The Top Ten Wine Destinations in the World
What makes a great wine destination? As I put together this list of my top ten favorite places, I thought long and hard about this question. Obviously it starts and ends with one thing: wine. But it's the spaces between and beyond the grape and the glass that, for me, make a city, a region, or a country worth returning to again and again. Or rather, dreaming of getting back to some day.
A wine country visit is more than just about the vineyards and the tasting room. It's about who you're with, what you eat, where you sleep. Also important to the experience? Removing yourself form a wine-centric itinerary and discovering a little window into what a place has to offer. It could involve wandering around the streets of Valparaiso, Chile, after a day of wine touring in the nearby valleys, soaking in an urban experience full of color, art, and unexpected twists and turns. Or relaxing on a beach in Tasmania with sand and water so wish-book lovely that you can't believe you just left woods and vineyards earlier in the day.
But don't just take my word for it. I've also asked some folks who live in these ten spots (or have spent way more time there than I have) to chime in on what makes their part of the world a great destination for any curious traveler who also happens to love wine. Each offers recommendations galore on everything from accomodations to dining to hiking to museums.
What's in your top ten? Have you been there before or is it just a dream destination?
Image from Wines from Santorini.
Normally when I'm in wine country I want to stay right smack in the middle of the vineyards, as close as possible. Hell, sometimes I wouldn't even mind pitching a tent between a couple rows of Sauvignon Blanc. But getting to stay at the top of Valparaiso, Chile, means spending time in one of my favorite urban locations. I have wandered for hours on end just to view the astonishing street art around every corner, sometimes a bit hidden but often in plain sight. It's a great escape from the hustle and bustle at the bottom of the city, and a nice contrast from days spent walking through rows of grapes.
My picks for in and around Valparaiso:
Photo: Hotel Palacio Astoreca.
Hotel Palacio Astoreca: Beautiful building with great views, modern rooms, a lovely patio, a quiet library room , and a fantastic restaurant, Alegre, making modern and elegant food with a bit of a playful touch.
Casa Real: Astonishing grounds worthy of getting lost in for an afternoon combine with peaceful, quiet nights. Enjoy lunch at the Doña Paula Restaurant.
Get a window into the life of poet Pablo Neruda by exploring two houses: one in Valparaiso, La Sebastiana, and Isla Negra, about 45 minutes from Valaparaiso.
Veramonte Winery: Great vineyard views, and sentimental value for being one of the first wines that made me take note of the great value and taste in numerous bottles of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. But I also love the unexpected finds, like a fascinating collection of antique corkscrews:
Photo: Jameson Fink.
For insider intel, I turn to Grant Phelps. He lives in Valparaiso and commutes to his job in Casablanca Valley as winemaker at Casas del Bosque. I asked him what makes Valparaiso an ideal home base for visiting wineries in Casablanca Valley. Here's what he had to say:
EXPERT PICKS: GRANT PHELPS (WINEMAKER, CASAS DEL BOSQUE)
"First and foremost Valpo (as it is known locally) and Casablanca just became the newest of the now nine great wine capitals globally. Valpo, which is by far the most vibrant and eclectic city in South America, is only a 25 minute drive from Casablanca. Valpo has been [since 2003] a fully protected UNESCO world heritage site in recognition of its distinctive architectural style, and is full of boutique hotels. [Valpo] is, after Santiago, the most visited city in Chile (and thus has enough tourist attractions in itself to keep any tourist busy for 3 or 4 days). There are enough wineries in Casablanca for 2–3 days of wine touring."
And, hey, you're not far from numerous other wine regions as well. Grant continues:
"Leyda/San Antonio are an hour away by car. Aconcagua is also only 1:15 hours away. All up you could comfortably spend 3-4 days in Valpo and another 3 days visiting wineries to fill out a week. For visiting wineries I recommend English-owned and operated tour operator Wine Tours Valparaiso.
Grant's recommended wineries:
Photo: Cerveza Altimira.
