Cellar Tours Blog

Memorable Dishes of 2010in France, Spain, Italy, and Ireland

It’s become an annual tradition: we look back at the last year and consider what the best meals of the year were.  Last year we focused on Italy, and this year we are doing it across the board.

As we travel throughout the five countries where we offer our gourmet tours (France, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and France) throughout the year, between the whole team we get to try literally hundreds of restaurants throughout the year. These range from hole- in- the wall – family restaurants to gastro pubs to Michelin starred high end eateries.

We have selected some of our favorite dishes (as you can see we tended to favor simple preparations and top quality ingredients over complicated dishes)  this past year with links to where we were lucky enough to taste them.

May 2011 be a terrific year for all our readers, may you eat and drink very well!

1. Seafood platter, with delicious lobster and oysters, at Aherne’s in Youghal – county Cork, Ireland

Memorable Dishes 2010

2. Frog legs at Maison Lameloise in Burgundy

Memorable Dishes 2010

3. Pizzoccheri at Locanda Altavilla in Valtellina

Memorable Dishes 2010

4. Amazing Irish breakfast with wild smoked salmon and carragheen pudding at The Mill in Dunfanaghy – county Donegal

Memorable Dishes

5. Scallops at Le Coquillage of Chateau Richeaux and informal tasting of oysters (creuses and plates) in Cancale

Memorable Eating 2010


6. Pan fried eel and salad with shallot vinaigrette at 2 Michelin starred restaurant at Domaine des Hauts de Loire in the Loire Valley

Memorable Dishes 2010

7. Spring specialty with wild asparagus at La Subida in Friuli

Memorable Dishes 2010

8. Strawberry millefeuille at Venissa (owned by top Prosecco producer Bisol) in Venice




9. Grilled Rodaballo (Turbot ) at Elkano in Getaria, Spanish Basque Country

Memorable Dishes 2010

10.  Sole with Fennel, Bergamot and Med Flavors at Celler de Can Roca in Catalunya, Spain

Memorable Dishes 2010

Kosher wineries in Spain- Spanish wines for Hannukkah

Posted by gen On October - 23 - 2009

Jewish Quarter Cordoba

With Jewish holidays around the corner, many of you will already be planning the food and wine. If you are sick of the same old wines, why not look further afield?

Spain, still home to a population of Sephardic Jews (particularly in Catalunya), has a a growing number of Kosher wines available, here is a list of some of the better ones to pick up:

1. Flor de Primavera (Capçanes) from Montsant. This was the first kosher wine sold commercially in Spain and is considered indeed to be one of the finest kosher wines in the world. Info on winery here.

Kosher wine Spain

2. Alate Kosher from Navarra. Info on winery here.

Kosher wine Spain

3.Tikvah (Tagonius) from Madrid. Info on the estate here.

Kosher wine

4. Ramon Cardova from Rioja. Recommended by the Chicago Tribune in a Kosher wine feature. Info on the wine here.

Kosher wine Spain

5. And probably the most famous Kosher wine company in Spain must be Elvi Wines, Spanish Jewish owners, making delicious kosher wines all over the peninsula including the regions of Priorat,  Rioja, Utiel-Requena, Ribera del Júcar, and Cava. Main brands include Makor, 770, and Adar.

Kosher wines Spain

Check out the Kosher Wine Society’s tips in Spain a Luxury Mercedes chauffeured wine tours can be organized to kosher estates in Spain as part of a Jewish Heritage tour with Cellar Tours.

Kosher Wines

People always ask us “when is the best time to come to the wine country” (in Europe where we work) and the answer we always give is: May or June for good weather and less crowds and of course September and October during the harvest time. Often however, those months might not correspond to the vacation time available to you!

Best time to visit the wine country

Not to worry, here is a list of suggestions of great regions to visit month by month, to give you inspiration when planning your wine tour in Europe:

January: Sicily

Best time to visit the wine country in Europe- January, Sicily

Enjoy the ski slopes of Etna one day and the beach the next! Sicily is a great destination in winter and offers varied landscapes, stunning wines (we love Donnafugata, Planeta, Tasca d´Almerita and more) and a fascinating architectural mix from Moorish to Norman, medieval to Spanish. Visit Taormina, Etna wine country, Siracusa, Ragusa, Cerasulo di Vittoria wine country, Marsala wine country, the salt mounds near Trapani and the unique city of Palermo.

