A Vintner’s Dozen Top Wine-Tasting DestinationsWine vacations can be — pardon the pun — intoxicating. You learn a bit, you have some wine. You take in the spectacular views or historic sites and then sip another glass. What’s not to love? Here are 12 top wine-tasting destinations around the globe.
California Wine Country
Visit both Sonoma and Napa in one trip. Doing so allows you to try the vast range of varietals available in the region. Beyond wines, Napa boasts some of the finest restaurants in the U.S., including the renowned French Laundry. Mud baths in the mineral rich, thermally heated waters of Calistoga’s resorts are another hedonistic treat.
Wines to try: According to celebrity wine and spirits consultant Michael Green, (www.michaelgreen.com) cabernets and chardonnays are “the anchor” of California wine country.
Stringent zoning laws have kept the look of the Willamette Valley blissfully bucolic and restricted the construction of sprawling resorts. That, in turn, has kept the region affordable, even though the pinot noir here is considered world class.
Wines to try: Yes, the pinot noir is primo, but Green is a fan of the pino gris. “It’s pinot grigio, the same grape,” he said, “but the version here is more full-bodied and creamy.”
Great art, great architecture and great wines — what a combination. Visitors to this heady area of Italy find themselves with almost too many choices when it comes to crafting an itinerary. My suggestion: Get a map of Tuscany and a blindfold and just point to a starting point. It’s impossible to go wrong here.
Wines to try: Chianti classico and brunello di Montalcino are Green’s top picks in this area.
This perfectly preserved Victorian gem of a town is the gateway to 22 wineries, most of which offer free tours. In addition to hopping among tasting rooms, visitors come here for the famed theater festival, antique shopping, spas and the famous falls (only a half-hour drive away).
Wines to try: “You won’t find better ice wines anywhere,” Green said. “Those are dessert wines crafted from frozen grapes that are picked in winter.”
Just 20 minutes outside of Santiago — you can catch a cab to the wineries for less than $30 — this is the oldest, most famous and most prolific of Chile’s grape-growing regions. Thirty-five percent of the country’s wines are produced here. Encircled by the Andes Mountains, the region is also breathtakingly scenic.
Wines to try: “Carmenere is the great buy here,” Green said. “It's like cabernet sauvignon in silk pajamas.”
Burgundy is the ancestral home of pinot noir and chardonnay and, of course, of the ducs de Bourgogne who once ruled this province. Their castles dot the landscape, along with Romanesque churches and centuries-old villages. Base yourself in Vezelay, a lost-in-time medieval town and major pilgrimage site. The tomb of Mary Magdalene is said to be here.
Wines to try: Green favors the chardonnays.
In the last 25 years, this region has hit the big time, going from one lone winery to 30. As for quality, several North Fork wines have won major awards in international, blind tasting competitions. The North Fork is an easy drive from New York City, allowing one to pair a visit to this relaxing, rural area with the bustling, wine-bar-laden Big Apple.
Wines to try: The merlot, which Green describes as “elegant and oh so food-friendly.”
Champagne is famous for its bubbly, but important cathedrals and historic battlefields also keep tourists busy. Most visitors stay in Reims, which boasts some of the splashiest champagne houses in the area and an important cathedral where every king of France was crowned from 814 to 1825.
Wines to try: Does one really have to ask? Just try a lot of them, Green said. “Champagnes can vary from light (chardonnay-based) to fuller versions with higher percentages of pinot noir.”
Literally translated as “at the foot of the mountains” — those would be the Alps — most of the region is quiet farmland. Its capital, Turin, however, is a top museum city and home to the famous shroud.
Wines to try: "This is my favorite wine region in the world," Green said. "It's famous for two of Italy's most age-worthy wines: Barolo and Barbaresco. Crafted from the nebbiolo grape, these wines have tremendous structure and grip. Bring on the white truffles!"
Champagne may have the reputation, but the largest sparkling-wine production on the planet takes place in Penedes in Catalonia. Half an hour outside of Barcelona, this region of rolling green hills and medieval villages has become very popular with cyclists, including Lance Armstrong, who has trained in Catalonia over the past few years.
Wines to try: Cava, the area’s sparkling wine, is a must, but Green said that still wines, including lovely versions of tempranillo and chardonnay, are also sip-worthy.
The first vineyards were planted here more than 300 years ago. In fact, the oldest structure in the area, built in 1689, is on the historic wine farm Muratie. Today, about 140 wineries populate the area, in addition to a respected university. Day trippers come from Cape Town, just an hour away, for tastings and to attend the area’s well-respected theaters.
Wines to try: Fans of sauvignon blanc and cabernet will enjoy what they find here, Green said.
Not one winery in this area was founded earlier than 1973, but they’ve earned an international reputation, producing what some think of as the top sauvignon blanc anywhere.
Wines to try: “Yes, you’re going to want to try the sauvignon blancs,” Green said, “but it’s the under-the-radar pinot noirs that truly need to be experienced. There’s not much that’s produced, and many haven’t been exported, so you go here to get something really special that you can’t get at home.”