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Ten years of Learning about Wine around Europe

I am the leader of Wine Appreciation at Ems Valley U3A, and we have regularly taken 40 – 50 members on these trips for the last ten years. Wine Appreciation was one of the first interest groups at Ems Valley U3A, after we were formed in 2005. (there are now three separate wine groups).

In 2008 wine member Richard Galloway suggested a visit to Rioja. Their Tempranillo wines were some of our favourite wines at that time. I agreed to help and 25 of us travelled on the Portsmouth – Santander overnight ferry in June 2009. A Spanish coach met us at the ferry and we toured the three different districts of Rioja over the next four days. We arranged four visits to wineries, from leading Spanish brand El Coto to the famous Muga Bodegas and smaller family run wineries.

The groups learn about the wines, the culture and the techniques of each wineries.

In 2010 we visited the Moselle region in western Germany, and learnt about some of the subtleties of the Riesling grape. It was early December and the fresh sprinkling of snow on the slopes made a rather magic scene on those river bank vineyards. Christmas markets were an added attraction at this time.

The following year we became more ambitious and decided to go for a full week down to the Languedoc. We quickly learnt that this South West French region would soon be challenging Bordeaux for quality red wines. Our visits to the wineries showed us that the Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan and Mourvedre grape varieties produced some remarkable red wines, and a very special white wine named Picpoul.


In 2012 we opted for the Loire. We learnt all about Chenin Blanc (which can vary from bone dry and off-dry, to syrupy sweet!), and when it came to the red wines, we were immersed in Cabernet Franc (not to mention those sparkling Crémant wines of Saumur!). This is a lovely part of France, and we visited the Chateau of Villandry and Cheverny, but based ourselves in Amboise. If ever you are here, ensure you visit Château du Clos Lucé where Leonardo da Vinci spent his last years.


The following year we were wanting to look at the Tempranillo grape in greater detail. We were well aware that the Ribera del Duero area was now challenging the rule of Rioja! A look at the map showed that we could geographically encompass this area with Toro and Rueda. (Rueda excelled in the production of Verdejo, a fruity white wine variety that was becoming popular in the U.K.)
At the end, we had to agree that Ribera del Duero reds were definitely challenging the dominance of Rioja.

2014 saw us in the celebrated Burgundy wine region and we incorporated Chablis on the way down and Champagne on the way back. We were fortunate to have an Axa insurance pensioner amongst our midst and so therefore able to have an introduction to Chateau Arlot in Nuits Saint Georges. We were treated to a vertical tasting ranging from 2006 to the current vintage.

In 2015 we flew to Verona to taste the wines of Veneto. Yes, we did “chew” through several Amarones, but decided that Valpolicella Ripasso was the red wine to concentrate on and we visited the winery that supplied the Wine Society with their “Society’s Valpolicella Ripasso”. Bodegas Valpantena was a firm favourite from that very day. Verona and Mantova nearly overwhelmed our history buffs, and then for the second part of that trip, we drove north to the Dolomites to taste their indigenous reds and very fine white wines.

The following year we visited Alsace, commencing with Strasbourg itself. Our visit to the European Parliament building coincided with the very day that they were going to the polls back home to trigger Brexit! Alsace is a pretty flower decked succession of higgledy-piggledy built villages that form this most attractive wine region. But white wine varieties rule so we made arrangements to import Rhone reds for the all important pre-dinner wine tastings.

We had not been to Portugal and the Douro was no longer just the source of grapes for Port. They could see that the 4 or 5 indigenous varieties that made Port could equally be directed to make table wine. Our visit coincided with a heat wave that brought terrible wild fires but our visit to Oporto was all about tasting Port and the stay in the Douro Valley was all about the superb table wines. It was capped by a boat trip on that part of the Douro which is not accessible by road.


This year, the calls for a return to Italy were overwhelming. We spent the first day in Vicenza to study the buildings of Andea Palladio, including his fabulous Teatro Olimpico and we tasted Soave in Soave and Lugana south of Lake Garda. For the final three days we travelled north to Trento, a lovely historic city. Our wine tastings here concentrated on Tereldego and Lagrein for reds and Nosiola, Pinot Bianco and Grigio, Sauvignon and Traminer Aromatico for the white wine drinkers.

If any U3A Wine Appreciation groups are considering a wine trip abroad or would like to find out more, I would be very pleased to offer any help or advice at