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Vine times ahead
La Maison des Vignes, Verzenay, France
Since making its sparkling debut in the 18th century, champagne has become one of the most desirable wines in the world.
"Hardly did it appear, than from my mouth it passed into my heart," declared the French poet the Abbe de Chaulieu upon his first tasting, and those words still ring true today.
Our love and thirst for this effervescent wine has crowned Great Britain the biggest consumer outside France, and a visit to the coronation city of Reims and the Champagne vineyards makes for a little bit of heaven in a tulip-shaped glass.
The Champagne route will take you 150 kilometres east of Paris to the four main growing regions: Montagne de Reims, Vallee de la Marne, Cote des Blancs and Cote des Bar. Only three grape varieties are allowed to be grown, and they produce the classic champagne blend of pinot noir, pinot meunier (both black grapes) and chardonnay (a white grape).
Each grower has their own house style, and tucked away in the northernmost vineyards of Montagne de Reims, the Grand Cru village of Verzenay is home to the aptly named La Maison des Vignes (house of vines).
This chic, country-style B&B is a throwback to gracious living, with many of the original mid-19th century features carefully preserved.
Owner Emmanuel Pithois has five hectares of vines and produces four different champagnes, blended with pinot noir and chardonnay, and his special tasting dinners in the cellars are legendary.
Out of the 293 houses that produce champagne, only a few are open to the public, including the family-owned Taittinger in Reims (a 20-minute drive from Verzenay).
The stunning Visitors' Centre, with architecture inspired by the Art Deco era of the Twenties and Thirties, offers a 'classic' or 'customised' tasting tour. Take the 118 steps down to the cavernous limestone cellars where a statue of Saint-Jean-Baptiste watches over the ageing bottles of Taittinger Comtes de Champagne (one of the finest Blanc de Blancs made from chardonnay grapes).
A visit to Reims is not complete without stepping inside its main cathedral to see the exceptional art treasures. Time your visit before the end of October and you may be lucky enough to witness a spectacular light show, part of the cathedral's 800th anniversary celebrations.
:: Tours of the Taittinger cellars (inc a tasting) cost 14 Euros (£12) per person. Visit www.taittinger.com
:: For further information on wine programmes, visit www.tourisme-en-champagne.com
:: Rooms at La Maison des Vignes, Verzenay start from 110 Euros (£94) for two people including breakfast. Visit www.maisondesvignesdeverzenay.com
:: Tickets from London to Reims on the Eurostar with transfers start at £164 return for weekends in October. Visit www.eurostar.com
Casa Velha do Palheiro, Madeira
If you're looking for a wine tasting trip with a difference, head to the mountainous sub-tropical island of Madeira. Located off the west coast of Morocco, the island's vineyards have flourished thanks to the fertile volcanic soil, making Madeira wine world famous.
Fortified with brandy, the wine is gently warmed during its maturation, a centuries-old practice first discovered on long trade journeys to the Americas and Far East.
To find out more about the island's winemaking history, head to The Old Blandy Wine Lodge in the heart of Funchal town, where you can soak up the heady aromas of fine wines.
A fitting place to rest your head is Hotel Casa Velha do Palheiro, which sits high above Funchal.
Owned and operated by the Blandy family, this stunning five-star country house brings to mind a period drama in the vein of Poirot. Guests in the 37 rooms can enjoy the golf course, the famous 200-year-old Palheiro Gardens, beloved for the camellias nestled among the ancient trees, and the luxurious spa and restaurant.
For a new perspective of the island, take to the seas in the estate's private motor yacht, Balancal. Cruise to the Faja dos Padres restaurant, which sits at the base of a sheer cliff, for a lunch of fresh fish.
You'll have moor up and swim the last few metres to shore, but it's an experience you'll never forget!
:: For more information on The Old Blandy Wine Lodge, visit www.theoldblandywinelodge.com
:: Double rooms start at 199 Euros (£171) per night, including breakfast. Visit www.casa-velha.com
:: TAP Portugal flies from London Gatwick to Funchal in Madeira once a day, from £136 one-way including all taxes, in October and November. Visit www.flytap.com
La Maison Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France
An 18th century architectural jewel, Bordeaux is the perfect playground for wine lovers thirsty for a taste of its famous terroir.