For eating and drinking in Valpo? "Café Vinilo is a classic bohemian place to sit and drink wine from small producers. Altamira is Valpo’s hippest brewpub with live music several nights a week. Rincón de la Guitarra is the place for traditional 'porteño' folk music and to watch the locals bailando 'cueca'–Chile’s version of the tango."
Need a place to sleep? "Puerta Escondida is probably my favourite B&B (on Cerro Concepción) with my pick of high-end boutique hotels being Casa Higueras (Cerro Alegre). Although it’s marketed as a hostel Espiritu Santo (Cerro Bellavista) is really a very good B&B and is also home to one of the best restaurants in Valparaiso. The breakfasts here are excellent."
Santorini is just plain magical and for some, mythical. Was this island once Atlantis? I don't know, but I found myself in a constant state of wonderment, staring out at the bluest of blue skies and seas, contrasting dramatically and memorably with the surrounding white buildings. I also fell in love with a grape, Assyrtiko. It produces white wines with an intensity that makes Chablis seems timid, along with a surprising potential to age. And the sweet wine made from it has a unique history as well.
Oia by Harvey Barisson.
"The entire island is a vineyard," explains George Athanas of Wines From Santorini. "You will notice these basket looking vines (or bushes) that grow directly on top of the volcanic soil. These are all grape vines (grown in baskets directly on top of the volcanic soil) and they literally grow everywhere in small vineyard plots."
I asked George what makes Santorini unique as a wine destination. "Santorini has always been a culture of wine, long before the tourists discovered it only a short 20-30 years ago and this culture is alive and well," began George. "The Santorini vineyard is by far the oldest vineyard in the world under continuous cultivation, where the traditional system of viticulture, (fashioning the vines into baskets for protection from the wind and sun) probably dates back thousands of years and is like no other, anywhere. When you combine the world class wines being produced there with the delicious, traditional cuisine of Santorini, and of course being one of the most beautiful places on earth, it becomes a must see for wine aficionados and anyone else, for that matter.
Assyrtiko, the main white wine grape of Santorini, is astonishing not just in dry form, but also when it becomes sweet in the process of making Vinsanto. George explained what makes Assyrtiko special in both dry and sweet versions. "Usually, when a grape ripens it loses acidity and gains sugar, but Assyrtiko has the ability to retain high levels of acidity and sugars at the same time in the warm, dry climate of Santorini. In the volcanic environment this grape has evolved in a place where there is no water, no organic matter and winds that blow hard all year long and have not only managed to survive, but thrive in this 'Martian like' landscape. You get full-bodied white wines with excellent structure that can age for decades."
And what about the sweet wine? "Vinsanto is Santorini’s real connection with its past wine culture, because it was this wine that the island has been known for since medieval times and the process to make it today is simple and similar to how it was made back then. Going back just a generation or two, Vinsanto was what the farmers used to drink at breakfast to give them the extra push they needed to work the vineyards, one of the first 'energy bars you might say. It is also a wine that can last almost forever and shows so many layers of complexity as it ages."
The above photos are a deomstration of how the vines are grown to protect them from the fierce winds and unrelenting sun. And I loved having winemakers pose with the "lid" of a basket pried back like a manhole cover. Pictured is Yiannis Paraskevopoulos of Gaia Wines.
I recommend visiting his winery not just for the wines, but for the incredible proximity of the winery to the ocean. To the left is the view from where I sat and tasted at Gaia.
Also, if you want a beer after all that wine, you can check out Santorini Brewing Company, where Yiannis just happens to be a partner.
Other wineries to visit? Domaine Sigalas is where I discovered the cellar-worthiness of Assyrtiko. You can also have lunch there, admist the surrounding vineyards, which are truly atmostpheric and almost otherworldly.
Estate Argyros offers an intense chocolate bar made with their excellent Vinsanto and even some roibos tea.
There's also some really cool stuff in there, too. Like a (pictured) 1920s/30s-era manual wine bottle corker.
