The World's Best Wine Destinations to Visit
Ask us the ideal time for a wine-tasting trip, and our answer’s always pretty much: Right now works for us! But, alas, we can't travel at this very moment however conventional wisdom still holds that harvest season is the best time to vineyard-hop.
Even regions where grapes are still mid-growth are ripe for visitation — less picking, sure, but still plenty of grinning. For one thing, the weather's probably temperate, leading to happier hikes amongst the vines. For another, off-peak airfares make international destinations especially appealing. And, right now, we're finding plenty of amazing airfare deals that keep copious amounts of wine in our future. We've gathered nine greats across the globe — each less expected than the big names we're guessing you have in mind — so read on, and drink in the details.
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Okay, we have yet to find a wine store with a “Canada” section, but there's a thriving wine industry in British Columbia—and the output is really, really good. Go see—and sip—for yourself in the Okanagan Valley, long a weekend and summer destination for Vancouverites. While a handful of wines have been made here since the mid 19th century, only in the 21st has the industry truly taken off. Mission Hill, which offers a slate of classic Napa-style wines, might be the biggest name in the region. For something more offbeat, check out Free Form’s organic, amphora-aged wines (barrels are so last year!) at Okanagan Crush Pad. And don’t miss the Osoyoos-run Nk’Mip Cellars for an only-in-Canada experience. Though you'll get a glimpse into First Nations culture whatever you do at the estate, the surest taste comes from the The Perfect Union Four Food Chiefs Wine & Food Pairing Tour, an intro to local indigenous staples (bear, salmon, bitterroot and Saskatoon berry) and the wines that go best with them. The area is also an outdoor lover’s paradise, where you may want to consider a cycling tour through the vineyards, or push your trip to a little later in the season to snag some slope time at a nearby ski resort.
Champagne’s not hurting for name recognition—bubbles are near-synonymous with celebration—but the Champagne region has somehow stayed under the radar as a touring and tasting destination. That’s especially surprising given the proximity to Paris—just under 100 miles, or about an hour’s ride on the comfy, high-speed TGV train. (Good to know for pregamers: The TGV sells wine on board and is also fine with you toting your own). Make an appointment for a tour at any one of the big houses—Veuve Cliquot, Billecart Salmon, Tattinger, or Ruinart—for a delicious descent (there will be many caves) into wine history. Late fall is an especially good time to visit smaller producers too: Now that the grapes have been harvested, winemakers have more bandwidth to tend to tourists. Try the all-organic Champagne Rodez or Champagne Tarlant for a glimpse at how family-run estates make it happen. The towns themselves are also a draw: Don't miss the famed cathedral of Reims, the half-timbered houses of Troyes, the towers of Charleville-Mezieres (where there's also a Rimbaud Museum in the Old Mill), the fortress of Sedan, the ramparts of Langres and the canals and rivers of Châlons-en-Champagne.
Cariñena Region, Spain
In the world of wine, there are grapes that usually have their own names — names that they usually don’t share with anyone else, and they mostly sound like they actually taste. From smooth sounding names to those on the more exotic side (and don’t forget about those fleshy and fruity grapes, too), grape names don’t traditionally match the exact wine, until now. Meet Cariñena, a 32-square mile Spanish region located in the Ebro Valley of Aragon, midway between Barcelona and Madrid. It’s not only the second oldest region in Spain but, it’s also home to its own varietal and appellation — yes, Cariñena is a region, grape and a wine. Consider us smitten.
Planning a trip here should definitely include traveling the Cariñena wine route, which runs through the Ebro Valley, 26 miles south of Zaragoza. Take in the colorful landscapes of the Sierra de Algairen mountain range, the Huerva River and the beautiful plains. If your travel plans allow, stay for the harvest festival (in early September), which celebrates the start of grape harvesting. There’s even a barefoot grape smashing event and a fountain that spouts wine instead of water — who wouldn’t love that?
Adelaide Hills, Australia
If over-oaked Shiraz with critter labels is what comes to mind when you think of Australian wine, get ready for a re-education. Over the past 10 years, a coterie of natural-wine leaning young producers across the country have transformed the industry, and the Adelaide Hills region is ground zero for this revolution. Tucked just below the Barossa Valley, only a 30-minute drive from Adelaide (where you'd have a great time with or without an amazing local wine scene), this region is home to a thicket of freewheeling wineries run by natural and experimental vintners. More established wineries, such as Hahndorf Hills, will be a solid bet for dropping in, but try to wrangle an appointment at one of the smaller outfits, too, such as The Other Right, where you’ll likely get some face time with the husband-and-wife owner-winemakers. If you want to try some harder-to-find Aussie labels all in one place, stop in for a bite and some bevvies at Lost in a Forest, a wood-fired pizza outfit in the town of Uraidla that’s run by Taras Ochota of the super hip Ochota Barrels label. Or try the organic wine–centric Summertown Aristologist from winemakers Anton van Klopper (Lucy Margeaux) and Jasper Buttons (Commune of Buttons).
