There’s nothing quite as enchanting as a vacation in one of the world’s great wine regions, where stunningly beautiful vineyards serve as the perfect backdrop for tasting some of the best vintages available. And while more and more wine destinations seem to sprout up every year, some places will always set the standard for wine lovers. Whether you want to taste your way across Burgundy, Piedmont, Sonoma, or the Douro Valley, these 10 essential trips will inspire you to explore the wide world of winemaking.
Where: South Africa
Founded in 1679 by the Governor of the Cape Colony, Simon van der Stel, the town of Stellenbosch is set against majestic mountains and boasts historic, oak-lined streets—the perfect starting point for wine-tippling tours along the Stellenbosch Wine Route. Established in 1971, it’s the oldest in South Africa. Dozens of high-quality wineries that produce the region’s signature chenin blanc and pinotage wines are within a day’s drive. Don’t miss South Africa’s only certified biodynamic winery, Reyneke Wines, or a tasting at innovative DeMorgenzon, which pipes Baroque music throughout the estate (see if you can taste the difference).
Insider Tip: Many Stellenbosch area wineries offer additional attractions, such as wildlife adventures or carriage rides, rounding out a wine-focused visit to the Western Cape.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Western Cape Guide
With Napa Valley as its closest neighbor, it’s not shocking Sonoma County is pouring prestigious wines, but the region is sometimes overlooked (and thus, lacking in crowds). Just an hour’s drive from San Francisco, Sonoma County is quintessential California wine country. There are some 400 wineries to explore—many focus on cool-climate wines such as pinot noirs and chardonnays—set in striking redwood forests and beside rugged coastline environs. Along Highway 116, visitors can make stops at Iron Horse, Merry Edwards, and Paul Hobbs vineyards, or sip flights in Sebastopol, where many area vintners have established convenient tasting rooms.
Insider Tip: Want to take a break from vino? Sonoma County counts more than 50 nature parks with miles of hiking and biking trails (there’s ziplining and kayaking, too).
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Napa and Sonoma Guide
If you’ve ever been asked whether you’re more Burgundy or Bordeaux, you know Burgundy is one of France’s two powerhouse winemaking regions and a must-visit for any true oenophile. Unlike other wine regions around the world, getting in the cellar door is no easy feat (don’t expect to turn up at Domaine de la Romanée Conti and expect a tour and tasting). There are a variety of options for gaining entrée, including overnight tours that barge along scenic rivers and canals, passing the area’s Romanesque churches and rolling green hills, or day trips departing from the pretty medieval city of Dijon. All organized tours should be booked well in advance.
Insider Tip: Tasting rooms tend to be small, and Burgundy’s vineyards rarely allow visits without reservations (read: French-speaking guides), but the legwork will be worth it. Sipping Burgundy’s elegant pinot noirs and nuanced chardonnays are the reason to make the trek.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Burgundy Guide
Just an hour away from Adelaide by car in South Australia lies the scenic Barossa Valley, wowing wine lovers the world over by producing bold, jammy Shiraz wines and some of Australia’s finest rieslings, mainly from the high-altitude Eden Valley. Australian charm and openness to visitors pervades here. Almost all wineries offer tastings, and many boast free tours and delicious on-site eateries. Spend an afternoon at Yalumba, Australia’s oldest family run winery (it has a comfortable tasting room with a fireplace and its own cooperage), or take in the palm tree-lined drive to Seppeltsfield Winery, renowned for its Centennial Collection, a line of Tawny from every vintage beginning in 1878.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Barossa Wine Region Guide
As if the sumptuous Barolos and Barbarescos produced in Piedmont weren’t reason enough, the area’s high concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants, luxurious hotels, and high-end spas—not to mention scenic vistas with pretty hills at the base of the Alps—are increasingly luring visitors to Le Langhe in northwest Italy. Worthy wine-tasting stops (advance reservations are usually necessary) in Barbaresco include Tenute Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Gresy and Produttori del Barbaresco. In Barolo, make a trip to the familial Fratelli Barale, in operation since 1870.
Insider Tip: Combine your passions for fine food and wine by visiting in the fall, when white truffles make their coveted (and expensive) appearance in local markets and restaurants.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Piedmont and Valle D’Aosta Guide
Here’s where the great outdoors and the best wines of the Pacific Northwest converge, though keep in mind the Willamette Valley AVA is a big place (5,200 square miles), so you’ll need to rent a car to get around. The mild climate in the Valley yields beautiful Burgundian wine varieties with New World flair, and the pinot noirs and chardonnays it produces are world-class. Some of the most exemplary vintners in the region include Adelsheim (with its sweeping views of the Chehalem Mountains), Penner-Ash Wine Cellars (boasting concerts series and food trucks), and Bergström (which practices biodynamic winemaking). Just make sure to call ahead for reservations.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Willamette Valley and Wine Country Guide
Where: New Zealand
If the landscape looks familiar—tranquil rivers, green valleys, and soaring, snow-capped peaks—you’ve probably glimpsed majestic Central Otago in Lord of the Rings. Beyond the cinematic scenery is a booming wine industry. The southernmost winegrowing region in the world (and New Zealand’s highest) beckons visitors with delicate pinot noirs and aromatic white wines such as pinot gris, riesling, and gewürztraminer. Rippon Vineyard in Wanaka is one of the area’s oldest wineries with a terrific lakeside view, while Peregrine in Gibbston Valley is itself an architectural wonder; the building was designed to look like the wing of a peregrine falcon in flight.
Insider Tip: Keep in mind that seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere, so to visit during harvest time, book a trip in late March or April.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s New Zealand Guide
Sleepy Spanish villages, centuries of grape-growing history, and more than 500 wineries producing a wide variety of full-bodied reds make La Rioja an intriguing destination for wine lovers in northern Spain. Here, high-quality experiences often include envelope-pushing techniques, such as at the López de Heredia in Haro, which effortlessly fuses old winemaking techniques with futuristic design (see the stunning wine shop dreamed up by Zaha Hadid). Or check out Bodegas Baigorri in Samaniego, which appears as a glass box hovering above ground with the award-winning winery below. You’d be remiss to skip a night at the world’s most talked about winery hotel, Marqués de Riscal, designed by Frank Gehry.
Insider Tip: A side trip to Santo Domingo de de la Calzada and its cathedral, San Millán de la Cogolla, should make your hit list. Two UNESCO World Heritage sites, the San Millan de Suso and Yuso monasteries, are located here.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Spain Guide
Instantly recognizable for its steep-terraced vineyards that soar above the placid Douro River, Portugal’s northern wine region doesn’t suffer for lack of beautiful scenery. One of the world’s oldest winemaking regions—Romans introduced vines back in the third century A.D.—the Douro Valley is serious port country. You’ll want to stop at the Sandeman winery with its comprehensive tasting center or drink in the views after a steep climb to Quinta do Crasto. There are plenty of smaller quintas (estates) to visit as well, many pouring lesser-known table wines made from indigenous grapes that seem impossible to pronounce.
Insider Tip: The roads here are winding, narrow, and at times, downright terrifying. If imbibing without worry is on your agenda, take your journey by train or enjoy a boat tour on the Douro River.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Portugal Guide
You may think you’ve landed in a fairytale, because the Mosel Valley dazzles visitors with its storybook castles, rolling hills, and meandering river. Beyond this dreamy landscape, poetic wines are a top reason for tourism to the region, as particularly delicate rieslings are crafted here, though Müller-Thurgau is widely planted, too. Hikers should make the two-hour journey to Europe’s steepest vineyards at Calmont-Klettersteig, as the views alone are worth the trek. For a more relaxed wine-tasting experience, former monastery Weingüter Mönchhof in Ürzig offers breezy outdoor tastings and is open most evenings.
Insider Tip: Come during late summer or to coincide with fall harvest. Many towns, including Bernkastel-Kues, have wine festivals complete with oompah bands and festive costumes.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Wine Tasting in the Mosel Valley Guide