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Dubai sommelier picks his top five vineyard areas for tourists

Words by Rob Chilton

Oenophiles, take note, as grape expert Stephen Towler takes us on a tour of his favourite regions around the world

Stephen Towler is a highly experienced sommelier and educator of more than 20 years. He’s set up From Grapes to Glass in Dubai, a series of grape appreciation programmes at One&Only Royal Mirage that enable people to gain qualifications from the globally-recognised Wine & Spirit Education Trust. He spoke to EDGAR about his favourite vineyards around the world.

Tuscany, Italy

A region with an embarrassment of gastronomic riches, Tuscany’s most famous contribution to the grape world, Chianti, has undergone a dramatic transformation over the last 30 years, particularly with the launch of the Gran Selezione category in 2013. This elevated the top tier from the traditional ‘Classico’ heart of the region to the level of many a Brunello di Montalcino, a historically more respected grape producing area to the south west. One of the leading examples of the new Gran Selezione category of Chianti Classico comes from Castello di Fonterutoli that belongs to the historic Mazzei Tuscan family. I can highly recommend their B&B dating from medieval times and their nearby osteria.

Tuscan vines

Bordeaux, France

France’s most prolific region of quality production has in recent years shed its austere façade to fully embrace ‘oenotourisme’. Nowhere exemplifies this better than Les Sources de Caudalie (above), a spa-hotel surrounded by the vines of sister property and renowned Cru Classé Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte, where you can undergo treatments such as the Crushed Cabernet Scrub, Merlot wrap or Sauvignon massage. It has a two-Michelin star restaurant where I worked for a few years in the early 2000s and is an hour’s drive from the ‘great growths’ of the Médoc of the Gironde estuary’s left bank, or the limestone slopes of the more picturesque right bank village of Saint-Émilion.

Les Sources de Caudalie in Bordeaux

Provence, France

Another one of my old professional haunts as a sommelier is La Bastide de Moustiers, a charming 12-room hotel belonging to the most heavily Michelin starred chef in the world, Alain Ducasse. It is situated at the base of two steep rocks near the stunning Gorges du Verdon around two hours from Nice airport. There is many a rosé producer to visit in the region but for more serious reds one must venture south to the coastal town of Bandol, between Marseille and Toulon.

Photo by Pierre Monetta La Bastide de Moustiers is a Provencal haven

Rheingau, Germany

As far as breathtaking scenery goes, the Rheingau region takes some beating. Here, the Riesling grape takes centre stage on its steep slopes overlooking the river Rhine as it meanders from east to west before resuming its course northward. It is on this river bend in that Assmanhausen is located, a village that is an exception in the area as it specialises in Pinot Noir. This village, for the moment at least, is benefiting from global warming with a string of successful Pinot vintages. A key winery to visit here belongs to August Kesseler, a jovial yet thoughtful host who will passionately take you through a tasting from the top vineyards of Assmanhausen as well as other nearby villages such as Rüdesheim and Lorch.

The pretty German village of Rudesheim

Western Cape, South Africa

My first experience of a tasting was during a trip to South Africa 25 years ago and I’ve been in love with the country ever since. Dramatic ocean views and awe-inspiring landscapes coupled with a dynamic and ambitious local culinary scene come at unmatchable value. Chenin Blanc is the most widely cultivated grape variety in the Cape and one of its leading exponents is Ken Forrester. As well as the 17th century Stellenbosch wine farm, Ken – a larger than life figure – owns a popular local restaurant and an array of cottages, suites and a manor house named The Country Guesthouse. Perched on the foothills of the Helderberg mountains, this plush but homely accommodation occupies an enviable vantage point overlooking the Cape Winelands.

Stellenbosch is surrounded by mountains

From Grapes to Glass courses start from AED 1,650 for 3x3-hour sessions

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