Visit the cooperative winery, Santo Wines. There is a huge parking lot and you'll probably encounter numerous tour buses, but it's worth it to brave the crowds as the view is mind-blowing:
Photo: Santo Wines.
EXPERT PICKS: GEORGE ATHANAS (WINES FROM SANTORINI)
To these selections George also adds Boutari, Gavalas, and Canava Roussos (the latter two are "old style wineries or 'canavas' that make good modern wine, but in a traditional atmosphere), Karamolegos Winery, and Hadzidakis.
Where to stay? Here's what George had to say: "Oia is our favorite village on the north end of the island which is also much quieter during the late hours than Fira (center) and other parts of the island. It is where all of the pictures you see in the magazines are taken. It is very traditional, with fantastic views of the Caldera, has great restaurants, cafes, shops, and of course a great place to see the famous sunset.
Try Armeni Village, which is right in the middle of the Oia hanging off the cliffs; it has 2 small pools. Aris Caves is a also a nice spot, owned by a family with a great terrace overhanging the Caldera. We also stay often at Nikos Villas, which is located just as you enter Oia and more quiet, since it is away from the center, but a couple of minute walk to where the action is in Oia. Nikos Villas has a great large pool overlooking the caldera. Tell any of these places that George with Wines from Santorini recommended them."
Looking for beaches? "Santorini has some great beaches, but not the traditional white sandy beaches of the Caribbean. They are with the volcanic black sand and are a study in contrast. You will be swimming in blue water, staring up at the rocky volcanic cliffs, and at the Red Beach they will be red cliffs.
Restaurants George highlights:
Oia: Skala (traditional seafood), Ferendini (One of my faves...nice view, traditional with a twist) & 1800 (pricey, more modern, but good)... Skiza Cafe (nice view, good sweets and coffee, good sandwiches)
Amoudi Bay: Just below Oia is this little fishing harbor with many good fish taverns. Go one night nd go all the way to the end and eat at Dimitris. Great, simple seafood and cool ambience at this little harbor at night
Megalochori: Selene Restaurant-nice and a bit of a modern take on Greek cuisine, but definitely recommended. The pace of service is slow, so make sure you have time, or go for lunch. [This place was pretty incredible. I will never forget having smoked eggplant ice cream there. Wow! --Jameson] Metaxi Mas is a great traditional tavern, hard location to find, but a must try!
Kamari Beach: Nykteri Restaurant: modern, on the water at Kamari Beach.
Perivolas Beach: Dixtia Tavern (Τhe Νets) is a very good, traditional fish tavern.
And for cultural sites, George has this to say: "There are some ruins around to see (ancient Thira & others), but a very interesting place and must see is Akrotiri (the Pompeii of Greece, but 1000+ years before) It has recently been reopened after renovation last year and worth a visit. It would be good to hire a guide. (You can find them there at the ticket booth)."
Cape Town, South Africa
The view of Cape Town from the water is dramatic, to say the least. You completely understand how Table Mountain got its name. And, depending on the weather, you can get a chance to take a cable car that rotates 360 degrees to the top.
Not only is Cape Town conveniently located near major wine regions such as Stellenboch and Franschhoek, but you are also able to take a boat to Robben Island, where political prisoners (including Nelson Mandela) used to be held. It is a powerful experience made even more so by the fact that the tour guides are former prisoners themselves.
An unexpected day trip from Cape Town? Hanging out with penguins. Head to Boulders Beach in Simon's Town.
Penguin photo: Wikimedia Commons/Mikkel Houmølle
And it's most likely the only spot on earth with this sign in the parking lot:
Jean-Baptiste Cristini, who I previously interviewed about extreme viticulture in the Swartland, is in charge of international sales and marketing for for two South African wineries, Spice Route and Fairview. He lives in Cape Town and offered a plethora of places to visit for wine, beer, coffee, cocktails, and beyond.
