Wine’s transporting experience is one of the reasons we continually come back for more. Taste a great Rioja, and you’re instantly taken to the sun-drenched, rolling hills of northern Spain. Pop the cork of a Tasmanian sparkler, and boom – you’re standing in the crystalline water of Cole’s Bay. Tasting wine is a trip unto itself.
Yet there’s something to be said for the connection made when we travel to the place in which great wine is made, and the insight that experience can offer us regarding what’s in the glass.
From the iconic Old World to surprising newcomers, the following list should shape your travel plans for the year to come.
Finger Lakes, USA
Within the world of fine wines, the Finger Lakes wine region in upstate New York is a soon-to-be revealed secret. Nestled amidst bucolic farmland and the spindly glacial lakes for which the region is named, it’s home to some of the best cool-climate wines in America. Known particularly for world-class Riesling, it’s also home to an increasingly diverse array of wines, from Grüner Veltliner to Teroldego. Over 100 wineries surround the three main lakes, Cayuga, Seneca and Keuka. But with spectacular sights and a blossoming local food culture, the region is unlikely to stay hidden for long.
Located in northwest Italy and bordering Switzerland and France, Piedmont is Italy’s second-largest region, and the most mountainous. The majestic, snow-capped Alps make a stunning backdrop to the rolling, vine-covered hills. And these aren’t just any vineyards. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in June 2014, vineyards in the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato areas are amongst the most celebrated in Italy. They’re home to famed reds made from Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto, as well as Moscato d’Asti, a lightly frothy dessert wine. Piedmont, which means “foot of the mountain,” is also a culinary paradise, famed for its rare white truffles. Throw in outstanding lodgings, and you have a wine lover’s dream destination.
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
This bucolic region excels at classic Bordeaux varieties, while Syrah is angling to become the area’s flagship wine. Beyond the bottle, however, the landscape, food and people are, as the country’s marketing slogan campaign says, 100% pure New Zealand. In this grape-growing paradise, rumpled hills sprinkled with sheep are intersected by rivers and hug a spectacular curved bay along the Pacific coast of the North Island, while sheltering ranges tuck vineyards in from the west. Warm, dry summers and long autumns – mixed with a maritime climate – keep grapes healthy and happy. Because Kiwis have a strong affinity for the outdoors, athletically inclined wine lovers can pursue both health and happiness, cycling a network of well-organized biking trails between winery visits and farm-to-table repasts.
Rhône Valley, France
France’s second-largest wine-growing area is vastly diverse. Breathtakingly beautiful villages and well-tended vineyards line the region’s 13 wine trails, highlighting the different landscapes of the Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages. Starting at the Camargue, the routes head up through Provence toward Lyon, providing insight into culture and winegrowing along the way. The Rhône Valley covers roughly 150 miles and 5,500 estates, and it’s traditionally demarcated between the narrow north and sprawling south. You’ll need to make some tough choices, depending on the length of your trip.
Expect the unexpected in Orlando. Shrugging off its just-for-kids image, it sports brag-inducing eats and world-class wine experiences, particularly in new neighborhoods like the Mills 50 District and Winter Park. Ricky Ly, author of The Food Lovers’ Guide to Orlando, points to nominations of several local chefs for James Beard Foundation awards to illustrate the city’s culinary chops. “From hidden speakeasies like The Pharmacy, to the Basque-style restaurant, Txokos Basque Kitchen, serving cola-and-wine-braised kalimotxos pork belly, there is something to be found for every wine and food lover just outside the theme park gates.”
Occupying the northwestern corner of Spain, Galicia is a unique part of the country, a region settled by Visigoths and Celts, where the residents still speak a language known as Gallego. Galicia’s four provinces comprise Spain’s emerald oasis, where copious amounts of rainfall during winter and spring swell the region’s rivers and turn the countryside green. A major part of the verdant landscape includes vineyards, with the wine regions of Rías Baixas, Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras and Monterrei all offering excellent touring and tasting opportunities. Add Galicia’s world-class seafood, and the region qualifies as a top destination for adventurous wine-and-food lovers.
The license plates read “Beautiful British Columbia.” Ubiquitous ads call it “Super, Natural.” But taglines don’t do justice to the splendor and variety of Canada’s southwestern province. One shining jewel within the region is the Okanagan Valley, located about 240 miles east of Vancouver. Located between the Coastal and Monashee mountain ranges, the valley is anchored by a series of narrow, crystalline lakes. Long a center for agriculture, it’s also a four-season outdoor playground. Water sports, golf, winter sports, hiking, biking—you name it, the Okanagan has it going full blast. But it’s the 131 wineries, more than 8,000 acres of vineyard and broad range of wines that make this one of the greatest wine touring experiences in the world.
Loire Valley, France
As if designed for riverside picnics, the Loire River flows by vineyards from the mountains of central France to the Atlantic Ocean. The best and most diverse vines are rooted in the Loire’s heart, in the Anjou and Touraine regions, which are but a 90-minute train ride from Paris. It was here, in the 16th century, that French classic cuisine first found its great expression. This is France’s best wine discovery region for big castles, medieval cities and small family wineries. Tasting Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc here will forever change your perceptions of these grapes.
Mendocino County has 107 wineries and more than 17,000 acres of vineyards, but it draws visitors for other pleasures like giant redwoods, Dungeness crab, wild chanterelle mushrooms, an exhilarating rocky coast and, yes, marijuana cultivation. Mendocino is laid-back, to say the least. A two-plus hour drive north of San Francisco through Sonoma County, traffic is practically nonexistent except for logging trucks. Tasting rooms and restaurants are rarely crowded, but lodging options are scarce except on the coast near the New England-esque town of Mendocino. Ukiah, in the warmer, drier inland valley along Highway 101, is the biggest city, with a whopping population of 16,000. Since 95 percent of the land in Mendocino County is rolling or mountainous, it offers plenty of bends in the road to explore.
The wedge-shaped Adriatic peninsula known as Istria has a rich and dramatic history. It was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then ruled by Italy, later incorporated into Yugoslavia and is today governed by Croatia. Ninety percent of Istria is in Croatia, with the remainder in neighboring Slovenia and Italy. Remnants of a distant Roman past, Venetian Empire architecture, picturesque hilltop villages, panoramic sea views, year-round festivals, inspired cuisine and fantastic wines are all reasons to put Istria on your bucket list of wine regions to visit.