A wine guide to sipping your way around the Mediterranean

A wine guide to sipping your way around the Mediterranean

When it comes to wine, the Mediterranean has a long and rich history. The area’s warm climate, agricultural techniques and local varietals produce unique white, red and sparkling wines you won’t find elsewhere. So raise a glass and sip your way around the Mediterranean, with this handy guide on what to drink where.

Spain

Mallorca

Like all Mediterrean cultures, Mallorca and its wine culture are intertwined. Wine had been produced in Mallorca since the beginning of the Roman Empire. Roman historian Cayo Plinio the Old wrote in Naturalis Historia, “The Balearic wines are equally compared with the Italian wines.”

When Arabs conquered the island, wine consumption decreased, but the Arabs brought with them agricultural techniques to improve vineyards production. Wine production was revived in the second half of the 1800s, when the Phylloxera disease destroyed France’s vineyards and the country started to import wine from Mallorca. However, wine production stopped again when Phylloxera arrived to the island as well. All the vineyards died and were replaced with almond trees.

Now, wine production has returned. Because of its limited production, Mallorca doesn’t export wine. Which is a perfect excuse to come to Mallorca, taste its wine and to buy some unique bottles to bring back home.

Wines to sample

An interesting red wine to sample is Gallines & Foques, with local varietals Manto Negro and Syrah. Plus, the label was designed by a social cooperative where people with learning disabilities work together and receive an income.

White wines include Torre des Canong Blanc from the hands of Toni Gelabert,  the first winemaker to use the autochthonous Giro blanc grape. Now other cellars follow his example.

Try Twenty Twelve rosé wine from Es Fangar cellar. They are one of the best wine producers on the island and have developed one of the best wines using biodynamic techniques. The wine contains a mix of French varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, as well as local varietals such as Callet and Manto Negro.

From the Ribas cellar — where they produce very good wines — sample their Moscato sweet dessert wine created with Moscatel de grano menudo and aged in French barrels for six months.

Mallorcan wines are good to combine with meat, pastas, paella and rices and, of course, fish.

Local Mallorca wine with Sobrassada and cheese | Photo by Urban Adventures

Wine areas

There are five different areas on the island, all with different climates: the Sierra Tramuntana, a mountain chain in front of the sea; el Raiguer, a long tail area crossing the island; el Pla, the central flat part; the hilly Serra de Llevant; and el Mijorn, in the south near the sea.

Within these areas are two designation of origins: Binissalem and Pla i Llevant, which is an extended area that includes Pla, Mijorn, and the Llevant hills. You can find also these two regional designation of origins: vi de la terra Mallorca and the more recent Sierra de Tramuntana-Costa Nord.

Mallorca Wine & Food Tours

Discover Mallorca in a glass (or on a plate!) on one of these tasty Mallorca tours:

Tapas Night in Palma
Locals know the best nights in Palma de Mallorca are tapas nights! We’re meeting up with locals and taking you on a foodie adventure that’s filled with tasty tapas and perfect pinchos, and washing it down with local Spanish wines and beers.

Making Paella: From Market to Mouth!
Join a local chef in his family home and learn how to make this famous Mediterranean dish. They say the glory of the “Mastro Paellero” (the cook) can last for days or even weeks after his or her meal, depending on the quality of the paella. How about you? Think you have what it takes to be a Mastro Paellero for a day?!

San Sebastian

In Rioja, wine production dates back to the 11th century BCE, when the Phoenicians settled here. Their inheritors, the Romans, arrived to Rioja in the second century BCE, and over the next 500 years transformed this area into a wine region. For centuries, Christian monks maintained the tradition of wine production for religious celebrations. In the mid 19th century, many French winemakers from Bordeaux moved to Rioja and shared techniques with locals, such as using oak barrels to mature the wine. Now thanks to these improvements and the great passion of local winemakers, Riojan wines are one of the most recognised Spanish wines.

