Drink alfresco in Cape Town. // © 2017 Cape Town Tourism
Feature image (above): Marlborough, New Zealand, is famed for its zesty sauvignon blanc wines. // © 2017 MarlboroughNZ.com
Novelist Ernest Hemingway once called wine one of the most civilized things in the world, pointing out that “it offers a greater range of enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
Indeed, for those who truly understand it, wine is more than just an alcoholic beverage: It can be a means for rapture as well as a balm for the heartbroken. It’s a living, breathing thing — a complex masterpiece of nuanced flavors due to factors such as acidity, tannins, sweetness, aromas, fermentation and the like. Plus, romanticisms aside, a single bottle of wine is the result of extremely hard work and exhaustive attention to detail, such as the duration of its aging period or the particular season’s accumulated rainfall.
And today, more than ever, oenophiles are traveling great lengths to drink wines in their place of origin, and suppliers are meeting the rising demand by offering quality experiences.
“Wine tourism, even 10 years ago, was really in its infancy,” said Pascale Bernasse, president of tour operator French Wine Explorers. “Special experiences were not so easy to find, and there was little room for creativity and not enough infrastructure to make them happen. But wine tastes better with a really good story behind it, and with time, we are seeing increased offerings, which has helped us develop programs that are well-rounded.”
Along with expert tips, here are six vinous destinations that are aging like fine wine.
In 2016, an estimated 10 million people traveled to France for its wine alone, according to data from tourism development agency Atout France. Especially for first-timers, such a trip will usually include a vineyard blitz in southwest France’s prestigious Bordeaux region.
“Bordeaux is inevitable,” said Per Karlsson, co-founder of BKWine Tours, which offers scheduled and custom-designed itineraries to wine destinations around the world. “It is the most famous of all wine regions and makes some of the world’s best wines. And the city of Bordeaux is fantastic; you can tell the wine business is thriving.”
Bordeaux’s roughly 290,000 acres of vineyards are divided into 38 sub-regions with 57 appellations, producing grapes that differ in microclimates and terroirs. The region is France’s largest AOC vineyard — AOC stands for “appellation d’origine controlee” (controlled name of origin), a law that enforces specific production techniques. As a result, Bordeaux produces a huge diversity of high-quality wines across a wide range of price points. Most commonly used for making wine in Bordeaux are three reds (merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc) and three whites (semillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle).
“Wine is integral to the French way of living,” said Anne-Laure Tuncer, director of USA for Atout France.
“It is not only a major export, but it also has a way of showcasing a unique ephemeral narrative of French culture. The terroir, the sediments and smells that emanate from wine encompass a special understanding and nuanced depiction of various regions of the country.”
Digital Retox: Ashley Vaughters, a Denver-based sommelier who works in wine distribution and wine education, says not to miss Chateau Lamothe-Bergeron Cru Bourgeois, located an hour’s drive from the city of Bordeaux. Here, the wine-tasting experience is remarkably innovative, with an emphasis on education and technology. Video projections illustrate the fermentation process and 3-D hologram-like images showcase the process of blending.
What’s the Buzz: Clients who plan to rendezvous in the City of Lights can trade in cobblestone streets and a sparkling Eiffel Tower for Bordeaux’s leafy vineyards and oaky blends faster than ever before. Launched in July, new high-speed train lines between Paris and Bordeaux cut down the journey’s time from about three hours to just over two, allowing for more frolicking amongst the vines.
Also, from June 14-18, 2018, the Bordeaux Wine Festival returns to the UNESCO-protected Port de la Lune docks. In addition to food and wine tastings, visits to vineyards and musical performances, clients can witness Tall Ships Regatta, a 7,000-nautical-mile race that traverses the Atlantic Ocean, as part of the festival’s 20th anniversary celebration.
CAPE TOWN AND CAPE WINELANDS, SOUTH AFRICA
At the base of the towering and rugged Table Mountain lies the bustling and beautiful Cape Town, capital of South Africa’s Western Cape province. Copious outdoor activities such as hiking, diving, surfing and mountain biking, as well as a thriving arts and design scene, already make this remarkable municipality a must-visit — but many travelers are further seduced by the local viticulture.