Quick: Name an Italian wine region. Chances are, you said Tuscany (and hey, we’re fans, too). But check the lists of top stateside sommeliers, and you'll probably spot lots of wines from Etna. Yes, as in Mount. The lava that periodically spews like hellfire from the legendary Sicilian volcano also makes for soil that’s a mineral-laden heaven for hungry grape plants. Schedule an appointment at Tenuta Delleterre Nere to taste the acclaimed Etna Rossos made from the indigenous Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio grapes, as well as estate-grown olive oil. Benanti also offers an excellent by-appointment tour and tasting of both wines and orchard-grown fruits. Bonus: Fall is an especially good (read: crowd-free) time to enjoy the sights of Taormina. Beyond being a convenient home base from for Mount Etna exploration, this seaside town is also home to a stunning, millennia-old Greek theater, the buzzing Corso Umberto, and a cannoli trail that experts say culminates here. (Trust us: Even if you never knew you loved cannoli, you have no idea what you've been missing until you get to Sicily.)
Georgia (no, not the one with Atlanta in it)
This formerly Soviet, newly hot, corner of the Caucasus has become something of a pilgrimage site for natural wine geeks (and foodies in general). Dubbed "the oldest newest wine region in the world," Georgia boasts viticulture that stretches back more than 8000 years, but—in the last few—has made serious waves in the global sommelier community. No Chards and Cabs here: Meet your new friends rkatsiteli, chkhaveri, chinuiri, and saperavi. (You'll no doubt also meet qvevri, the traditional clay fermenting vessels favored in these parts). A good place to start is Pheasant’s Tears, a winery in Signagi run by American expat John Wurdeman, whose oddball varieties pair beautifully with the onsite Georgian-inspired food. And don't miss a visit to the Alaverdi Monastery Marani in Kevemo Alvani Village, where you'll get a glimpse of 11th-century architecture as well as a thoroughly this-century wine tasting.
Douro Valley, Portugal
With its steep, terraced, riverside vineyards, the Douro Valley may be one of the world's most scenic wine destinations—and it’s easily accessible from the cosmopolitan city of Porto. Come for the Port, the famously sweet fortified dessert wine, but stay for the well-regarded red and white wines, too. A Quinta do Crasto wine tour (by appointment only), which takes you through the cellars and house laboratory, is best bundled with a gorgeous Douro river boat tour. For peak pretty, though, head to Quinta de la Rosa, an estate in Pinhão on the river’s banks, where you'll find tours, tastings, traditional local food—and accommodations when you’ve had your fill of all three.
Guadelupe Valley, Mexico
A breezy jaunt from San Diego, the Guadalupe Valley, in Baja California, Mexico, has been a wine weekend getaway for Californians for some time—despite the abundance of world-class bottles in their own (northern) backyard. And if those eager early adopters are flocking south of the border, you should go before the rest of the world follows. With farm-to-table restaurants that are actually on the farm (try Finca Altozano, where every seat is al fresco, and Deckman’s at Mogor) and chic boutique hotels (check out Bruma and Encuentro Guadalupe), the valley serves up more than stellar wine. But the wine's the big draw, and you'll see why at Vena Cava, whose organic grapes become some of the region's most sought-after whites reds and rosados. You should also pay Adobe Guadalupe a visit for the signature blends (available for tasting) and horseback rides through the vineyards.
Tunisia, North Africa
Tiny Tunisia might seem the unlikeliest of entries on a “where to wine” list—until you realize that, like France, Italy, and Spain, the country sits right on the Mediterranean. (If you live in Tunis, you can practically see Sicily from your house.) In fact, Tunisia has a 2,000-year-old history of wine-making and seven official wine regions. Though political upheaval and Muslim views on alcohol sidelined winemaking for a time, things are changing: As wine tourism heats up globally, Tunisia is dusting off its winery welcome mats and getting in on the action. So if you like to catch a scene on the rise and have a sense of adventure (and—we'll be honest—serviceable French or Arabic), Tunisia may well be the ticket. Check out Domaine Kurubis and Domaine Neferis. Or just stick to Tunis—one of the New York Times 52 places to Visit in 2019—where a number of the best restaurants have impressive local wine lists, such as the gorgeous, waterside Cliff Restaurant.