Wines to sample

Local wines to sample include a white Katxiña or Elkano, a red Baigorri or Ysios, and Txomin Etxaniz rosé. There isn’t a tradition of drinking sweet wines in Basque Country, so locals usually order Pedro Jimenez. Most people would rather finish lunch with locally produced sweet liquor Patxaran, which is produced with sloe (blackthorn) berries.

Txakoli pairs the best with marinated anchovies and pintxo gilda (anchovy, olive and local green pepper skewers). Tempranillo rioja pairs well with carrilleras (pork cheeks), steak, local potato stew or fried lamb ribs.

Wine areas

San Sebastian is lucky enough to have several wine areas. The local wine is Txakoli, a refreshing white wine produced just outside of San Sebastian. The vineyards are located along the coastline, which influences the taste because of the constant change in weather due to the air, sun and wind.

The most popular wine of San Sebastian though is Rioja. Rioja is one of just two wine regions in Spain honored with the label DOC (Denominación de Origen Calificada). This means that the wines here fulfill the highest quality standards according to Spanish wine law. The most amazing characteristic of Rioja is they can be produced by big winemakers as well as small family-run bodegas, and both winemakers gain the title of DOC.

San Sebastian Wine & Food Tours

Discover the Basque region in a glass (or on a plate!) on one of these tasty San Sebastian tours:

Grab Your Pintxo
Forget museums, textbooks, and culture lessons, one of the best ways to understand Basque culture is through its food. Join this San Sebastian tour to taste (and drink) your way through the Basque territories with a local guide and learn the most important facts about culture and history.

Eat Like a Local: Gourmet Delights of the Basque Region
This tour takes you off the beaten path, beyond the pintxos bars and delivers you to the heart of the region’s best produce, introducing you to local cheeses, top quality Iberian ham, spectacular seafood, luscious wines and delightful sweet treats. And did we mention that you’ll try the best croquettes AND finest coffee in town?!

Catalonia

Grapes and people have something in common: they both love the sun and a cool sea breeze. The weather conditions of the north Spanish region of Catalonia mean winemakers are producing some of the finest wines in the world. The Mediterranean climate is perfect for growing grapes and it’s hardly surprising that the regions of Penedes, Montsant, Alella and the prestige DOQ Priorat are famous around the world.

The climate isn’t the only factor. The great quality of Catalan wines also stems from the diversity of the soil and the production methods used. In many ways, Catalan wines are close to French ones, using the same  production method as the French do for making Champagne. Originally called Xampany, this sparkling wine was introduced around 1870 by the Codorníu winery, but had to change its name because of the close resemblance to its French version. They changed it to Cava, after the Catalan word for ‘cellar.’

The ongoing competition with French wines continued and a story goes the Catalans once smuggled an excellent 1970 Torres into a prestigous Bordeaux wine competition in 1979 — and then won a prize with it.

Find out for yourself if Catalan wines are as good as we say and open a bottle of Cava on the beach, or drink a red Montsant in a local tapas bar in Barcelona.

Wines to sample

White wines include Raventos d’Alella Pansa Blanca. This Xarelo grape is a good fit with  seafood paella.

The powerful red wine, Scala Dei, pairs great with all kinds of meat, like lamb or rabbit.

Anna Flor de Rosa and Caves Codorníu are examples of rosés. Pairs well with tapas, seafood rice dishes or a coca de escalivada with sardines and anchovies.

Espolla winery has some great sweet wines. Good with desserts like the Catalan version of crême brulée, crema catalana.

Mastinell winery has very nice Cavas that go very well with langostines, gambas and clams.

Barcelona Wine & Food Tours

Discover Catalonia in a glass (or on a plate!) on a tasty Barcelona tour:

Barcelona Tapas Tour “en el barrio”
Join this food envy-inducing Barcelona tour for three hours of power eating, Spanish-style. Join locals as they indulge in the fine art of eating and drinking, something Spaniards are champions at. By the end of the tour, you’ll know your banderillas from your pintxo, even if you can’t pronounce them.