February: Alentejo

Best time to visit the wine country in Europe- February, Alentejo

We´ve mentioned Alentejo before, as being a good option for a winter wine tour and say it again! While temperatures can certainly be crisp and bracingly cold, the sun is almost always shining in the Alentejo in winter, the rich red wines will warm you up and there are virtually no crowds. The landscapes are monumental, with noble cork forests, Arabic castles and vast vineyard-covered hills punctuated by white and yellow Quintas. Stay at the fabulous Convento do Espinheiro near Évora and spend a few days relaxing in this simply delightful, unspoiled wine region.

March: Campania

Best time to visit the wine country in Europe- March, Campania

La Bella Campania– what a wonderful region to visit in Spring! The Amalfi Coast and Capri are flourishing with wild flowers, the sun is shining and the oppressive summer crowds have not arrived. Naples is one of the most interesting cities in Italy, and home of the Vera Pizza and our favorite Archeological Museum in the world (with 99% of the collection of mosaics from Pompeii). The wine country is extensive and varied here, here is a list of tips on top cellars and places to stay, things to do, etc.

April:Jerez (Sherry)

Best time to visit the wine country in Europe- April, Sherry

Andalucía (Southern Spain) is alive with local fiestas and celebrations in April and also a great time to visit Jerez, in the heart of the Sherry wine country. Many bodegas (wine cellars) are located right downtown and it is one of the few wine regions in Spain that you can visit without a car. The Sherry wines are delicious, varied and completely and utterly undervalued. Taste a slightly chilled Amontillado while sitting in a flower covered Andalusian “patio” and nibble on juicy olives and panfried almonds… oh, and don´t forget the relaxing sounds of the Spanish Flamenco guitar, olé! Seville is also a short one hour train ride away. Tips on a great place to stay in Jerez here.

May: Bordeaux

Best place to visit the wine country in May- Bordeaux

Bordeaux is the perennial wine destination in Europe and often a “first” wine tour for wine enthusiasts. It is pretty much a wine lovers dream. The city itself is handsome and sophisticated, kind of a mini Paris, with a wide array of sights, fine hotels, wine bars, wine shops, and gourmet restaurants. It´s also on the door step of some of the most famous wine appellations in the world (whose “Chateaux” are often gorgeous)- Saint Emilion (also one of the prettiest villages in the region), Pomerol, Médoc, Margaux, Pauillac, Saint Julien, Sauternes, the list goes on. You can easily spend a week to 10 days visiting the wine country surrounding Bordeaux, town, and even combine a tour to Cognac (to the north) or Armagnac (to the south). If time permits, spend some time in neighboring Dordogne, one of the most breathtaking regions in Europe.

June: Douro Valley

Best place to visit the wine country in June- Douro Valley

For years this dramatically beautiful wine region was a best kept secret, known only to the Portuguese themselves, port fanatics and wine professionals. However, the luxurious Aquapura hotel opening and the New York Times article that followed (in 2007), has put the Douro Valley firmly on the radar for both casual and serious wine lovers. Expect  to find striking scenery, vintage ports, spectacular dry reds (and some dry whites), and a small but fantastic collection of hotels and restaurants, enough to easily satisfy you on a long weekend or even a week long tour if combined with the historic port lodges of Vilanova, across from Oporto. Take a private Rabelo cruise on the Douro and let the soothing landscapes glide by while sipping on chilled white port….

July: Rioja

Best place to visit the wine country in July- Rioja

Another region that was a well known secret for years, is La Rioja. And funny enough, it was also the launch of a luxury hotel (designed by Frank Gehry at the Marqués de Riscal wine estate) that garnished world attention on it. Rioja is always a delight to visit, but we quite like it in summer as temperatures are sunny and warm, the vineyards are lush and green, and you can combine a few days wine tasting here with a few days at the beach in beautiful San Sebastian (gourmet mecca, about 90 minutes north). Haro is home to some of the most historic “chateau” style wineries like Muga, Lopez de Heredia and Cune, all of which offer scheduled tours in English. If visiting Haro don´t miss lunch at Las Duelas, one of our faves. For something more exclusive, go on a private wine tour to cult estates like Roda and Remirez de Ganuza. Here are some other winery tips from a recent trip here this year.

