australia now, with almost 30 litres consumed per capita a year – but most people are still uncomfortable claiming any sort of knowledge of wine, given the obvious wankery that surrounds the industry.

All this talk of dusty tannins, linear profiles, austere characteristics… Mostly, you just want to drink a nice glass of wine and not make a fool of yourself, right? And so while everyone seems happy to go down the rabbit hole of foodie minutiae, to watch endless episodes of My Kitchen Rules and comment knowingly on the intricacies of, say, Thai cuisine versus the food of Indonesia, no one wants to know all that much about wine, lest they seem like too much of a wanker.

That, to me, is a shame. Wine is great. It's amazing. It's just the fermented juice of grapes, and yet it holds infinite possibilities, a simple beverage that displays all these influences from land and fruit and weather and wine-maker. Wine around the world is social, and historical. It's produced in beautiful places. It's consumed by people having fun.

We should all be travelling for wine in the same way as we travel for food. We should be basking in the greatness of local wine cultures around the world just as we do with its gastronomic traditions. And yet, how many of us are actually doing that?

The answer is, not many. That's partly because regional wine industries can be difficult to get your head around, difficult to immediately understand. What grapes do they grow here? What do they do best? Which labels do you look out for? Mostly, it's easier to just order the house wine and marvel at how good it is.

It's also partly because wine travels to us, without us having to go to it. Go to a good bottle shop in Australia and you can buy a beaujolais, or a rioja, or a Mendoza malbec. There's no need to go somewhere purely to drink.

Mostly, however, I think it's because wine is a bit wanky, and Australians have never been encouraged to dig too deeply into it in the same way they have with food.


But travellers, it's time for this to change. It's time to take the wankery out of wine and yet still get the most out of it while you're overseas. It's time to do a little research and know the good stuff in your destination so you can glory in everything this fine beverage has to offer.

A small amount of knowledge here goes a long way. If you're heading to a country that's known for its wine, do some light research into the local industry. Find out the grapes grown in each region, and what they'll taste like. Decide whether you're best sticking to whites or reds. Figure out which region's wines are most likely to appeal to your tastes, which ones mirror the wines you like to drink in Australia.

It's also important to find out what to look for on a bottle before you buy it, whether that's from a wine list at a restaurant or from a local wine shop. Do you want "crianza" or "reserva"; "grand cru" or "1er cru"; "IGP" or "DOP"? Learn a few basic terms and you're on your way to good drinking.

It's also a good idea to find a local winery or two in the place you're visiting that you can call into early on and gain an insight into the scene.

Take these simple steps, and it will be like mastering the local language: suddenly, a whole new world will open up. Suddenly you won't just be ordering the house wine everywhere you go, but instead trying some really interesting local drops that appeal directly to you. You'll be getting value for money, too – you'll realise that good wine, particularly in the Old World, doesn't have to cost a lot of money.

You'll stride confidently into bars in Verona, into old cava houses in Catalonia, into bouchons in Lyon, into winery restaurants in Napa. You'll tap into local culture. You'll enjoy the skill of local producers, and the passion of local people. You'll forgo the swirling and sniffing and sipping in favour of just ordering wine and drinking it and loving it.

And you'll barely feeling like a wanker at all.

Which country or region have you travelled to that has the best wine? Did you research it beforehand? Was it affordable or expensive? What's the secret to enjoying wine overseas?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: Instagram.com/bengroundwater

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