Cape Town also serves as the ideal starting point for exploring the bucolic Cape Winelands that begin just outside the city, where clients can joyfully wine and dine themselves into a stupor. Constantia is the closest to the city, about a 20-minute drive, but if it’s quantity — without sacrificing quality — that clients are looking for, Stellenbosch represents more than 200 producers on its wine route. And for both French and Dutch influences and acclaimed cuisine, head to Franschhoek, about an hour’s drive from Cape Town.
What’s more, the wine scene in the Cape Town area will soon shine even brighter, particularly in terms of international recognition and marketing: In June, South Africa’s Wine and Spirit Board approved the wine wards of Constantia, Durbanville, Philadelphia and Hout Bay to be unified as Wine of Origin Cape Town. (South Africa’s Wine of Origin program mandates the labeling of wine regions and on bottles, similar to France’s AOC system.) This new wine district designation currently consists of 30 wineries, including the famed Groot Constantia, the country’s oldest wine-producing estate.
“The South Africa winelands offer an unparalleled experience that stretches far beyond the vineyards,” said Maryna Calow, communications manager for industry organization Wines of South Africa. “Each winery offers something unique, whether it be a family experience on a Segway tour or scenic mountain biking trails and eco-walks.”
Avoid Pour Choices: Calow advises agents to plan trips to South Africa’s winelands carefully.
“Depending on the time of year, you might need to book the restaurants ahead; our peak seasons are December to January and March to April,” she said. “Get a driver or a specialized wine tour company to drive from point A to B if they don’t want to appoint a designated driver who will inevitably miss out on vinous delights.”
What’s the Buzz: Take a walk — or, rather, a drive — on the wild side in Table Mountain National Park by signing up for Durbanville Hills Wines’ new wine safari. Guests ride a safari vehicle on typically forbidden roads before arriving at a picnic with spectacular panoramic views.
City slickers may prefer Cape Town’s newly launched #InnerCityWineRoute, held on the second Wednesday of each month from October through December, then again from April to June. Participating venues offer special wine tastings from South Africa wineries as well as food pairings.
MARLBOROUGH, NEW ZEALAND
If sauvignon blanc is a client’s preferred elixir of life, then her next long-haul flight should land in Marlborough, New Zealand. Set on the east coast of the country’s South Island, the region is replete with wineries crafting the zesty stuff — specifically known as Marlborough sauvignon blanc — that rose to international fame around the 1980s. It’s also celebrated for other wine grapes, including chardonnay, riesling and pinot noir. In fact, Marlborough is responsible for about 76 percent of New Zealand’s wine production.
The destination’s warm climate lends itself well to wine growing, with ample sunshine and moderate temperatures that lead to extended ripening seasons. Also to thank is the area’s terrain, which chiefly consists of highly fertile alluvial soils. Marlborough is bisected by the Wairau Valley — where Blenheim, the region’s main town, sits — and its neighbors include the Richmond Ranges, the renowned Marlborough Sounds, the Awatere River and the Kaikoura Ranges. So, besides superb wine, there’s lots of outdoorsy fun to be had by adventurous clients.
Wineries Worth the Sip: Cellar doors, or wine tasting rooms, are aplenty in Marlborough. Jamie Bisiar, wine tourism executive for nonprofit organization New Zealand Winegrowers, says there are 34 in total, as well as 11 winery restaurants and six accommodation options that feature vineyards.
“The majority of these experiences are located within 20 minutes of one another, so it’s really a wine lover’s dream to have all these experiences in such close proximity,” Bisiar said.
For classic experiences, she suggests Allan Scott Family Winemakers for its reputable Twelve Trees restaurant and Yealands Family Wines for a self-drive tour with coastal views and adorable guest stars such as baby sheep.
Where to Wine Down: Bjoern Spreitzer, general manager for the Americas and Europe at Tourism New Zealand, recommends a stay at The Marlborough Lodge, open since late 2016. Guests can wander through the property’s 16 acres of sauvignon blanc vineyards and gardens, as well as partake in wine cruises or wine-blending courses.
Not only is Mendoza considered Argentina’s vinous powerhouse — about 80 percent of the country’s total wine production is attributed to the area — but its malbec wines are beloved by aficionados the world over. And a stunning panorama awaits those dedicated enough to make the trek to the province, which features distant hazy-blue mountaintops that complement the changing seasonal hues of the grapevines.