August: Penedès

Best wine region to visit in August in Europe- Penedes

Again, we like the Penedès in the summer as you can combine a few days in the wine country (staying at Can Bonastre, but of course), with a few days at the beach (while closer to the Costa Daurada, that coastline is over exploited so we recommend the beaches of the Costa Brava such as Aiguablava and Sa Tuna). Located just under an hour from Barcelona (so a viable day trip), Penedès is the home of Spain´s sparkling “Cava”, as well as a host of red and white wines from such famed producers as Miguel Torres and Jean Leon, and high end estates like Pares Balta.  The famous Cava producers Freixenet and Codorniu open up daily for tours. There are some great restaurants in this region including Can Bonastre´s Tribia for high end, and Cal Xim for an authentic winemaker´s haunt. And for something unique, visit the ultra charming owners at Augustus Forum, making the best vinegars in Spain!

September: Tuscany

Best place to visit the wine country in September- Tuscany

Mama mia, Tuscany is a place you should visit at least once in your life! The splendid art cities of Siena, Lucca and Florence; the medieval villages of San Gimignano and Volterra; adorable hamlets like Monterriggioni,  San Miniato and Radda in Chianti are treats on the eye. And the fine wines of Chianti, Montalcino (Brunello), Maremma (Super Tuscans), Montepulciano (Vino Nobile) and countless smaller appellations, are what will attract you wine lovers. Tuscany is beautiful any month of the year, but September is a wonderful time to visit as the vineyards are beautiful and there is excitement in the air in the wine villages with the starting of the harvest.  Chianti is the region most established for wine tourism and many estates open up for general tours. For something more luxurious and private, take a chauffeured tour of the region on a grand tour or enjoy day trips from Tuscany´s main cities.

October: Piedmont

Best wine region to visit in October in Europe- Piedmont

October is the start of the white truffle season in Piedmont (and the truffle festival in Alba) and the ideal month to visit this gourmet wine region. The landscapes of the Langhe in October are probably some of the most picturesque and beautiful we have ever seen.The restaurants, some of the best in Italy (and this is saying a LOT!), all feature special truffle menus in autumn and a foodie tour here is an epicure´s wish come true. Piedmont is also home to the Slow Food movement (founded in the amusingly named town of “Bra”). Wine lovers flock here as the mythical Barolo is produced here, as well as Barbaresco and Gavi. There are a few luxury hotels and upmarket inns, and between wine tasting (we love Roagna, Massolino and Braida for its Barbera) , cheese tasting, truffle hunting and/tasting, and fine dining, you can easily spend a week of gourmet bliss in Piedmont.

November: Burgundy

Best wine region to visit in November in Europe- Burgundy

Bourgogne, Burgundy, is another region equally delicious! And November is a wonderful time to visit as the autumn colors on the vineyards are marvelous and the chill in the air is perfect to enjoy the region´s sublime red wines from Cote de  Nuits, Gevrey -Chambertain, Volnay, Pommard and of course Vosne-Romanée. Burgundy´s white wines are also world famous and you can taste them in their birthplace here in Meursault, Chablis, Puligny -Montrachet, etc. Your base could be in beautiful Beaune or in Dijon (yes, the home of Dijon mustard) or in any of the countless little wine villages in between. Noyers, Buxyand Vézelay are particularly delightful. Some highlights of Burgundy include the Abbey of Cluny; the spectacular Romanesque church of Vézelay; the Abbey of Fontenay; the network of canals (you can enjoy wine tours on Barges) and the pristine scenery; the pretty Chateau Meursault and Chateau of Bussy-Rabutin; the Clos de Vougeot; and of course the hundreds of wineries. And if time permits, you could also do a combo Burgundy and Champagne tour!

December: Alsace

Best wine region to visit in December in Europe- Alsace

Alsace is the quintessential winter destination with its charming Christmas markets and fairy tale villages. It feels German at the same time as it feels French and in fact has belonged to both countries. One of the main dishes here is Sauerkraut! The region´s neat vineyards, villages and farms are nestled in between the Vosges mountains to the west and the Rhine river to the east. While a microscopic amount of red wine is made here, Alsace is famous for its voluptuous and spicy white wines, perfect winter whites in fact. Stay in the darling village of Riquewihr and enjoy wine tasting at the numerous cellars located along the 38 vineyard trails on the designated “Route de Vin“. Top wines to look out for incude Marcel Deiss, Zind- Humbrecht, Trimbach, and Weinbach.

Do you have any suggestions for our readers of  wine regions and when?

