Regions to Visit if You Love Wine
Love wine? We do, too — and while we're all about discovering the latest up-and-coming spots, there's a reason some names are absolutely iconic in the industry. Take a look at these eight heavy-hitting regions, and start planning your next trip to take advantage of some of the best flavor profiles on the planet.
Fans of Chianti are likely familiar with Tuscany, the picturesque wine region in central Italy. If you're not, however, get ready to eat, pray, love, and drink your way through some of the oldest vineyards in the world.
Housed in a medieval castle, the Barone Ricasoli winery, established in 1141, is the birthplace of Chianti and the oldest winery in the country. Elsewhere in the region you can taste the eponymous "Super Tuscan" wines, as well as other regional standouts including Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. If you love wine but also want more from your trip than some delicious reds, look to Florence, the cultural heart of the region, which offers a step back in time with some of the world's most renowned Renaissance art and architecture, including Michelangelo's David at the Galleria dell'Accademia.
Napa Valley, California
The first of the "New World" wine regions on our list, Napa has gained increasing acclaim beyond the United States for its varieties, especially cabernet sauvignon. With its first vineyards dating to the 1700s, it doesn't have nearly the history of many other famous wine regions, but its quality has been quick to catch up in recent decades.
The northern California region offers the unique experience of the Napa Valley Wine Train, which allows you to explore multiple New World wineries with all the old-fashioned elegance of a vintage train car, complete with restored interiors, fine dining, and even — if you're up for it — a murder mystery. If you prefer to fly solo, check out some of Napa's smaller family-owned wineries, which make up 95 percent of the region and specialize in everything from zinfandels to cabernets.
Malbec grapes are almost exclusively responsible for the success of the Mendoza wineries, in western Argentina. Unlike other New World regions, Mendoza's wine industry began when the country was first colonized by Spain in the 16th century. It took a few centuries, however, for Mendoza to become the region it is today, producing 80 percent of Argentina's wine and known across the world for its red varieties.
Mendoza is home to over 1200 wineries — but be prepared to call them "bodegas" when you visit. With its location at the foot of the Andes, there are a tremendous variety of grapes grown in the different microclimates at varying elevations, but, of course, malbec is the dominant name. For a side of adventure with your wine, visit the southern-Mendoza town of San Rafael, which offers, in addition to world-class wineries, outdoor sports like whitewater rafting and kayaking along its Diamonte river.
Is there any name more synonymous with world-class wines than that of Bordeaux, in the south of France? With vines whose history likely extend back to the Roman Empire, the region has been known for centuries for its blended red varieties. Roughly divided into two wine-making districts by the Garonne river, the city's Left Bank depends primarily on cabernet sauvignon grapes, while the Right Bank mainly uses the merlot.
The region itself is extensive, reaching nearly to the Atlantic in the west and containing more than 100,000 vineyards. While you'll want to get outside the city to appreciate the bucolic beauty of the vineyards, be sure not to miss the Golden Triangle, a neighborhood at the heart of the city, with its various 18th century squares, architecture, art, and more. With the region's history and prestige as one of the wine capitals of the world, it's also a great place to further your oenophilia with some education: various Maisons de Vins offer tasting courses that will help you further appreciate all the various flavors along your journey.
For the sweet tooth, there are few better spots in the world than the northern Hungarian region of Tokaj-Hegyalja. Although it's been producing wine for well over a thousand years, it gained worldwide fame in 1703 when its wines were served at Versailles under Louis XIV. Its most distinctive varieties are its botrytized dessert wines, a process which uses a "noble rot" fungus to bring out the sugars and sweet flavors of the grapes.
Comprised of approximately 30 villages, the Tokaj-Hegyalja region offers, in addition to its hillside vineyards, castles dating to the Habsburg dynasty of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It is also a popular region for European cyclists, thanks to the well-maintained trails and natural beauty of the rural region.
Another region that has historically been known for its sweeter wines, the vintners of the Mosel River Valley in southwest Germany have recently been expanding into a range of drier wines as well. Nevertheless, riesling grapes continue to dominate, and the area is widely considered the best place in the world for a glass of the classic, often sweet white.
Because the Mosel river has carved such a steep gorge through the landscape, the vineyards here are some of the steepest in the world, with trees planted at angles up to 70 degrees. This incline, combined with the river's serpentine route, requires a majority of the grapes to be harvested by hand, which has helped contribute to the region's reputation for painstaking quality.
La Rioja, Spain
Near the French border in northern Spain lies the province of La Rioja, known — as the name might suggest— for its quality red wines. In fact, the area has given its name to what is now the most popular Spanish wine in the United States, a blend that traditionally includes both tempranillo and garnacha grapes.
With its medieval villages and rolling hills, La Rioja offers a relaxed journey through vineyards, ancient churches, and standout Spanish cuisine. Visit in June, and you may even get to take part in the Batalla del Vino — or Battle of the Wine — in the village of Haro. An annual tradition, the festival is exactly what it sounds like, with participants spraying and dumping each other from tankers of wine supplied by local vintners.
McLaren Vale, Australia
Though Australia may not be the first country to mind when you think of famous wine regions, the McLaren Vale area on the southern coast of the continent has been steadily growing in reputation and international recognition over the years. Best known for its reds such as shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, it has also been a leader in wine innovation and eco-conscious growing, thanks in large part to the fact that the majority of vineyards are smaller boutiques and family-run businesses.
When visiting, get a taste of both the local wine and creativity with a stop at the d'Arenberg Winery, housed in an avant-garde, Rubik's cube-esque building that includes a tasting room, restaurant, and even an Alternate Realities Museum. Nature lovers will also love the region, with its wealth of beaches and trails, and sunny climate.