Visit both Spice Route and Fairview in Paarl. Spice Route offers not only a tasting room and restaurant, but you can also see everything from beer being brewed to chocolate being roasted. Glass blowing and an art gallery? Yup, that too.
At Fairvew you'll find a wine and cheese along with a bakery, deli, and restaurant. And, yes, goats. No visit to Fairview is complete without a photo in front of the Goat Tower, as yours truly can attest to in this image from 2008.
One other interesting fact about Jean-Baptiste? His wife produces award-winning sorbet. Get a palate cleanser of her "farm to scoop" sorbet at Sorbetiere, and plan the rest of your itinerary based on his recommendations. Take it away, Jean-Baptiste:
EXPERT PICKS:JEAN-BAPTISTE CRISTINI (SALES AND MARKETING, SPICE ROUTE AND FAIRVIEW WINERIES)
Wine & Cocktail Scene:
Publik Wine Bar: Finest wine bar in Cape Town run by David Cope and a solid team. Simple concept, unique wines by the glass.
Weinhaus & Biergarten: Started as a beer garden but thanks to the manager Ewan McKenzie one of the coolest wine lists for a bar/pub. Many unique, exclusive bottlings.
Food in Cape Town:
Tapas from La Parada.
La Parada: Very popular Seville-style tapas place. Great all-rounder and always packed.
Bizerca Bistro: One of SA’s best bistros. Straight forward and beautifully executed cuisine in a fine location. Small, focused winelist.
I Love my Laundry: Drycleaner/winebar/dim sum. A hybrid concept typical of Cape Town’s style of restaurant.
Chef’s Warehouse: Book shop/cookery shop/delicatessen and tapas restaurant. Finely executed cuisine from all horizons set up in a tasting style for all to share. Impossible to define the cuisine, just amazingly good.
Burrata: Neil Grant owner, is head of the SA Sommelier Association and very influential, for good reason. His Italian restaurant, voted best Italian in SA last year has a very serious wine list, and the Cape’s best pizza.
Aubergine: [Owner/Chef] Harald [Bresselschmidt] has been on the fine dining scene for decades. Aubergine is one of Cape Town’s most consistent restaurants with a bible-like winelist.
Dear Me: Vanessa Marx runs this lunch restaurant from locally-sourced produce, and opens a dinner concept once a week called the White Room, where she pushes the boundaries a bit more.
Carne: Giorgio [Nava, Chef/Proprietor] excels with locally-sourced dry-aged meat.
The Test Kitchen: Luke Dale-Roberts is arguable SA’s best chef, formerly of La Colombe. Modern fine dining.
Table at the Pot Luck Club.
The Pot Luck Club: Dale-Roberts’ second restaurant. One of the best locations in Cape Town. Small sharing bites, bistro-style.
The Foodbarn: Franck Dangereux opened this French bistro over a decade ago after giving La Colombe its name. Generous cuisine that fills the soul without fuss.
La Colombe: Closed at the moment and moving to a new location but personally my preferred restaurant in CT when it comes to white table cloth.
COFFEE: Tribe Coffee, Rosetta Roastery, Haas Collective, Origin Coffee Roasting, KayRin Coffee Roasters, Deluxe Coffeeworks, Truth Coffee (One of our most stunning restaurant outlets from a design point of view.)
Here's a video showing the the amazing steampunk inspired coffee roaster (!) at Truth plus an interview with the designer:
Wine Country Dining:
Babel, Paarl: Farm-to-Table taken literally!
Overture, Stellenbosch: Beautiful view, fine cuisine.
Bread & Wine, Franschhoek: Farm-produced bread, wine and charcuterie, worth the detour.
Jordan, Stellenbosch: Bakery and restaurant excelling in the kitchen.
Where To Stay in Cape Town and in Wine Country:
In the city: between Woodstock and Camps Bay. If you want to get out of the city: Constantia, Llandadno, Noordhoek, Kalk Bay, and St James are lovely too. All very different vibes.
