Enotourism is booming like never before, and shows no signs of slowing down. More and more wine lovers are realising the joys of travelling to the regions where their favourite wines are produced, sampling it at source and coming away with an experience that simply can't be had through any book or magazine. We're said it before and we'll say it again: we think that wine holidays are some of the most enjoyable and memorable you can have, interacting with the producers and seeing first hand how all the small changes in landscape, climate and production techniques make the difference in what you eventually taste. Nearly all of our own holidays end up in a wine region somewhere in the world, and we wouldn't have it any other way!
The problem comes, of course, in that with everyone wanting to travel to the same places, everything becomes increasingly more expensive. Have you heard of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Brunello di Montalcino? So has everyone else, and these regions are increasingly busy, with wine lovers from across the world flocking to experience the delicious wine, food and explore the great estates themselves. Whilst we don't want to dissuade anyone from visiting these veritable bastions of European wine culture, it's certainly true that there are far more affordable options out there, particularly useful for a wine lover on a budget!
Going 'off the beaten path' is itself becoming more of a choice for travellers in the world, particularly those who value discovery and excitement over anything else, and the same applies for enotourism too! Why not go and visit a place where none of your friends have ever been before? The opportunity to taste wines and discover grape varieties you've never even encountered before is undeniably exciting, and better yet, these tend to be the most affordable wine trips out there. Below we're going to take you through our pick of 4 European wine destinations to travel to. You'll notice they're focused around the Mediterranean, which is home to some of the worlds greatest wines, often without hefty price tags involved!
Before you head off, make sure you read our guide to the Dos and Don't of visiting wineries; invaluable!
Croatia is only just starting to make waves in the modern wine world, remarkable when you consider that they've practiced viticulture here for over 3,000 years! Vineyards are to be found all over the country, whether they be stretched along the beautiful Adriatic Coast, inland in the rolling hills of Slavonia, surrounding idyllic, rural towns like Istria or even dotted around the various islands, with the gentle blue sea a perfect backdrop for viticulture. There are over 130 indigenous grape varieties to discover here, the vast majority of which aren't cultivated elsewhere in the world, and no shortage of delicious food to pair with it!
For the best vinous experiences of Croatia, avoid the built up cities and head towards the more rural townships close to the vineyards themselves:
Istria: This northern Peninsula is the heartbeat of Croatian wine production, home to over 120 small producers and brimming with potential. Until very recently, very few of these wines ever made it out of the country and even today, it's hard to find the better bottlings outside of Croatia itself. The milder climate here lends itself well to white wine production, particularly wines made from Malvazija Istarska, which are usually fresh, fruity and full of apple and peach flavours. Red wine isn't unheard of here, with Terrano in particular making firm, refreshing styles of light red wines, perfect for dinner in the cool evenings. Whilst you're here, be sure to visit the iconic Kozlovic; almost single-handedly responsible for showing the world the potential of Croatian wine here!
Dalmatia: The Dalmatian Coast is one of the most beautiful we've ever come across, and it's perfectly suited to the production of bold, powerful red wines. The steep, rocky vineyards absorb the suns rays and reflect them onto the grapes, meaning that it's not uncommon to find wines with over 15% alcohol! The two grapes to keep an eye out for here are Plavac Mali and Crljenak Kaštelanski, the latter of which is the original version of Zinfandel! This is also a great opportunity to visit some of Croatia's most beautiful islands, and for us, we couldn't go past without paying a visit to Brač. Whilst you're there, be sure to visit the wonderful Vina Senjkovic for one of the most memorable evenings we can remember.
Slavonia: Further inland you'll find the rolling hills of Slavonia, more famous for its white wine production than its red, particularly the tangy, sweet wines made by the late harvest of Graševina grapes. There are also some very promising wines made here using international grape varieties, including some very convincing Gewürztraminer. Slavonia is also well known for its oak forests, with producers from across the world often preferring barrels made from trees here over even the most famous forests of France! For a real taste of Slavonia, don't forget to book a trip to Ilocki Cellars!
