This post surprised me in a number of ways. Until recently, if asked about whether or not I’d been to any notable wine regions I’d respond with just a couple. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that in truth, I’ve visited many amazing wine regions around the world. I don’t normally travel for food or wine, but they many times become integral aspects of my travels. That’s why I didn’t fully realize that these wine regions just aren’t fun to visit, but they’re some of my favorite experiences around the world. So today I thought I’d share some of my favorite wine regions around the world, from the expected to the more esoteric.
Wachau Valley, Austria
I first experienced the Wachau Valley while on a river cruise a couple of years ago and even in the middle of December, the landscapes through which the Danube snaked seemed too good to be true. Picturesque little villages and a rolling valley where it seemed that every inch of available space was taken up by a vineyard. I have since returned to this postcard-perfect spot in Austria, recognized by UNESCO for both its architectural and agricultural history. It’s not large though, only about 25-miles in length, but it’s amazing what has been packed into this compact space. One of the best ways to explore the Wachau is by hiking some or all of the Wachau World Heritage Trail. The entire trail is 180 kilometers and formally links the best trails through the Wachau Valley and wine country. The trail meanders through the 13 communities of the valley and is divided into 14 legs, making it easy to do as little or as much of it as you like. It can be hiked in both directions and the entire trail is exceptionally well marked making it nearly impossible to get lost. This trail though was designed with visitors in mind and it offers the best views of the valley but better yet, it also offers immersive experiences along the way.
Margaret River, Western Australia
Chances are if you made it as far as Western Australia, then the beautiful Margaret River Valley is on your agenda, as it should be. An easy drive south from Perth, the Margaret River area is one of the top wine producing regions in the world. And like most wine-centric spots, there’s also an amazing food culture to enjoy. Oenophiles could spend weeks exploring the many small and medium sized wineries in this small coastal region; a unique set of weather conditions and geography make it a prime location for wine production. Wine isn’t the only potent potable being produced though, a number of small breweries are just now emerging, indicating a larger trend in Australia towards finely produced, craft beers. At both the wineries and the breweries, you can also enjoy fine dining for every palate. More than just great meals, it’s also easy to find specialty food producers, like the number of chocolatiers who have decided to set up shop in the Margaret River area. After you’re done drinking and eating, be sure to relax on the beach, which is never very far away. I was impressed by Margaret River for its somewhat unique ability to combine adult and family friendly activities in a way that few other wine producing regions have managed to do.
It only takes one meal to learn how important wine is to daily life in Croatia. Like many of its Mediterranean neighbors, a combination of perfect weather conditions and a true love for viticulture has led to a robust and high quality wine culture. Although a strong wine presence in Croatia makes sense, I don’t think most of us outside of the region fully know just how varied and delicious Croatian wines are, I know I didn’t. So to learn a little more about the wines I took a day trip from Dubrovnik into the heart of one of the country’s prime wine growing regions, the Konavle Valley. In addition to the wine, the food offered along the way was a pleasant surprise and I even discovered a couple of new favorite snacks: candied oranges and sugared almonds. It wasn’t just light fare offered though, at one farmhouse the wine maker and his wife shared enormous plates of homemade breads, meats and other tasty tidbits; a perfect way to spend the afternoon literally in the middle of the vines.
Virginia may not be known as a major wine destination to many folks, but if you live in or near Virginia then you know it truly is one of the great wine growing regions of the world. As with most wineries, the average Virginia winery is small, family owned and passionate about their wine. I’m not going to lie and say all Virginia wine is good, because it’s not. But at almost every winery you can find one or two wines that are truly excellent. Finding these wines is the key, and there are several ways of sourcing the information, but the best is to visit the individual wineries themselves. Add in amazing food, gorgeous scenery and easy access to lively towns and cities, and visiting Virginia’s wineries should be on everyone’s potent potable to do list.
Stellenbosch, South Africa
Sometimes overshadowed by nearby Cape Town, Stellenbosch has a lot to be proud of in its own right. One of South Africa’s great wine regions, weeks could be spent sampling the hearty vintages along with some of the best fine dining restaurants in the country. With the ocean as its backyard, Stellenbosch also offers scenery nearly unparalleled in the country. They’ve been making wine in South Africa longer than the French have in Bordeaux (don’t tell the French) and so they frankly know a thing or two about the process. The Stellenbosch Wine Route represents more than 200 wine and grape producers within the boundaries of the Stellenbosch Wine of Origin classification. Each one is maintained by people with a passion for the product and who are frankly creating some amazing wines. Pinotage, Chenin Blanc and unfussy Chardonnays are just a few of the many types of wines you will try when visiting.
While the city of Baden-Baden may be famous for the wealthy elite who have visited throughout the decades, the region surrounding the city may be just as well known, although for a very different reason. The Rebland surrounds the city and is home to some of the most beautiful vineyards you’ll ever see, not to mention the incredible wines produced there. I had barely left the city center when suddenly I was surrounded by green vines for as far as the eye could see. Small village after small village popped up and I was suddenly in the middle of a gorgeous pastoral retreat. A good place to learn all about Baden wines is actually in Freiburg at the Alte Wache – House of Baden Wines. Housed in a historic building, it’s a cooperative made up of various wine producers in the Baden region – one of Germany’s most popular viticultural hotspots. There you can buy a variety of different kinds of wines from around Baden but, more importantly, you can also taste them.
Finger Lakes, NY
At the heart of the Finger Lakes experience for many are the wineries, breweries and distilleries found all around the lakes. For decades, Finger Lakes wines were produced using native grapes and, for the most part, the results were mixed. But then in the 1960s, mimicking global wine trends, vinifera grapes were introduced and the wineries in the region started producing everything from stellar Rieslings to full bodied reds. Today the results speak for themselves and with more than 140 wineries in the Finger Lakes, visitors can try as many of these vintages for themselves as they want. It’s hard to go wrong when choosing wineries to visit, but for a fun and immersive experience stop by Wagner’s on Seneca Lake.Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery produces a wide selection of amazing wines, but they also have a brewery on site that creates just as tasty ales, porters and IPAs. With a large deck overlooking the vines and lake, it’s the perfect spot to sit back and relax.
Côtes du Rhône, France
The twin towns of Tournon and Tain l’Hermitage sit across the river from each other in France’s famous Côtes du Rhône region. I explored these gorgeous towns on a river cruise, which provided me with intimate access to this popular wine growing region. Rolling hills all vibrant green with row after row of decades old vines surround Tain; grapes that will produce what is some of the best wine in the world. One morning I walked through these vineyards, up to the hills high above to get a better view of the area and to enjoy a wonderful summer’s day. This is the version of rural France that most of us think of and to see that it actually exists is a magical experience. Walking back towards town I passed by the endless rows of Syrah grapes that grow on the steep slopes lining the river. In a few weeks the grapes will be harvested and will eventually find themselves in bottles with names like Côtes du Rhône and Crozes-Hermitage. Some travel experiences are educational but many others are just a lot of fun, which is what my morning in Tain and Tournon was all about.