An example of a perfectly situated and stunning Guesthouse [in Cape Town] is La Grenadine
For the winelands, the Guesthouse approach applies too, as most are on farms with is really nice. Franschhoek has some lovely guesthouses as does the area around Stellenbosch.
For the Swartland, the only place worth staying is Riebeeck Kasteel, where there is the old town Hotel [The Royal Hotel], but unfortunately outside of specific events, the Swartland is quiet.
Beyond the Winelands, there are some great areas to visit in summer and in winter, from West to East: Paternoster/Langebaan, Cederberg Mountains, Clan William, McGregor, Swellendam, Hermanus (Hamilton Russell, Bouchard Finlayson, Beaumont, Newton-Johnson [area wineries])
Museums and More:
Colorful homes in Bo-Kaap. (Wikimedia Commons/KNewman1)
The District Six Museum, The Slave Quarters, Bo-Kaap, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. And in Summer check the Sunday Outside concerts [at the gardens] which are excellent, with artists ranging from Hugh Masekela to Freshly Ground and Simon & Garfunkel.
Hike up Lions Head is a good idea when you don’t want to stand in line to get up Table Mountain. It is an easy 1:40 walk up and wonderful. On full moon they do night hikes up.
Beaches: Clifton, Oudekraal, Llandadno, Kommetjie, Scarborough, Dias Beach (Cape Point). All great if you don’t mind cold water.
Silvermine hikes and dam for a swim.
Top photo Wikimedia Commons/Leo za1. All other photos Jameson Fink.
The one wine destination I want to desperately go back to more than any other? It's Tasmania. Surprised? Not only are there lovely sparkling wines, Pinot Noir, and aromatic white wins to enjoy, there's also a depth and breadth of landscapes that is astonishing.
Usually when anyone gives me a puzzled look about my Tasmanian dreams, I tell them to Google "Bay of Fires". The most beautiful beaches I've even set foot on (pictured above): crystal clear water, perfect white sand, and lichen-covered rocks that give a dramatic, ablaze glow to the land and oceanscape. Sit on the beach all day (or for days), and grab some fish and chips and a couple beers when you need sustenance and refreshment.
For a local's take on the food scene and beyond, I was delighted to be connected with Chloe Proud, one of the owners of Ethos Eat Drink in Tasmania's capital city, Hobart. (Hat-tip to Maxine Thompson of the wonderful site The Bookery Cook, who spent time working there, for connecting us.) I asked Chloe what makes this island distinct as far as local ingredients, and how that fits in with what ends up on your plate at Ethos.
"Undoubtedly the thing that distinguishes Tasmania as a culinary region but also allows us to source as we do, is the amount of small scale, specialised and artisan producers we have the privilege of having access to. The personal nature of these operations means that we can develop relationships with the growers and makers--nuture a mutual respect and really develop a symbiotic relationship with them.
As our menu changes daily and within season, our needs at Ethos put no more demand on these producers than enough of one product to facilitate a one day menu. There is not a requirement for large quantities so an emphasis on quality and a focus on the unique. We trust our producers to bring us food that is optimised by the conditions, therefore specific to our island and consistently restaurant quality products as it comes to us when it is at its best and freshest. This component of our food culture us what is definitive of it as well, humble, skilled people that are passionate about what they do, respect the produce they are creating, cooking and serving and are very happy to share and educate pertaining to this."
EXPERT PICKS:CHLOE PROUD (ETHOS EAT DRINK)
So where might you find Chloe on a day off in and around Hobart? "My partner Iain and I are pretty big on picnics--when we can we buy delicious bits and pieces from local stores and markets and take them somewhere beautiful with our two pooches. Most memorable of that was probably taking Pigeon Whole Bakers sourdough, Ossau-Iraty [cheese], and Ortiz anchovies to Five Mile Beach on a perfect crisp autumn day."