 

Sip your way through the Mediterranean | Photo by Urban Adventures

Italy

With a wine history dating back more than 4,000 years, and a climate ideally suited to viticulture, Italy is one of the most diverse winemaking countries in the world. By the time the Greeks first came to southern Italy, wine had long been a part of everyday life. The Etruscans, followed by the Romans, also took a great interest in winemaking skills.

With the rise of Catholicism and the importance of wine as part of the sacrament, Italy continued to refine winemaking techniques throughout the middle ages, firmly cementing an international reputation making excellent wines. It was not until the 1960s, when a series of laws were passed to control wine quality and labelling, that the modern era of winemaking began.

Today, Italian wines are more varied and more popular than ever.

Veneto

The Veneto region, which includes Venice, is best known for its wine production. Both reds and whites are widely produced here. The history of wine dates back way before the Roman Empire. Archaeological evidence show the consumption of wine was common in prehistoric times, though their wines were not as sophisticated as ours.

The region started to regularly produce wine under the Venetian Republic. Veneto wines were exported throughout Europe by Venetian merchants and the use of the elegant and beautiful Murano glass bottles helped to extend the wine market beyond noble families. The boost in production of the Veneto wines came when the Venetian Republic started losing commercial power in the mid 1500s and stopped importing wine.

Production in the Verona area started growing, only to stop a couple of centuries later due to extremely cold winters and the dreadful phylloxera disease. The complete rebirth of the wine culture emerged after World War II.  Nowadays, wines like Prosecco, Amarone and Valpolicella are world-renowned and awarded.

Wines to sample

When it comes to Prosecco, try Borgoluce, Malibran, Sommariva and Canevel. Prosecco is very versatile and depending on the sugar content, pairs perfectly with a great variety of dishes. Brut Prosecco is amazing with soppressa, fish and semi-aged cheese, while an extra dry Prosecco is best as an aperitif, or with cake.

Soave wines include Cantina, Coffele and Cantina di Soave. Soave is known for its floral perfumes and fresh taste and pairs well with any fish dish or white meats.

Local reds include Masi, Fumanelli and Sartori. Amarone is a full bodied red that can be drank on its own, or paired with red meat dishes or seasoned cheeses.

Recioto is a sweet wine and include Cantina Valpolicella Negrar and Ugolini. This red and rich sweet dessert wine is best with dry cakes and pastries, or even with aged cheeses.

Local Grappa varieties include Nardini and da Ponte.

Wine regions

With its variety in soil, climate and diverse environment, Veneto is famous for wine. Most of the wines are trademarked DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), meaning that winemakers follow strict laws to produce the best wine possible. There are three main production areas, but traditional wines are cultivated everywhere in the region.

Verona province and the Valpolicella is famous for its reds, mainly Amarone and Valpolicella wine. The whole province of Verona is studded by wineries with stunning views and amazing wines, from ones overlooking Lake Garda that produce Bardolino, to the those clinging to the hills by the castle of Soave.

Further east between the two cities of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene is an area entitled to produce Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore — a long name that means only the best certified Prosecco. The climate and soil gives this wine its characteristic floral and fruity flavour.

Colli Euganei are the hills surrounding the city of Padua, and the entire area is dedicated to producing wine. Among them are Merlot and Cabernet, along with local Pinello, Pinot Bianco and the sweet dessert wine, Fiori d’Arancio.

Venice Wine & Food Tours

Discover the region of Veneto in a glass (or on a plate!) on one of these tasty Venice tours:

Cicchetti & Wine Tour of Venice
Wine + food + traghetti = Venice personified. Join this best selling Venice tour to dose yourself up on Venetian culture in the form of local food specialties and regional wines. It’s the Italian way!

Treviso Gourmet Discovery
Escape Venice and discover the medieval city of Treviso! On this wine-and-food-fuelled adventure, you’ll enjoy some local aperitivo, explore the Veneto countryside with its heartbreaking views, and taste some of the region’s most interesting local wines. Perfezione!

