One of the great pleasures of being a Hideaway Report editor is visiting wine regions around the world. Small luxury hotels gravitate toward these beauty spots, as do fine restaurants. Sometimes our travels take us well out of the vinous mainstream. In 2018, we found ourselves sipping Saperavi among the qvevri of the Republic of Georgia, and last year, we discovered some fascinating wines on Vancouver Island in Canada. But our other most memorable tastings of the year occurred in classic wine destinations: Italy, France and California. It’s always a pleasure to taste wine in such places. These regions may be classics, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t hold surprises. Who knew what a joy Lazio Cesanese could be?
The most memorable part of our stay at the Hotel De’ Ricci was a private wine tasting. The hotel’s gracious general manager, Flavio Scannavino, also acts as sommelier, customizing tastings from his enviable cellar. It contains multiple vintages of some of the world’s most coveted wines, including Gaja, Sassicaia, Château Mouton Rothschild and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, but we wanted to see if Scannavino could unearth some lesser-known gems. After touring the cellar, we ascended to the hotel’s clubby tasting room, sealed off from the aromas of the kitchen by air-lock-like doors. There, Scannavino presented four wines that we would have never ferreted out on our own. We had no idea that Lazio produced any Sémillon at all, for example, let alone one as good as the 2013 Fiorano Bianco, a focused white with a refreshing saline finish. Just as eye-opening was the 2013 Cesanese by Ômina Romana. Cesanese, the most important red grape in Lazio, achieves greatness in this forceful yet elegant wine that finishes with woodsy tannins. Private tastings at the Hotel De’ Ricci are expensive, but they’re worth every penny.
Hotel De’ Ricci
Via della Barchetta 14, Rome. Tel. (39) 06-687-4775
Our favorite wine bar in Colmar, Le Cercle des Arômes is compact, with a handful of tables inside and a small patio fronting a quiet pedestrianized street. But it has some 180 wines by the glass, including 86 options from Alsace alone, if we counted correctly. The friendly and knowledgeable Antoine took time to chat with us about what sorts of wines we wanted to try, and together we came up with a selection of hard-to-find aged bottlings. We especially loved the elegant 2003 Valentin Zusslin Riesling Pfingstberg Grand Cru, which had a lush mouthfeel, dark acids, slow-moving spiciness and some minerality at the end: a grande dame of a Riesling. But most surprising was a 2009 René Muré Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Clos Saint Landelin. Gewurztraminer is not known for its aging potential, but this fragrant wine still had sharp acidity and exotic pink-peppercorn spice balancing out flavors of honeyed white peach. Gorgeous. No wine lover who visits Colmar should miss this bar.
Le Cercle des Arômes
3 Rue Schongauer, Colmar. Tel. (33) 9-87-40-47-08
Less than half a mile from the Silverado Trail in Calistoga, Eisele Vineyard is tucked into the hills and encompasses 13 distinct terroirs. The biodynamic property is owned by Artémis Domaines, a group founded by the French Pinault family, which invests in some of the most prestigious wineries in the world, including Château Latour. Sonia, our amiable guide, led us through a tasting of five wines, our favorite being the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon. The full-bodied vintage exhibited characteristic flavors of cassis, blackberry, cedar and chocolate, with a lingering mineral finish. Following the tasting, Sonia surprised us with a bountiful picnic of regionally sourced goat cheeses and sliced meats beautifully presented on a charcuterie board made from local black walnut, and she poured us a full glass of the Cabernet. As tastings are available only by private reservation, we had the place to ourselves. It was a real luxury to have time to relax in the sun and get a sense of the estate. We won’t soon forget the exceedingly knowledgeable Sonia nor the remarkable wines produced at Eisele.
2155 Pickett Road, Calistoga. Tel. (707) 942-6061
Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Tim and Colleen Turyk purchased a farm in order to create Unsworth Vineyards, a winery named after Tim’s mother. Of the property’s 12 planted acres, the oldest block is Marechal Foch, which is the grape variety behind the winery’s award-winning dessert wine, Ovation. The winery also produces excellent sparkling wines. The Cuvée De L’ile, a Prosecco-style offering that blends Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Auxerrois, is delightful. The 2015 had a fresh nose of tart Granny Smith apple, creamy pear on the palate and lemon zest on the finish. Unsworth was built “one vine, one bottle, one blend at a time.” The sense of collaboration, passion and dedication is reflected in every wine poured. The sensation of being an extended member of the Turyk family permeates the tasting and makes this an especially memorable experience.
2915 Cameron Taggart Road #1, Mill Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Tel. (250) 929-2292
Ruinart is the oldest Champagne house in the Champagne region, having been founded in 1729. The hospitality here is flawless, and a visit is fascinating, since it begins with a look at Ruinart’s art collection and then continues underground to visit the chalk quarries that stretch for 5 miles and have been used as cellars for nearly three centuries. Along the way, you learn the history of Champagne. Its huge popularity at the French court in Versailles was what first made it an elite drink. Later, a shift from aging the wine in wooden barrels to bottles allowed the wine to gain its international renown. Led by a charming and very knowledgeable English-speaking guide, the small-group tour concludes with a tasting of two Ruinart Champagnes in a well-appointed tasting room.
4 Rue des Crayères, Reims. Tel. (33) 3-26-77-51-51