"We try to get out of the house and take advantage of one of the primary reasons for living in the state--its beautiful scenery and history--so we take day trips on our days off when we can. A few recent highlights have been down the Huon Trail, stopping at The Apple Shed and down to Lotus Eaters Cafe in Cygnet (and a few antique store on the way), and out to the Nant Distillery in Bothwell- stunning building, history and whiskey of course!
We are big cafe frequenters also and have some friends that own some of the best in the state, so we often show them our support. Our favourites are Ginger Brown, Pigeon Hole, Tricycle, and Raspberry Fool to name a few.
We don't get to dine out often, we certainly recommend people to venues such as Garagistes and Monty's on Montpelier. When we get the chance, we are pretty big on laid-back venues that serve some particularly spectacular dishes--Bahn Xeo at Sapa Rose, Yuxiang eggplant from Written on Tea, wood fired pizza from Smolt."
And, of course if all of this food is making you thirsty for some wine, I can't blame you. Where to go taste Tasmania in a glass? "Along the Coal Valley route there are some great stops-The Meadowbank/Frogmore site for something on the grander end of the spectrum, Pooley for beautiful historic buildings, The Coterie at Coal Valley Vineyard for a newly established wine bar and Craigow are all worth a visit.
Aurora Borealis photo in Nubeena via Jenne.
Feel like stretching your legs a bit? "Down the Tasman Peninsula towards Nubeena is some of the most stunning landscape you will ever see," reveals Chloe. "The Freycinet Coast is beautiful and the Wine Glass Bay walk a must (or conquering any of the Hazard Mountains if that's your thing).
Cradle Mountain and the Central Lakes Plateau, Boat Harbour, Bay of Fires [aha!], and down South towards either Petchy's Bay and Cockle Creek are all very beautiful and great for walks and picnics. (On a side note, if you are looking for Picnic provisions: A Common Ground, Hill St Grocer, Wursthaus Kitchen, Sweet Envy, Daci and Daci, and Farm Gate Market are a good starting point).
Bruny Island is also a great trip and has it all, scenery, wines and some great producers."
And though I did not get a chance to meet Chole during my all-too-brief time in Tasmania, I did get to spend some time checking out wineries and some great food with Craig Williams of Pepper Bush Adventures. I highly recommend enlisting his services whether you're looking for everything form a wild(life) experience, to something on the milder side. (Like me.) Though my preference for the latter, while mild in adrenaline-pumping activities, did not preclude enjoying numerous moments full of flavor.
As Craig explains, Tasmania has a few natural advantages that make it so great for food and wine. "Undoubtedly having the purest air and water in the world is a good starting ingredient," Craig begins, "and being a true cool climate wine producing region adds to the slower ripening period with natural sugars & acidity in the fruit."
And, echoing the words and, well, ethos of Chloe, Craig is interested in knowing and sharing the stories not just of the ingredients and products, but of the passionate individuals crafting them. "I have several favourites for varying reasons, most important is meeting the people behind the business who grow, nurture and pick the fruit but also make the wine and are behind the counter to share their pride passion and indulge visitors in the fruits of their labour."
EXPERT PICKS:CRAIG WILLIAMS (PEPPER BUSH ADVENTURES)
Recommended wineries not mentioned by Chloe:
Tasmanian Devil, Pepper Bush Adventures.
For encountering Tasmanian wildlife, for which Pepper Bush has well-deserved reputation as one of the best, Craig elaborates:
"Certainly North N/E, having the most diverse range of landscape in Tasmania will always provide you with the most diverse range of wildlife and birdlife species to be found. There are of course numerous national parks all around Tasmania. Mt William and Narawntapu provide great viewing options north for wallaby, paddymelons, kangaroo, wombats & numerous birdlife species. For more serious nature lovers who wish to see more rare species (quoll, devils, platypus etc.) engaging the services of a wildlife specialist guide will certainly produce the best results."
Top photo Wikimedia Commons/poco a poco. Dining room and fish via Ethos Eat Drink.
