For American wine lovers, there remains something magical about Europe and its old world estates, some of which have been producing quality wines since the middle ages. Many of the continent's estates are worth visiting for their architectural grandeur, some for their superb wines and others for the magnificence of the surrounding scenery. For travelers who would like a taste of all three, here are five wineries well worth a visit. Tours of these benchmark properties are typically by appointment only, and it is recommended that you make reservations at least two weeks in advance.
Château Haut-Brion - Bordeaux occupies a unique and privileged position in the wine world, and few bottles fetch higher prices than those from the five first-growth châteaus. Any true wine lover can rattle off the hallowed names from memory: Lafite, Mouton, Latour, Margaux and Haut-Brion. Grapes have been grown on the Haut-Brion property since well before Columbus's voyage to the New World. Situated in the Pessac-Léognan appellation, the estate produces grand cru wines from typical Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Construction on the château began in the 16th century, and tours of this imposing structure are the highlight of any visit to the historic property.
The scenic Mosel river valley is home to the world's best Riesling vineyards. — Photo courtesy of Friedrich Petersdorff
Perrier-Jouët - Nothing suggests joie de vivre quite so well as Champagne, a wine so successfully marketed that it has now become virtually synonymous with celebration. There are many superb producers of these vivacious sparklers, but few Champagne houses mix quality with aesthetics like Perrier-Jouët. From the signature Belle Epoque wines with their flowered Art Nouveau-style bottles, to the historic Maison Belle Epoque, none of the region's illustrious names evoke Champagne's golden age as stylishly as Perrier-Jouët. The mansion, located on Epernay's Avenue de Champagne, was build in the 19th century, and showcases over 200 pieces of Edwardian furniture and objets d'art.
Weingut Dr. Loosen - The noble Riesling grape produces some of the world's most elegant and racy white wines, with many of the finest examples coming from blue slate soils on steep sloped vineyards that cling to the hillsides above Germany's Mosel River. The Dr. Loosen estate is located near the village of Bernkastel, and makes stunning wines from old vines planted in six grand cru single-vineyard sites. The estate has been in the family for over 200 years, and is definitely worth a visit, not only for the old-world country charm of the estate, but the incredible natural beauty of the middle Mosel Valley.
Royal Tokaji Wine Company - In the late 17th century, Tokaji became Europe's first classified wine region, producing sweet white wines that were the favorites of popes, princes and kings . The Royal Tokaji Wine Company was founded in 1990 with a commitment to restoring the reputation of Hungary's legendary liquid treasures, rich dessert wines that smell like honey and taste like the world's sweetest apples. Royal Tokaji occupies a former Bishop's residence in the town of Mad, about 150 miles northeast of Budapest. Visitors can explore the 600 year old underground cellars, or walk up St. Tamas Hill for a look at the winery's first growth vineyards.
Poderi Aldo Conterno - The beautiful village of Monforte d'Alba is situated in the Piedmont region, the area that produces the so-called king of Italian wines: barolo. Benchmark barolo producer Aldo Conterno died in 2004, but his sons continue to honor the two-century-old Conterno winemaking dynasty with big bold reds made from notoriously late-ripening Nebbiolo grapes. The best time to visit the scenic property is during the autumn, the time of the harvest, and also of Alba's renowned white truffle fair.