Top Five Wine Travel Destinations 2023, How far would you travel for a bottle of vinous nectar? It’s a serious question as wine-making is a serious business. And it has been for 6,000 years. Last year, archaeologists unearthed the oldest wine-making facility in southern Armenia and identified a dry red vintage. Back then, they used a simple technique of barefoot stomping to eke out the juice. Wine-making has moved on since then.
Ask any winemaker about his wines, and you’ll see the lights in his eyes ignite as body gestures become more animated as they explain the time-consuming, laborious techniques, the vintages, the terroir, the myriad of considerations that go into producing a pool of pleasure in a wine glass. You can tap into that joy firsthand by experiencing a winery and feeling the sheer pleasure of supping its grape juices on site. Here are five who are happy to whet your appetite.
Napa Valley, California, USA
Deep in the heart of the picturesque rolling hills of Napa Valley is Opus One winery. This font of wine wisdom is a joint project of Robert Mondavi winery in California and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild of France. The aim within the four densely planted vineyards is to produce the best wine that the Oakville soil can offer entwined with Bordeaux-style characteristics. Many regard the final product as one of the world’s most exquisite. Situated amidst vast wine areas, (169 acres) the interior of the estate can also be described as exquisite. read also Best New York City Hotels
It was created to evoke Olde Worlde meets new, somewhat like their wine style. The architecture is defined by colonnades and modern materials such as California redwood and stainless steel are used in a backdrop of cream-coloured Texas limestone. The cellars are reached from a glazed yellow rotunda brightly lit with dappled light but contrasts dramatically with the subdued subterranean lighting and where a scent of oak subtly charges the air around the stairwell.
The wines produced at Opus One are most often a blend of five grape varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot and you can taste these cedary wines on-site by appointment.
- Transport: Fly to Sacramento or San Francisco, then rent a car and the drive from the airport to Napa should take about 1h30.
- Accommodation: There are several hotels in and around Napa.
Not to consider visiting a vineyard in France would be just wrong. The vineyards of Chateau Canon-la-Gaffelière, lie on the Pieds de Cotes in the Dordogne valley along southern slopes above the village of Saint Emilion and are perfect for a tour and tasting. Under the leadership of Count Stephan von Neipperge since 1985, this winery has become one of the best Grand Cru Classee wineries producing 60,000 bottles of the most palatable wines in the world. read also Exploring Luxury The Best Hearst Castle Tour
The vineyard is arranged in a single block of vines comprising 19.5 hectares of merlot and cabernet franc and a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon while biodynamic and organic methods breathe life into the soil. The cellars are open for tours and tastings by appointment and if you should go there look out for the register in the reception room which has some truly illustrious names in it.
- Transport: Fly to Bordeaux or Bergerac, then rent a car and the drive from the airport to Saint-Emilion should take about an hour.
- Accommodation: There are several hotels in and around Saint-Emilion.
The Italians know a thing or two about producing fine wines and this winery comes with a monastic provenance. Badia a Coltibuono (which means Abbey of the good harvest) estate is located on the eastern edge of the Chianti Classico Zone. It is surrounded by 800 hectares of forest and though over 1000 years old it is still based on the Benedictine monastery “Cultus Boni” erected by monks of the Vallombrosa Abbey in 1051. In 1810 Napoleon Bonaparte secularised it and it was sold by lottery in 1846 to banker Guido Guiutino. read also Mission Bay Inn San Diego Review
It is now run by a descendant Emanuela Stucchi Prenetti. Its monastic origins appear everywhere from the geometric gardens to the frescoes in the living quarters. Incidentally, Emanuela’s mother runs a Tuscan cookery school here where she cooks with olive oil made on the estate. Visitors can stay in en-suite rooms or apartments. Doubles start at $170 with breakfast and this is the first wine resort in Chianti that has opened its doors to travelers in this way. The Badia a Coltibuono wine range includes a Chianti Classico and Riserva, a second Classico called Cultus Boni where Sangiovese is blended with Merlot, Colorino, and Cilieglio, and an IGT Sangioveto, made from only Sangiovese.
- Transport: Fly to Florence, then rent a car and the drive from the airport to Badia Coltibuono should take about an hour.
- Accommodation: Badia a Coltibuono offers 10 rooms in the historic abbey, or you can choose an alternative hotel in Gaiole in the Chianti area.
Think of Spain, Rioja, and Marqués de Riscal is the oldest bodega in the Rioja region. In 1936 Marqués de Riscal sent “9,000 vines of the highest quality” – including the finest Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Pinot Noir – to the Alavesa Rioja vineyards, where until that time, Tempranillo and Graciano had reigned supreme. In 1958 it became the first in the area to produce wines in the Bordeaux method.
Architecturally, this estate is a gem. Recently, it completed “Ciudad del Vino”, a City of Wine complex with a hotel, a spa with vino therapy, a restaurant, and a wine museum. It’s a chaotic structure with a striking titanium roof. It has been described by one architectural publication as “a composition of rectilinear prisms enveloped in cascades of pink- and gold-colored titanium and silver stainless steel.” It’s the first hotel by the architect Frank Gehry who designed the Guggenheim at Bilboa sixty miles away, which looks remarkably similar.
Fancy buildings don’t necessarily mean fine wines, but this estate produces a range of white (there are over 400 acres devoted to white primarily the native Verdejo and Viura grapes, but also some Sauvignon Blanc that they were the first to introduce) and reds which can be sampled in the tasting rooms. Probably their most revered sup is the white Rueda. It is made from a blend of mostly Verdejo and Viura. The grapes are completely destemmed and cold macerated in order to extract the maximum aromas from the skins.
Fermentation is long and slow, over 20-30 days, at a carefully controlled temperature of between 12ºC and 13ºC in stainless steel tanks. Also pretty good is the cherry red Ca Rioja made from Tempranillo and Graciano grapes giving off an intense nose of dark spicy fruit and a fresh fruity finish on the palate. But if one has had a little too much, the wine therapy spa offers some rest and recuperation.
- Transport: Depending on where you are coming from, you will most probably fly to Madrid first. The nearest airport to Elciego is Logroño and Iberia is the only airline serving the airport with direct flights from Madrid to Logroño. You can rent a car at Logroño airport and Elciego is about 40 minutes drive.
- Accommodation: Marqués de Riscal is part of The Luxury Collection by Starwood chain of hotels. You can stay in one of the 43 stylish rooms at Marqués de Riscal, or find an alternative hotel in Elciego.
Western Cape, South Africa
The farm fields of Vergelegen, located in a valley, comprise more than 7413 acres. Of that 259 are vineyards where cultivation dates back to 1700. This makes Vergelegen one of the oldest in the Cape. Yet this is one of the coolest regions in the country but this is overcome by late vintage and cutting-edge cellar technology to produce excellent quality. Its farm manor, library, and gardens are open to visitors and in the summer lunch is served on the patio in the shade of Liquid Amber trees overlooking their tended lawns. There’s a bistro too where light snacks can be taken with views over their rose garden.
The octagonal shape of the winery ensures insulation and there are no machines, pumps or roto tanks to be seen anywhere. Below ground are three more cellar levels where the vinification takes place on the gravity flow principle. Inside the estate, the decor reflects old-style charm, in empathy perhaps that its garden contains the oldest oaks in South Africa.
- Transport: Fly to Cape Town and rent a car at the airport. It takes approximately 35 min drive to reach Vergelegen.
- Accommodation: There are several hotels in Cape Town.
Which of the five wineries would you visit first? Is it the winery or the destination that makes you decide?