From Mount Etna to Mozia, Sicily astonishes with the diversity of landscapes, grapes, wines, food, and history all on one dramatic island. And this drama can be (literally) volcanic, or more subtle, like the experience of traveling from Sicily to the smaller surrounding islands. Two places along those lines I'd recommend visiting? One is the aforementioned Mozia, off the west coast. Especially if you love salt, as you'll pass by some impressive piles on your way to the island.
Once you arrive head to the Whitaker Museum to see what one art critic dubbed "the most tantalizing marble sculpture in the world". Then stroll around the island, chill out, bring a picnic lunch, read a book, whatever. A nice place to while away the afternoon.
Heading to the north coast of Sicily, another group of islands, The Aolian Islands, offer a chance to peer down into the crater of a volcano (on the aptly named Vulcano Island) and enjoy the panoramic view (displayed at the top of this page). Spectacular sunsets can be viewed at Baja Negra:
If you're staying on Vulcano Island, the pool, and view from it, pretty much sums up why you'd want to stay at Therasia Resort:
Photo: Therasia Resort.
If you're looking to stay at a winery, Tasca d'Almerita's Regaleali Estate is a place that, once you get there, you won't want to leave. Outside of the town of Vallelunga Pratameo, which is about sixty kilometers southeast of Palermo, it's an old farm villa located up in the hills. Relax in the courtyard, stroll the gardens. Also on the estate property is the world-famous Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School at Case Vecchie.
EXPERT PICKS: BILL NESTO AND FRANCES DI SAVINO (AUTHORS, "THE WORLD OF SICILIAN WINE")
For more advice I turned to the authors of the book, "The World of Sicilian Wine", Bill Nesto and Frances DiSavino. Here's what they had to say about Palermo and beyond, with a eye to some cultural and historical exploration:
"Our advice for exploring Palermo: balance the city with the coast – and culture with cuisine. Palermo is to be explored on foot (not by car!). So it is best to stay near the center of the city and keep the car for your coastal jaunts. For places to stay, we can recommend two starkly different experiences. For a taste of Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, the Grand Hotel Et Des Palmes, which was built in the 19th century by one of the early English Marsala producers, is the place to be. A traveler with more modern sensibilities will appreciate a boutique hotel like Quintocanto Hotel & Spa which is also in the historic heart of Palermo.
As the capital of the Norman kingdom of Sicily, Palermo was celebrated as one of the world’s great cities in the 12th century. A visit to the city’s Cathedral, Cappella Palatina (Palatine Chapel), and Palazzo dei Normanni (Norman Palace) will vividly illustrate how these Norman rulers fused elements of Greek, Arabic and Latin culture to build their kingdom. The San Cataldo chapel and the San Giovanni degli Eremiti church are both topped with Arabic-style red domes – another reminder of Sicily’s unique position in the history of the Mediterranean.
To experience this fusion of cultures, a walk through Palermo’s boisterous open-air market called the Mercato della Vucciria is also recommended. The peddlers hawk their fruits, vegetables, and fish with loud sing-song cries in Sicilian, extolling their produce (and also insulting their neighbors!). The stalls are piled high with the fruits of Sicily – lemons, oranges, tangerines, melons, grapes, mulberries, cherries, strawberries, pomegranates, plums, pistachios, hazelnuts, and date palms (to name just a few). Strolling through the market, you will also see why Sicily has been cherished for its fertility since the time of the ancient Greeks.
Another way to delight in the fruits of Sicily is to take every opportunity to savor the gelato and granita (fruit ices) in Palermo. Ask any local and they will refer you to their favorite nearby bar or gelateria. It is hard to go wrong. Among the most storied is the Antico Caffè Spinnato on a pedestrian-only street. We recommend selecting the flavors of granita made with in-season fruits (like gelso nero or mulberry in summer).