Tuscany

The region of Tuscany is divided into wine zones, the most famous being Chianti. The origins of Chianti came from the Etruscans, a civilisation that existed before the Roman Empire.

There are wine families in Florence who have been producing wine for over 30 generations. The Antinori family are based in the historical centre of Florence and wine can be purchased from a small opening in the Palace doors (think of it as take-out door that is centuries old!).

South of Siena is the medieval town of Montalcino where Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino is produced. This wine was founded in 1888 by the Biondi Santi family. Unlike Chianti, this wine is full-bodied and aged three to five years in French oak barrels.

The Foothills of Cortona is known for its Syrah wines. East of Cortona, you can find the wine zone called Nobile di Montepulciano.

Wines to sample

Regional wines pair perfectly with seasonal Italian food. Tuscan grape varietals pair well with salty Tuscan prosciutto and a local salami called finocchiona. Pappardelle with a ragu wild boar sauce is perfect with the Syrah from Cortona. Brunello di Montalcino wine complements the famous Florentine beef steak.

Cantucci almond biscuits can be paired with vin santo, a dessert wine made with Trebbiano and Malvasia. To produce this wine, the grapes are picked and laid on straw mats  in a ventilated room so they dry and become raisin-like, then the grapes are pressed and fermented in small, porous Sicilian oak barrels.

Florence Wine & Food Tours

Discover Tuscany in a glass (or on a plate!) on one of these tasty Florence tours:

Aperitivo Time! Florence Wine Tour
Pre-dinner drinks are an institution in these parts. Ahhhh Italia, you have our hearts! Join this Florence tour to say ‘salute’ to Italy’s traditional wine o’ clock… with a chianti of course!

Florence Foodies Walk
Truffles. Gelato. Chianti. Olive Oil. All the essentials of the food pyramid are included on this Florence tour. Leave the diet at home and embrace the feast that is Florence.

Lucca

Born in the Middle Ages, Montecarlo is a beautiful village situated on a hill, in the province of Lucca. It produces top quality red and white wines. Nowadays traditional Sangiovese is a widely planted variety here.

Montecarlo was always better-known — at least among connoisseurs — thanks to its unconventional white wines, though they are native to inland areas. Here, the neutral Trebbiano grape is enhanced by the addition of other interesting varieties like Semillon or Pinot Bianco, which give the wines a certain terroir character.

Wines to sample

Wines to sample in Lucca include Montecarlo, Bordocheo, Picchio. Colline Lucchesi red wines have a great personality and fragrance. They pair well with local cured meat, such as prosciutto bazzone, finocchiona, soprassata, lardo from Colonnata and pecorino cheese.

Colline Lucchesi white wines have a fresh and fruity flavour. They pair with fish dishes, white meats and fresh cheeses.

Vin Santo is a sweet dessert wine traditionally made in Tuscany by pressing dried grapes and fermenting the concentrated juices. It is beloved for its rich, golden hue and notes of caramel, honey, dried apricot and hazelnut. Vin Santo is served with crunchy, almond-studded Tuscan cookies called cantucci.

Lucca Wine & Food Tours

Discover Lucca in a glass (or on a plate!) on one of these tasty Lucca tours:

Lucca Aperitivo Adventure
The flavours, the aromas, the colours, the smiles… they’re all part of life in Lucca! Learn more about the city as you sip your way through narrow streets and medieval squares. Artisanal beer, local wines, and even a top-secret liqueur will have you thirsty for more Lucca!

Flavours of Lucca
To live like a local is to eat like a local! And we’re going to show you how to drink and dine like they do in Lucca, with a dash of history thrown in along the way. Sweet bread with raisins, sheep’s cheese, prosciutto, salami, olive oil, chocolate, wine, beer, cappuccino… what more could you want on a yummy Italian food tour?!

