Lovely Small Towns in European Wine Country

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What’s better than a perfect pour of vino? Enjoying it in a scenic wine-centric European town or village, where you’ll feel like you’ve wandered off the path just enough to have been let in on a wonderful secret.

Hit any of these small-scale spots for the best of the continent’s riches—history, art, food, local tradition, and, of course, the vineyard backdrops and nectar of the gods you need to truly satisfy your wine-fueled wanderlust. (Take note: Appointments when visiting European wineries are advised.)

Cassis

Provence, France

Steeply sloping vineyards dotted with bush vines trace the winding road down to this tiny French fishing village near Marseilles. Perched on a promontory between the turquoise Mediterranean and the iron-red Cap Canaille headland, Cassis’s scenery—including its dramatic calanques (coves)—has inspired bathers, painters, and luminaries for centuries.

What to Drink: There are only a small number of wineries within this petite wine region, but their bottles are greatly beloved by locals (and they pair perfectly with the fish-based regional specialty bouillabaisse).

The white wines from these terraces are fresh, saline, and bright, and the rosés are as fruity and minerally as anything you might expect of Provence. Château de Fontcreuse is a local favorite, amply poured at the restaurants that line the colorful harbor, while Clos Sainte Magdeleine’s rosé and whites are best enjoyed at the property itself, which juts into the Bay of Cassis.


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Évora

Alentejo, Portugal

Under a two-hour drive south of Lisbon, the best base from which to explore the sunny and culture- and gastronomy-rich Alentejo region is Évora.

This historic town boasts some of the oldest architectural sites on the Iberian peninsula—its 1st-century Roman temple and 13th-century cathedral are particular highlights.

Don’t miss a tour of the local cork museum, and be sure to indulge your sweet tooth at one of the town’s many pastelarias (pastry shops).

What to Drink: Try FitaPreta Vinhos, an old monastery that’s been converted to a winery, which showcases some of the wide variety of native grapes grown throughout Portugal.

About 40 minutes inland, Herdade do Esporão is one of the country’s leading innovators in wine production, featuring local grapes—pop in to taste fruity and bright white wines sourced from Antão Vaz, Ferrum, and Loureiro, and deep, bold red wines made from Touriga Nacional, Aragones, Syrah, and Trincadeira.


Mád

Tokaj, Hungary

Hungary’s Tokaj region, with its rolling hillsides covered with vines, is home to one of the most delicious sweet wines on the planet: tokaji. It’s made from the local white grapes furmint, hárslevelű, and muscat de lunel. (The area’s dry wines, sourced from the same grapes, stand out, as well.) The small village of Mád is a perfect hub for visiting the region, with its historic village center (home to a rare example of Hungarian synagogue architecture) and proximity to some of Tokaj’s best vineyards.

What to Drink: Taste tokaji at Oreg Király Dülö (Old King’s Vineyard), a centuries-old terraced vineyard in town, where you can learn more about the region’s vine-growing traditions. Royal Tokaji, with an eye toward the great winemaking history of Hungary, is another must visit; try its late harvest and limited “Essencia” wines, all traditional sweet wines.

For a modern take, book a tasting at Lenkey for top-quality dry whites produced from grapes like the local furmint variety. Wrap up a day of tasting with a meal at Percze, with its innovative Hungarian cuisine using top local ingredients—best paired with tokaji, of course.


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Montepulciano

Tuscany, Italy

Set atop a hillside in southeastern Tuscany, the medieval village of Montepulciano claims a premier location that’s been inhabited since Etruscan times.

The walled settlement sits above the sweeping tracts of vineyards for its eponymous DOC Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, red wines made from the Sangiovese grape.

The streets of Montepulciano—artfully lit come evening time—teem with unique leather shops like Maledetti Toscani and enotecas (wine stores) like La Dolce Vita.

What to Drink: Poliziano and Avignonesi, open to visits by appointment, are the top Vino Nobile di Montepulciano producers of the region.

La Grotta turns out excellent Tuscan fare like Pappa al Pomodoro (tomato-bread soup) and homemade pici (a type of hand-rolled spaghetti) in ragù, alongside regional wines, while the best wine list south of Siena is available at the casual Tuscan eatery La Botte Piena in the village of Montefollonico, a 10-minute drive away.


Rust

Burgenland, Austria

The Austrian town of Rust sits on the western shore of Lake Neusiedl, on the border of Austria and Hungary. This is one of the warmest parts of central Europe, with a temperate climate around the lake that helps to turn out the local sweet wine, called ausbruch.

Only produced here, ausbruch is distinguished by its distinct marmalade character; the high level of sugars found in the grapes used are owed to the effects of the so-called “noble rot” botrytis (a type of fungus), which concentrates their sweetness on the vine ahead of harvesting.

Indeed, the whole town was purpose-built for the wine industry, and it maintains its original 18th-century character to this day. Between tastings, pick up a paddle for a kayak or paddleboard and go out on the lake, and grab your binoculars to see the town’s famed storks.

What to Drink: The Heidi Schröck winery offers a great introduction to what makes ausbruch so special, or sip it at the unassuming Seehotel’s restaurant, with its magnificent lakefront views.

It also pairs well with the seasonal Austrian fare at Taubenkobel, with its focus on local ingredients, down to the herbs that grow on the lake’s shore.

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