As for the charmed synergy between soil and climate, Mendoza struck gold: Those scenic snowcapped peaks belong to the Andes Mountains, which provide a rain shadow to the flat plain below. As a result, annual rainfall only reaches around 9 inches, characterizing the province as an arid desert. However, the mountain range does provide moisture in another form; its glacial snowmelt feeds an extensive system of irrigation canals.
Also, Mendoza’s vineyard altitudes start at some 2,300 feet above sea level and can reach up to 5,000 feet; this causes hot daytime temperatures to drop drastically upon nightfall, which slows the ripening processes and preserves acidity.
Ideal wine-growing environs aside, clients should savor the city of Mendoza, too. About 30 minutes from wine country, the metropolitan area wows visitors with its laid-back atmosphere, trendy restaurants and bars, manicured parks and lively, historic plazas. And though ordering a glass of malbec anywhere in Mendoza is a given, other varietals here are superb as well, including cabernet franc, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, torrontes and sparkling wines.
“What makes Argentina a great destination is that many incredible wines, crafted by new talent or traditionalists, never leave the country,” said Carolyn Gallagher, founder of Uncorking Argentina, a luxury tour operator based in Mendoza. “Argentinians demonstrate their warm hospitality through an eagerness to share their wines and tell stories of the land and the people, too.”
A Grape Party: Don’t miss the annual Vendimia Harvest Festival, or Grape Harvest Festival, that falls on the first weekend of March, Gallagher says.
Tens of thousands of people flock to this rambunctious celebration — where wine is the main attraction — to enjoy parades, cultural performances and the coveted crowning of the Queen of Vendimia (national wine queen).
Where to Wine Down: At the 1,500-acre Vines Resort & Spa in Mendoza’s Uco Valley wine region, aspiring oenologists can try their hand at wine blending with coaching from an expert winemaker. Then, guests can pair their custom blends with bites from celebrity chef Francis Mallmann, who heads upthe resort’s Siete Fuegos restaurant and serves memorable dishes such as a delectable rib eye grilled for nine hours over an open flame.
NAPA VALLEY, CALIF.
Northern California’s famed Napa Valley is synonymous with wine, and with good reason: More than 475 wineries — and about 95 percent of them family-owned — dot the region’s rolling hills and valleys. Thanks to a dry Mediterranean climate, as well as diverse topography and fertile soils, visitors can stock up on everything from full-bodied cabernet sauvignon and velvety merlots to buttery chardonnays and zinfandels with a kick.
This wine valley in the Golden State began its flirtation with viticulture in 1838, when the first wine grapes were planted by George Yount in a town now known as Yountville. Today, the dalliance has evolved into a full-fledged, serious relationship; vineyards stretch across all of Napa’s other charming towns, including Rutherford, St. Helena, Calistoga, Oakville and its capital city of Napa. Dining excels in Napa Valley, too; it boasts a higher count of Michelin stars per capita than any other wine region in the world, with 11 stars total at press time.
California Love: Today, more than ever, Napa Valley — as well as its sister region, Sonoma County — need tourism support. Wildfires last month set more than 200,000 acres ablaze, leaving destruction and fatalities in their wake. Fortunately, 90 percent of this year’s grapes by volume had been picked prior to the fire, and many businesses have since reopened their doors to welcome visitors.
A strong community has long been the glue that holds Napa Valley together, says Nathaniel Dorn, partner for St. Helena’s The Charter Oak restaurant, which has a wine list exclusively dedicated to Napa wines.
“Everyone here is a farmer, and you get that community feeling that there are a lot of brothers and sisters in the family, so everyone’s working hard to support each other rather than just an individual trade,” Dorn said. “It’s two-fold: The wines are incredibly good, but I also think that the family aspect of the culture within it is equally good, if not better.”
What’s the Buzz: There’s no shortage of fresh happenings in Napa Valley. Start a wine-saturated trip with a visit to the eclectic-chic Durant & Booth, a tasting room inside an original 1877 building with a fascinating past. Flagship winery Trefethen Family Vineyards also recently completed an extensive renovation of its tasting room — a historic landmark built in 1886 — following extensive damage from a 2014 earthquake.
