God bless the generation that first actively went out and rearranged a trip to prioritize wine, because not only is wine delicious, nuanced and locationally complex, wine-growing communities also tend to have beautiful weather (spoiler alert: Niagara, Ontario, is not on this list). Okay, so maybe we don’t have to give you a list of reasons why you need to go vineyard hopping, because, hello: wine. However, perhaps we can be of assistance with a finger point. Obviously France is languid, swan-like country of prime terroir, golden sunlight, unfettered elegance, gorgeous historic edifices, a centuries-old history of culinary excellence and wine, pretty much all the time. However, as Napa proved back in the ‘60s, France is only one country among a long list of countries whose coastlines sparkle like the microbubbles of a perfect glass of Cava, whose nectar of the purple jewel produces full-bodied, rich and earthy reds; whose juices of the delicate green goes into light, aromatic and delicate whites. There’s wine, all the time, all over the world. You just need to know where.
Wine aficionados might not to think to hit Mexico for their wine tasting, but in actuality, the history of Guadalupe Valley’s winemaking extends far back to the year 1904 when Russian immigrants, armed with vine cuttings, planted the valley’s first vineyards. The valley itself is about two-thirds the size of Napa with climate conditions similar to those in southwestern France. Wine making has been a long tradition, but it has only been in the last two decades that the area has gained traction as a major player on the oenology scene – its vineyards and vintners have even teamed up with local chefs and hoteliers to create Baja’s own wine route.
Sometimes the best place to imbibe wine is where people won’t care what you look like while doing it. Perhaps one of the most inherently un-snobby locales for intense, flavorful wine tasting, Texas Hill Country, with Fredericksburg at its center, is the No. 5 wine-producing area in the country and its AVA is the second largest in the nation. This is a place where you can literally park your pick-up off the side of the scenic highway 280 west of Austin, admire the bright, foliated vineyards and head straight into a tasting room to try an award-winning wine. The cowboy charm is strewn across the hills, in the vintners in Stetson hats and Sheplers boots, and in the cacti peppered across the side of the road.
Located 700 miles west of Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Argentina, is instantly recognizable by the spectacular peaks that rise over 20,000 feet in elevation, carpeted by tens of thousands of vineyard acres in the Andes. The area has always been known for its asado, the Argentine barbecued meat, but over the past 15 years this desert has been running with wine and grapes. Gratefully, the wine best produced in Mendoza happens to also pair very well with the Argentinean staples of beef, pastas and goat. Deep and dark Malbec’s and other heavier grapes like Cab Sauv, Bonarda, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Merlots dominate the reds, while aromatic Chardonnay, Sauv Blancs and the regional Torrontés make up the whites.
It’s really no surprise at this point that the nectar of the gods is produced high in the hills in Sonoma County. And not only can they grow the grapes, they can match it with totally local and incredible food: oysters and Dungeness crabs, spring lab and Liberty ducks are all local game and the county can grow everything. With such lush and verdant peaks, a golden sun that only Hollywood filmmakers know what to do with and the laid-back NorCal vibe (probably lent from the farmhouse food), a wine tour is just a great excuse to get there in the first place. At the southernmost tip of Sonoma and Napa counties, foggy mornings that produce low rainfall, rocky well-draining soil and cooling winds from San Francisco Bay offer ideal conditions and unusually long growing seasons for Carneros vines.
Baden, Germany’s warmest and sunniest region, offers a lot. The combination of Swiss and French tastes creates some of the most interesting wines – Pinot, sure, splays in under the illuminating sunlight, but the Riesling is the star of the show, and the Riesling is light, floral, pure and most importantly, expressive of the terroir it’s grown in. The steep vineyards open up stunning landscapes and beautiful vines, and the distinctive cuisine highlights the difference between wine terroir, as it varies between granite, basalt and loess soils.
An hour out of Adelaide, Barossa has historically been a big player on the list of Australian wine regions taking to the global stage. The high altitude area is known for its refined and elegant Shiraz wines; Grenache and Mataro grapes also increasingly find themselves on the vines. The Mediterranean mix of cool and damp winters and hot and dry summers encourage the grapes to ripen and lend themselves to earthy, rich and full-bodied wines; while not too far away is the higher-altitude Eden Valley, a large producer of Riesling.
Who says you need to go far for excellent wine? The historic farming community of Walla Walla is a 50-minute flight from Seattle and opens up to a friendly and neighborly downtown area surrounded by golden wheat fields, rows and rows of crops and hills run through with acres and acres of vines. With over 120 wineries split among 12 carefully tended vineyards, with even more vineyards over in the Blue Mountain ranges of Oregon, there are more wineries than most visitors know what to do with.
While there are many offbeat and unexpected wine regions in the world worth the travel ticket to taste, of course France is still going to be high on this list of wine countries – and where better than Languedoc, part of the world’s largest wine-producing region? There’s tons to discover in this south of France region: diverse landscapes, a wide variety of great wine, unspoiled vineyard vistas and the majestic golden coastline bordering the Mediterranean. The draw is in the the variety: all types of wine are made in the region, with AOPs rising to the spotlight like Corbières, Minervois and other wine-growing communities.
Italy is also a big wine country: Valpolicella, Chianti and Bardolino are just a few names that people may recognize, but Umbra is the underrated champion of Italy’s wine making regions. Like its neighbor, Tuscany, Umbria certainly looks like a dream, but unlike Tuscany, it’s an unspoiled one, with undulating hills and green valleys, proffering rows and rows of olive groves and vineyards into the sun. Visitors to Umbria will have much history to discover while they’re in the area, as well, exploring its many medieval towns, the Orvieto Cathedral and the legendary Basilica of St. Francis (of Assisi fame). Wine-wise, Montefalco is the destination: it was the Sagrantino di Montefalco that really put Umbria on the map, a striking red made with the local Sagrantino grape.
In the ‘60s, it was Napa Valley that knocked France off their high horse – imagine hippies and pick-ups going around hills over hills of unpretentious and unperturbed vines; wine for the sake of having something nuanced and improvable to sip on while stretched out in the golden Californian sunlight. The winemaking business had been around in the valley since 1858, when John Patchett established the valley’s first commercial vineyard, and it was for no one, just the lay of the land. The hippies are gone but the laidback atmosphere and Mediterranean climate still remains, and the wine has only gotten even better. More than 400 wineries grow varietals including Cab Sauv, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel and more.