 

Raise a glass to Crete’s excellent local wines. | Photo by Crete Urban Adventures

Greece

Greece is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. Winemaking is an inseparable part of Greece’s history, culture and religion. Minoan Crete is believed to be the earliest recorded territory for wine production, dating back 2,000 years.

Ancient Greeks worshiped Dionysus, God of the grape harvest, winemaking, fun and fertility. References to wine were also made in the epic poem, Homer’s Odyssey. At that time, wine came from Aegean Islands and because of the sea, it was easy for them to transport and trade their wine extensively throughout the Mediterranean. During the Roman Empire, Greek wine had a high reputation as one of the best quality, even better than Roman wines.

When Christianity spread in Medieval Europe, Greek wines such as Malvasia, the most famous wine from Monemvasia, gained reputation and were exported to northern Europe. However, during the Ottoman Empire wine making went into decline. Since mid-20th century, Greece’s wine industry went through a rebirth, with different grape varieties and quality wines available.

Wines to sample

Whites include Nostos, Assyrtiko-Athiri and Seméli. Medium seafood dishes, like gilt-head bream, red mullet and raw oyster, seem to take one more flavour when matched with the Greek white wine, called Moschofilero.

Local reds include Kudos, Efivos, Agiorgitiko Papaioannou and Rapsani Old Vines. Kotsifali, the Cretan red grape varietal, goes with a wide range of hot pot dishes, such as briam, which includes seasoned vegetables. Agiorgitiko pairs wonderfully with roasted lamb.

Rosé wines includes Vissinokipos and Ktima Ligas. Xinomavro is delicious with pasta with mince meat sauce.

Greek dessert wines include Vinsanto and Moschatos Lemnou. Greek tray bake sweets, such as ravani, taste great with Vinsanto of Santorini.

Wine Regions

Northern Greece is a very extensive viticultural region. Geographically, this wine region extends west from the Pindus mountain range to Thrace  in the east and the south border of Mount Olympus — presenting varied topography and different micro-climates. Northern Greece includes the three viticultural regions of Epirus, Macedonia and Thrace. This region produces wines from international varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Chardonnay and different indigenous varieties with the most outstanding being Xinomavro. Some of the pioneers of Greek wine, including Boutaris and Gerovassiliou, run their estates and wineries in the region.

Cretan vineyards account for almost 13% of the wine regions of Greece. Crete includes 12 different native varieties such as, Vidiano, Kotsifali, Mantilari and Vilana, while innovative producers experiment by blending them with grapes such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.

Nemea, located in the northeastern corner of Peloponnese, is the most important red wine region of Greece. Nemean wines are composed entirely of red grape varietal Agiorgitiko.

What makes wines of Santorini so unique is the island itself. Geologically, Santorini is all that remain of an ancient volcanic cone, of which soil is responsible for the exclusive character of the indigenous varieties and the wines. The soil is rich in essential minerals while the lack of clay in it gives the vines a natural immunity from phylloxera. The vineyard of Santorini is believed to be the world’s oldest, still under continuous cultivation. Due to the harsh weather conditions of the island (lack of rain, summer heat and strong winds), producers follow a specific technique of cultivation. Called the “kouloura method,” vines are woven into continuous circles to form a basket. Santorini’s most significant contribution to the wine world is the sweet dessert wine, Vinsanto.

Crete Wine & Food Tours

Discover Greece in a glass (or on a plate!) on one of these tasty Crete tours:

Gourmet Trail of Rethymnon
Taste your way through the old city of Rethymnon on this evening food tour that uncovers the hidden spots not found in guidebooks. Eat and drink the best products of the region, talk to local vendors, and find out why Crete is a foodies’ paradise!

Foodies’ Feast of Heraklion
Crete is a foodies’ paradise and Heraklion is the capital! Come experience the city like a local and explore the neighbourhoods where residents live, eat, and shop, all while snacking away on the best local treats on the island.