The eminent Napa Valley Wine Train, where passengers wine and dine inside vintage Pullman railcars, has launched new six-hour tours with stops at multiple wineries. Last but certainly not least, grab a nightcap at Jam Cellars:
The tasting room in Napa city’s revitalized downtown began blending good wine with good music in May 2016. Expect a wall lined with Rolling Stone covers and an in-house recording studio.
With its craggy coastlines, white-sand beaches, alpine wilderness, deep valleys, swaths of rainforests and indigo-blue rivers, Tasmania looks something like a Garden of Eden. But Australia’s only island state — and a heart-shaped one at that — offers more than just eye candy; it’s also the birthplace of superb, aromatic and elegant wines, including award-winning varietals of pinot noir, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and sparkling wines.
According to wine organization Wine Tasmania, some 160 wine producers comprise about 7 square miles of vineyards on the island — and it’s clear why they’ve chosen Tasmania as their home base. Positioned 150 miles off the southernmost point of Victoria on Australia’s mainland, Tasmania is blessed with a maritime climate that remains moderate year-round; autumn features long, warm days, while summer and spring are mild, too. This enables a long growing season, which imparts intensity of flavors, followed by a long and gradual ripening period. Moreover, a sundry terroir has proven to create the excellent, cool-weather wines Tasmania is known for.
Wineries Worth the Sip: “Most of Tasmania’s small wine producers only sell their wines on-island, so visiting is the best way to try wines, meet our talented producers and see this amazing place we’re privileged to call home,” said Sheralee Davies, CEO of Wine Tasmania.
One such experience can be found at Moorilla Vineyard in Berriedale (near the island’s capital city of Hobart), Davies says. Guests of the establishment can participate in behind-the-label tours and taste wine directly from the barrel. She also recommends Josef Chromy Wines in Relbia, just a 15-minute drive south of Launceston, which is housed within an original 1880s homestead.
What’s the Buzz: When clients come to her for something different, Lynda Turley, a travel advisor for California-based Alpine Travel of Saratoga, often nominates Tasmania, especially its wine regions of Coal River Valley, Tamar Valley and Derwent Valley.
“They have lovely cool-weather wines, which pair great with the local Tasmanian seafood,” she said.
Wine Tasmania also offers a number of wine trails that help clients navigate the island’s wine-growing areas: North West Wine Trail, Tamar Valley Wine Route, East Coast Wine Trail and Southern Wine Trail. More recently, it launched the Tasmanian Seafood Trail in partnership with Tasmania Seafood Industry Council, so travelers can soak up all that booze with yummy bites.
MORE WINE DESTINATIONS
Thirsty for more? Here’s a further sampling of destinations for wine-ing to your heart’s content.
“Rioja is living a revolution with some of Spain’s best wines, which are made in everything from very big wineries to tiny boutique bodegas. Then, you have the world-famous Spanish gastronomy, of course — who wouldn’t want to start the evening with some tapas and a glass of wine on Calle Laurel in Logrono?”
— Per Karlsson, owner of BKWine Tours
“Alentejo is full of rolling hills, cork forests, Moorish castles and landscapes that look like the African savanna. Also, there are terrific wine estates, great hotels such as Convento do Espinheiro and curiosities such as The Chapel of Bones in Evora.”
— Genevieve McCarthy, managing director for Cellar Tours
“In Casablanca, you can find 20 vineyards with different styles, production and services, but all always follow the highest standard. They can experience everything from regular wine tastings to horseback riding tours among vine plantations, sunset picnics and hot-air balloon flights over the valley.”
— Jose Miguel Valenzuela, owner of Uncorked Wine Tours
“Provence is interesting because there’s this big rosé movement — everyone wants rosé now. In Provence, there’s a gorgeous winery and art center called Chateau La Coste with cellars designed by French architect Jean Nouvel. They are setting the bar high for welcoming wine lovers.”
— Pascale Bernasse, president of French Wine Explorers
“Piedmont is a real gem of a destination for food and wine lovers — it’s home to the Slow Food movement; white truffles; and the King of Italian Wine, Barolo, and his queen, Barbaresco. The communes of Barolo and Barbaresco alone provide so many delicious wineries, but those seeking even more range can venture into Alto Piemonte, which is closer to the Swiss Alps, for different expressions of nebbiolo (an Italian red wine grape variety).”
— Erin Lindstone, sommelier at Barolo Grill