Wine Marketing Conference Rioja, Spain

This past month we were invited to speak at the annual wine marketing conference in the wine capital of Logroño, in the gorgeous Rioja wine region. The conference lasted for 2 days and the majority of the 300 and odd guests were local wineries looking for unique ideas for wine tourism and innovative strategies to face the global wine crisis. We gave a presentation on Wine Tourism and addressed topics such a: new wine tourism experiences (both in Rioja and abroad, such as our tours in Italy and Portugal); the profile of the winery visitor (demographics); what wine tourists are looking for when they visit; examples of top class wineries offering exclusive wine tourism experiences (we chose Badia Passignano in Tuscany and Esporão in Alentejo); what wineries need to do in order to cooperate with agencies specialized in wine tours; innovative ideas for small wineries to develop wine tourism initiatives (wine picnics,4X4 tours of the vines, tastings set amid the vineyards, etc) and trends in the wine tourism sector. The audience was enthusiastic and full of young professionals working in Rioja wineries. Amazingly everyone stayed awake throughout the presentation as by the time we spoke it was about 6PM on a Friday evening with a mid day wine tasting 🙂

Wine Marketing Conference Rioja Spain Wine Marketing Conference Rioja Spain

Wine Tourism in Rioja

The concept of wine tours and wine tourism in Spain overall is still in the infant stages. Far from established wine country tourist destinations like Napa Valley, Tuscany, Australia or Mendoza, many Spanish wine regions still can´t get their head around wine tourism -if they want it or not, if it will be mass tourism (big coaches) or exclusive tourism and the level of cooperation between wine estates to promote their regions and sub regions as a whole has not been strategic. The buzz word these days is- potential! We have been offering wine tours in Spain since 2003 and have overcome many barriers to getting wineries interested in receiving visitors and things are improving all the time. There is still a lot of work to be done to establish Rioja as a wine destination in the minds of international travelers.  However the wineries we work with in Spain and Rioja are true professionals, making great wines and creative with the style of visits they offer.

Wine Marketing Conference Rioja Spain Wine Marketing Conference Rioja Spain

Fellow Speakers at the Wine Marketing Conference in Logroño

What an amazing panel of speakers this conference had over the course of the 2 days! These included Alice Feiring (An American wine journalist with a huge following on her blog, who talked about the influence of the press and the wine gurus. Her book “The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization” is a NY Times bestseller), Anna Riera (a bubbly Catalan journalist specialized in food and wine),  the mega dynamic and supremely entertaining Saúl Mallols (one of the business managers of Lavinia), Stephen Rannekleiv (the Vice President of Rabobank International who talked about the American fine wine consumption market and how the economic crisis is affecting it) and Paolo Battegazzore (one of the heads at  Folio Fine Wine Partners in Napa who gave a fascinating and straightforward presentation about the complex and intricate world of wine importing in the USA and his recommendations for Rioja wine producers.

We also had some interesting, live video conferences with professionals around the world such as Miguel Ángel Rivas (Director of  Marinter S.A., the most prestigious wine company in México), and Federico Vázquez de Novoa (Tourism Manager in Mendoza, Argentina- the most successful wine tourism destination in South America). The caliber of speakers was extremely high and we were honored to be included on the panel.

Half way through the day, a sensorial wine tasting was organized for us, consisting of some gorgeous wines such as Numanthia (!!!). My my my, were we ever pampered, have a look at the hard day´s work:

Wine Marketing Conference Rioja Spain Wine Marketing Conference Rioja Spain

Logroño– this small working wine town hosts a series of interesting wine events throughout the year. The “Catarsis” music and wine festival has just concluded, but you can catch it again next year (various wineries like Marqués de Vargas, Juan Alcorta, Franco Españolas, Darien, Ontañon and Ijalba host classic music evenings, fabulous! Another reason to come to Logroño are the tapas on the mythical calle Laurel. The idea is you have a pincho (small dish on a plate or brochette) and a glass of wine and wander down the street popping into bars as a way of having lunch or dinner. It´s fun and while here you could visit La Casita (get the brocheta de calamares y gambas), Bar El Cid (flagship pintxo is the grilled wild mushroom), Bar Donosti (get the Boletus con jamón de reserva), Bar Entremuros (stuffed red pepper), Taberna del Laurel (patatas bravas), and La Tasca del Pato (Atlantic crab). Other lovely places to wander around here include the Iglesia de Santiago, Plaza del Mercado, Calle Portales, and El Espolón.

Read about our site inspection of Rioja wineries here.

Check out other wine marketing and wine tourism conferences in Cape Town (July 2009) and Bordeaux (November).