Aside from the wine aspect of your holiday, Croatia is a stunning country full of national parks, beautiful scenery and a variety of different foods to sample – try the roast lamb and thank us later! For a comprehensive guide on travelling around the country, be sure to read this wonderful article by Frank G, which includes some valuable tips for travellers on a budget. Then all that's left is to book your visits to the wineries, pack your bags and off you go!
If you follow our blog, you'll know that we're big fans of Portuguese wine and whether it's the majesty of the Douro Valley, the cool, wind-swept north of Vinho Verde or the expansive south, we don't need much convincing to pack our bags and head towards this Iberian gem! Much like other Mediterranean countries, Portugal is awash with indigenous grape varieties, unique wine styles and small, family-ran wineries that provide a visiting experience unlike any other. Better yet, the most famous regions in the country are within striking distance of Portugal's two largest cities, Porto and Lisbon:
Porto: From the iconic city of Porto, wine lovers are spoilt for choice when it comes to visits. A short drive north takes you to Vinho Verde, where Portugal's most delicate white wines are made; perfect to pair with the fresh seafood brought in daily from the wild Atlantic Ocean. However, the real beauty of taking a trip to Porto is to see the Douro Valley, a protected heritage side of recognised beauty and home to the Port Shippers, some of which have histories dating back over 200 years! Then, of course, there's the wealth of wine shops, bars and restaurants in the city itself to explore. Don't believe us? Read our Essential Guide to Porto and discover the city yourself!
Lisbon: The capital city of Portugal and an increasingly popular destination for international travellers, for a variety of different regions. Whilst some go to stare at the gorgeous, medieval architecture and others to idle through the winding, steep streets in search of their next delicious meal, we're here for the wine! There are three wine regions within a day trip of Lisbon, and more than a few reasons to extend your stay and perhaps spend a night or two outside of the city, walking the vineyards and discovering a wealth of Portuguese wine you'd otherwise never have discovered. Fortunately, we've put together a Comprehensive Guide to Discovering Lisbon for you, including all the wine bars, shops and winery visits you've been looking for!
For some extra tips on budgeting in Portugal, read this guide by Nomadic Matt. Some wonderful tips for cost saving and allowing you to focus on what you really came for; the wine!
The cradle of modern civilisation as we know it, as well as being the first commercial producers of wine; there's a lot of history to be found in Greece! Yet the reason we're including it on our list of top destinations for an affordable wine holiday is firmly rooted in the present. Since the 1980's, Greece has gone from strength to strength, with their own trained winemakers and viticulturists shaping the direction of a new, exciting industry. The problem for the rest of us? 95% of Greek wine is consumed locally, so it really is essential to pay her a visit if you want to really discover what vinous opportunities await you in this Mediterranean paradise.
Northern Greece: Despite the tourism brochures depicting some of the warmest weather in Europe, northern Greece has a distinctly more continental feel to it, with warm days and much cooler nights. The star grape variety here is undoubtedly Xinomavro, producing firm, fragrant red wines with more than a hint of Nebbiolo about them. Make sure to head to the slopes of Mount Vermio, where the Naoussa wine region lays scattered across steep vineyards, overlooking the rest of Greece as their vines slowly mature. For a real experience of what Naoussa has to offer, get in touch with the Dalamara family and visit their beautiful winery on the slopes of the mountains; an unforgettable experience.
Peloponnese: This huge, Mediterranean influenced peninsula is the heartbeat of Greek wine production, with the largest number of quality wine regions within its ranks. There's a few interesting, indigenous grapes to discover here as well. Agiorgitiko produces elegant, fruity red wines that can be complex and long-lived from the best, qualitatively minded producers, and the quite unique Moschofilero thrives here as well, producing white wines that are floral, mildly spicy and utterly refreshing at the same time. Barely an hour from Athens, you have Palivou Estate, one of the premium producers in the region – give them a call and book a visit!