Bohemian Sunset Tour
If wine is your thing, you’ll be glad to know there’s plenty of it in Chania! As well as good food, strong spirits, and mythical tales hidden down back alleyways. We’re checking it all out and more after sunset on this tour that visits the spots only #localsknow.

From Stomp to Sip! Vineyard and Harvest Experience
Love wine? Want to be a farmer for a day and get hands-on experience in a vineyard? Willing to get your feet wet and red in a roll-up-your-pants grape stomp?! Even if you don’t like physical labour, you can still enjoy the fruits of the grape harvest! Grab this opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, off the beaten path on Crete.

 

Sample local Marais wines | Photo by Paris Urban Adventures

France

France is one of the biggest and most famous wine producing country worldwide. Winemaking started back in the 6th century BCE, by Greek settlers. During medieval times, the vineyards were mostly the propriety of the church. The French revolution ended that period by confiscating the vineyards, but the French production was brutally stopped in the late 19th century when phylloxera destroyed almost all French vineyards. However, a phylloxera-resistant Californian rootstock was imported, on which French vines were grafted. So almost all the vineyards today in France have American roots!

Wines to sample

Meursault is one of France’s favourite white wines, produced in Burgundy. Unlike the rest of French production, the Burgundy whites are almost entirely mono-grape made with Chardonnay. It’s seen as one of the best in the world, with round texture, a buttery and nutty taste, and aromas of honey and white flowers.

French production in reds is so diverse from one area to the next one, or even within the different areas, that it’s difficult to pick one. But if Bordeaux and Burgundy are seen as among the best worldwide, some other areas are gaining prominence. Wines of the Pays d’Oc, by instance, was historically seen as the low-quality French wine production area. But in the last decade, a younger generation of passionate wine makers have set-up in that area, producing excellent cheap wines.

Rosé is mostly drunk during the summer. They are seen as perfect “thirst wines” (don’t forget to still drink water though!). The biggest production of rosé wines is in the Provence area, and for very long in France rosé were seen as a cheap wines to drink with a summer barbecue. However, the production of rosé is improving in quality.

Possibly some of the best dessert wines in France are produced in the Loire valley. Try Coteaux du Layon, Coteaux de l’Aubance or Bonnezeaux.

Wines usually go very well with the food specialties from that area. For example, a goat cheese will go very well with a mineral Sancerre from the Loire valley, whereas a salty Roquefort fits very well with a sweet wine of Montbazillac, or a round and nutty Comté will go very well with a white Chardonnay from Burgundy.

Wine regions

Even if most of the varieties of grapes used world-wide, such as Cabernet, Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah and Pinot Noir, come from France, French wines tend to be classified in areas rather than from their grape variety. So when you order a glass of wine in a French café, you will be more likely to ask for a Bordeaux, a Bourgogne or Côte du Rhône, rather than a Chardonnay. This comes from the fact that French pay a lot of importance to the concept of “terroir” rather than the grapes. Terroir refers to the specific place the wine is made. For instance, a Chardonnay from Burgundy will have very little to do with one made in south of France, as the soil, the sun, wind and rain is very different. This is the reason why Champagne can only be made in the Champagne area!

Paris Wine & Food Tours

Discover France in a glass (or on a plate!) on one of these tasty Paris tours:

Gourmet Marais
The best-preserved medieval area in Paris, the heart of the Jewish community, the centre of the gay scene — the neighbourhood of Marais is as eclectic as the gastronomic treats you’ll try on this tour! Get ready to eat, drink, and explore your way through the city’s gourmet charms!

Beer vs. Wine: Bastille Bites Tour
Wine + French food + craft beer = a fantastic way to discover Paris! Join this laid-back, food and drink-focused walking tour to discover Paris through its bistrots, wine bars, brasseries, and cool local neighbourhoods. Soak up French culture, learn more about the city, and get your fill of wine, craft beer, and local treats along the way.

About author

Urban Adventures

Urban Adventures. Quite simply, the Best. Day. Ever.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *