What to know when touring the world’s best wine regions

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What to know when touring the world’s best wine regions

Gone are the days when wine tasting was confined to local wineries or national borders.

Today’s consumers crave authentic wine experiences in the land where it’s cultivated.

In Europe, where the wine economy is predominantly export-driven, tasting rooms tend to be family-operated. That means there may be just one person serving visitors, and appointments are often hard to schedule.

The United States, Australia and South Africa take a more open-door approach, with wineries built to accommodate tourism and walk-in visitors.

No matter where your wine travels lead you, consider these questions before heading out:

  • What kind of wine do you like?
  • What type of experience are you interested in?
  • Do you need to make an appointment?
  • Will there be food on-site?
  • How will you get there?

Wine touring in the Old World

France

Of France’s 11 wine regions, Bordeaux, Burgundy (or Bourgogne) and Champagne are the most eminent.

Bordeaux is known for lush reds such as cabernet sauvignon, while Burgundy champions pinot noir and chardonnay wines. Champagne produces sparkling wines made from chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier grapes.

While in Bordeaux, visitors can stop at the Cité du Vin wine museum, explore elegant chateaux and dine in Michelin-star restaurants. Bordeaux is the only city in Europe with wineries within the city walls. Some are accessible via bike or tram.

Chateau Angelus in Saint Emilion, France is listed as a “Chateaux to Visit” on the website of Viniv Bordeaux. 

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Burgundy is home to spectacular landscapes covered by vineyards and dotted with centuries-old chateaux. An area of its vineyards, called The Climats, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The region of Champagne is worth a visit and not only for the bubbles. Wine tours at some of the older producers may include a view of the ancient underground cellars used to escape the German soldiers during World War I.

Montagne de Reims, one of the five sub-regions of the Champagne wine region.

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Most in-demand French tasting experiences must be booked in advance. Also, hours of operation vary from region to region.

Travelers should consider hiring a driver in Burgundy and Champagne. Alternatively, river cruises, like those on the Rhône, are an excellent way to see these magnificent wine regions.

Italy

Tuscany, one of the oldest wine regions in Italy, is a beautiful region of rolling hills, cypress trees, olive orchards and vineyards.

Chianti classico is the main attraction in Tuscany, but Montalcino’s brunello is a huge draw for aficionados. Though both are made from Sangiovese grapes, the flavor profiles are quite different.

The vineyards of the Chianti wine region in Tuscany, Italy.

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Wine festivals are an easy way to enjoy regional wine in Italy. In Tuscany, the village of Greve hosts the Chianti Classico Wine Festival in mid-September. Also in the fall, the town of Alba in Piedmont hosts a wildly popular wine and truffle festival. Parking can be tough, so visitors can consider carpooling or traveling via taxi.  

Hired drivers are recommended in Tuscany; the area is mountainous with lots of curves and narrow roads. Similar to France, visitors should book appointments in advance.

Wine touring in the New World

Wine tourism in the New World is casual and easy. Appointments are rarely needed, and most tasting rooms are open seven days a week.

The United States

California is renowned for wine tasting, though almost every state in the continental U.S. has a wine region or wine tourism area.

Napa Valley, known for its bold cabernet sauvignon, is the premier wine region in the United States. Visitors can drive between vineyards, bike the Napa Valley Wine Trail, or book a ride on the vintage Napa Valley Wine Train.

Visitors tasting wine at Napa Valley’s Freemark Abbey winery.

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Sonoma is a vast region with rolling hills and 50 miles of rugged coastline – best known for pinot noir and chardonnay, plus some zinfandel in the warmer appellations. Tasting rooms are spread out, so more time is needed to explore it. 

The best way to visit both regions is to book a driver, ideally one with contacts at the wineries. While it used to be the norm to book in advance, many visitors now walk in for a tasting. However, appointments are still preferred.

Other states with bustling wine tourism include Texas, Washington, Oregon, Virginia and New York.

Australia

Wine tourism in the land “Down Under” is cutting-edge.

Most of the wineries and tasting rooms are referred to as cellar doors. A few regions to consider are Yarra Valley in Victoria; Barossa Valley near Adelaide, and Margaret River about two hours south of Perth.

Wine at Helen & Joey Estate at the company’s “cellar door” in the wine region of Yarra Valley, outside of Melbourne.

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Wine tourism in Yarra Valley is convenient, with cellar doors open daily and wineries less than a mile apart. On-site dining and even accommodations are very common, making this area easy to visit.

Many large producers host concerts and outdoor events, that showcase the region’s chardonnay, pinot noir and some sparkling wines.

Margaret River offers great surfing as well as wine tasting. Visitors can look for unoaked chardonnay and Bordeaux blends. Its winding roads are known for frequent kangaroo crossings, and drivers are recommended.

Barossa is one of the older wine regions in Australia, with some 200 cellar doors within two hours of Adelaide. Here, wine tasting can come with koala and kangaroo sightings. Many grape varietals are grown in the valley – including grenache and riesling – ensuring there’s something for most palates. 

South Africa

South Africa may be considered a new world wine region, but Constantia, a top destination for wine tasting, is centuries old.  

Opened in 1685, Groot Constantia is South Africa’s first wine farm. It sits among other vineyards that make up the Constantia Wine Route, a 20-minute drive from Cape Town.

A sightseeing wine tour bus passes a vineyard in the Constantia wine region of South Africa.

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Stellenbosch is a popular region with an established, and bikeable, wine route. The area has world-class restaurants too.

Specific wineries can be booked in advance, but most are open daily. The country’s top varietals include chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, pinotage and shiraz, showcasing the diversity of South African wines.

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