Santorini: Ok, so Santorini isn't the most undiscovered area of Greece by a long shot, but from a wine lover perspective, it still offers something that the rest of the world hasn't really encountered yet; Assyrtiko. This remarkable white grape variety thrives on this wind-swept island like nowhere else in the world, producing wild, powerful wines that are both textured and rich, yet roaring with acidity at the same time. Make sure you take a walk in the vineyards of the island, if only to see the remarkable basket-trained vines; curled around like a birds nest in order to protect the precious grapes from the howling elements. If you want to discover what Assyrtiko is really all about, you have to visit the legendary Haztidakis Winery, who are largely responsible for putting this grape variety on the map in the first place.
Nomadic Matt is back again with another short guide of general tips for getting around Greece, with a focus on cost saving! Greece is already a relatively affordable country but if you're travelling on a budget, this should help you to cut costs and use the money to pick up an extra bottle or two along the way!
We couldn't make a recommended list of affordable wine destinations without including Spain. The vast, fragmented wine industry of this traditional country makes for the perfect combination of affordable, excellent wine, in a variety of different styles. From the cooler, crisp northern climates of Galicia and Asturias to the baking hot south, the continentality of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, or even the Mediterranean influenced Catalunya, there's a lot to explore and discover here. Add in that it's the 3rd largest producer of wine in the world with a declining local market, and you have the perfect spot for some bargain hunting!
Unlike some other countries, we highly recommend that you combine your wine trips together with adventures in some of the major cities of Spain. Not only does that allow you to dip into some of Europe's best wine bars, restaurants and shops, but gives your holiday an extra dimension entirely! With so many of Spain's most famous wine regions within a short journey from Barcelona, Seville and Madrid, there's no need to spend your entire journey in remote villages!
Barcelona: No-one needs a lot of convincing to visit Barcelona these days, with it being one of Europe's most visited cities after Paris and London. The combination of sea, sand, culture and gastronomy is hard to turn down, but did you know that there are also 11 wine regions within 2 hours of the city itself? That's right, 11! Wine tours are rarely expensive here, and Catalan wine packs a lot more value than the prices would suggest. Make sure you read our complete Wine Guide to Barcelona for suggestions on wineries to visit, as well as the best wine bars and shops to frequent in the city itself!
Madrid: The nations capital, and unsurprisingly, quite the spot for adventurous wine lovers! If you keep up with wine trends and fashions, you'll know that the imposing, steep Gredos Mountains outside Madrid are home to some of the countries most exciting wine-makers, producing vibrant, high-toned Garnacha all along its slopes. Then, after a hard days hiking and tasting, why not head back to the city itself and indulge in some of the countries best value wine bars, complete with tapas to recharge the batteries? Make sure to read our Essential Guide to Exploring Madrid before you go!
Seville: Perhaps some of the greatest value in the world of wine lies in the south of Spain, in the so-called 'Sherry Triangle'. Barely an hour away from Seville, these incredible Sherry Bodegas ply their trade in the same way they have for hundreds of years, turning simple Palomino grapes into haunting expressions of the south that can last for decades. These wines are currently enormously under-appreciated in the world, which makes them wonderful value in the market; pack your bags and get going, but be sure to read our guide about visiting Seville and Tasting Sherry before you do!
You see, travelling with wine doesn't have to be an expensive proposition and there are wonderful holidays that can be organised under even a strict budget, particularly when you're visiting the regions we've just mentioned! As long as you're well positioned to travel and haven't spent your entire budget on a 5* hotel, these regions will reward you greatly, with affordable trips to wineries, gorgeous scenery and the opportunity to bring back lots of well priced, delicious wine with you. Don't forget to bring your Lazenne Wine Check, which is a cost saving option in itself, to help you transport some of those vinous memories home, safe and sound. Cheers!
For more information on travelling with wine, including more detailed information on allowances and tariffs by country, be sure to check out our complete guide to flying with alcohol: Flying with Alcohol 101