With tree-lined boulevards, glorious facades and gourmet restaurants, it's no wonder the wine capital of the world was recently granted UNESCO World Heritage status.
Visitors should take time to explore the city on the high-tech tramway, before heading to the surrounding vineyards.
The illustrious home to major chateaux like Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux and Cheval Blanc, Bordeaux's blockbuster vintages are a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc grapes.
If you fancy staying in the city centre, but don't want to blow the budget, opt for boutique hotel La Maison Bord'eaux, a converted 18th century town house with a trendy vibe and excellent wine list - the owners are part of a winemaking family.
A 40-minute drive from Bordeaux city centre, and short walk from the picturesque village of Saint-Emilion, is Chateau Soutard. This 18th century winery has recently undergone a multi-million euro refurbishment and now offers one of most imaginative tours around, during which you will taste the estate's full-bodied, Grand Cru Classe vino.
Stroll through the majestic oval-shaped courtyard and take the James Bond-style lift down to their state-of-the-art cellars; take a seat in the cook's kitchen for lunch or dinner, with a sommelier on hand to help choose the best wine; or explore the vineyards by moonlight and enjoy a tasting session under the stars.
And if you've overindulged, there's always an opportunity to roll up your sleeves and take part in the harvest.
:: Chateau Soutard is open daily until the end of October, then Monday to Friday from November to April. The vineyard walks and visits range from 8 Euros (£7) to 95 Euros (£81) per person. For more information, visit www.chateau-soutard.com
:: For further details on wine programmes, visit www.bordeaux-tourisme.com
:: Double rooms at La Maison Bord'eaux start at 140 Euros (£121) on a room only basis. Visit www.lamaisonbord-eaux.com
:: British Airways flights to Bordeaux from London cost £84 return in October. Visit www.britishairways.com
Hotel Viura, Rioja, Spain
A collection of modernist cubes stacked haphazardly on top of each other, the surreal Hotel Viura would sit more comfortably in a Dali painting than a sleepy village in the Basque Country.
But this boutique property in the heart of Rioja Alavesa is part of a bigger trend for architectural innovation that's spreading through the famous winemaking region like wildfire.
Thanks to a collection of impressive buildings - including Frank Gehry's avant-garde hotel Marques de Riscal and Santiago Calatrava's abstract winery Bodegas Ysios - the area is now just as much a destination for design fans as it is for wine connoisseurs.
Situated right in the thick of it all, Viura is the ideal spot to soak up culture, art and, of course, fine wine.
Rooms are modern and spacious, with views of the Sierra de Cantabria mountain range - largely responsible for the area's microclimate - and a patchwork of vine terraces, plump with colour.
Viura's restaurant offers a solid wine list, but to really understand what the Rioja region has to offer, it's worth visiting a few of the key winemakers.
Visits are by appointment only, with English tours taking place at set times, so you'll need to make reservations in advance.
Marques de Riscal is the oldest, best known and biggest wine producer in the region, with bottles in their dusty "cathedral" cellar dating back over 100 years.
It's worth the entrance ticket alone just to admire Gehry's hotel, set within the vineyards. Swirling sheets of metal in purple and silver are set upon iron stilts - an abstract interpretation of grape vines.
But for an authentic taste of the region, stop off at a bar in one of the many medieval hilltop villages and enjoy a glass of wine with some pinchos (the regional equivalent of tapas).
It may not be the finest vintage you're likely to taste, but in the company of garrulous old men gesticulating wildly, it will probably be the most enjoyable.
:: Hotel Viura is offering a special Wine Harvest package until the end of October. A double room with breakfast, visit to a vineyard with lunch in the fields and a wine tour in a winery for two people costs from 220 Euros (£190) per night. Visit www.hotelviura.com
:: Easyjet flies from London and Manchester to Bilbao (1½-hour drive from the hotel) from approximately £42 return. Visit www.easyjet.com
:: For more information on Marques de Riscal in Elciego, visit www.marquesderiscal.com