Zingaro Nature Reserve beach photo Wikimedia Commons/Chrihalb
After exploring Palermo for a couple of days, an evening in the elegant seaside town of Mondello for a fresh-as-they-come seafood dinner or an all-day walk on the trails of the Zingaro Nature Reserve overlooking the Golfo di Castellammare would be a delicious respite before you embark on your next Sicilian adventure."
Top photo: Wikimedia Commons/Jwp1234. All other photos Jameson Fink.
Puget Sound, Washington State
So I'm a homer, sue me. One of the pleasures of living in Seattle is being able to escape on a ferry to a multitude of destinations, like Whidbey Island, Bainbridge Island, or the Olympic Peninsula. All these places have wine, as well. (Though the latter is best known for cider.) And while there's a lot to love about Eastern Washington, it's great to experience all that's available in the less-heralded Puget Sound AVA.
So what makes this grape-growing area unique? I asked Betsey Wittick, Winemaker at Bainbridge Vineyards to shed some light. Betsey took over the winery in 2012 and turned it into a worker-owned business. You'll find former farm interns, young farmers, as well as community members pitching in to support locally grown food and wine. They are carrying on the work begun by founders Gerard and JoAnn Bentryn in 1977. Gerard served not only as a mentor to winemakers but also helped establish the Puget Sound AVA in 1995.
"The climate and growing conditions of the Puget Sound AVA are similar to the grape growing regions of northern Burgundy, the Loire Valley, and Alsace in France and Germany, Betsey explains. "Like the wines of our European counterparts, our wines are delicate, clean, crisp, and fragrant. We grow Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Muller Thurgau, Madeleine Angevine, and Siegerrebe." I'd especially recommend sampling the wines from the latter two grapes, which are delightful in the summer, as an aperitif, or with seafood and salads.
After you've sampled the wines and are ready to explore Bainbridge, here are some places that Betsey recommends:
EXPERT PICKS:BETSEY WITTICK (BAINBRIDGE VINEYARDS)
Casual Fare: The Harbor Public House is a full bar on the waterfront with a fun, lively atmosphere, good pub food and a great beer selection. Beware of long wait times in the summertime!
Fine Dining: Café Nola, Four Swallows, Hitchcock, and Marche are all excellent fine dining options. Reservations recommended. Marche and Cafe Nola are also open for lunch, and the Hitchcock Deli is open for sandwiches and coffee during the day.
And if you need a little exercise and fresh air after all that? "Fay Bainbridge Park on the North end of the Island offers wonderful views of Rainer, and the beach's expanse of driftwood make it a great playground for the kids. Fort Ward Park on the South end of Bainbridge has southwest exposure, and the trail along the beach is spotted with old bunkers and great picnic spots. The Bloedel Reserve is a 150-acre reserve of forest and exquisitely beautiful gardens- well worth the price of admission.
And, hey, there are more wineries to check out; you don't have to stop at one. As Betsey advises, "It makes for a fun adventure to visit during one of the Bainbridge Winery Alliance weekends, when all seven of the Island's wineries are open for tasting. We have fellow winemakers crafting great wine from Eastern Washington grapes."
Another island where you can indulge your passion for Puget Sound wine is Whidbey Island. Stop by Whidbey Island Winery in Langley and check out the vines (pictured) and say hello to Sangiovese (the winery cat) and Leah Waaramaki, who is the assistant winemaker there. For more island wineries, you can check out the Whidbey Island Winery Vintners Association. Leah shared her insider information for getting the most out of your island visit.
EXPERT PICKS:LEAH WAARAMAKI (WHIDBEY ISLAND WINERY)
Oak Harbor: Frasers Gourmet Hideaway
Farms: Greenbank Farm--historical farm, good walking trails, local artists booths. Meerkerk Rhododendron Garders, Lavender Wind Farm, Glendale Shepherd Creamery, Fern Ridge Alpacas, Bayview Farm and Garden.
So Leah gave you plenty to do. But if you're looking for lodging, the Inn at Langley is is an incredible place to stay. Make sure you book a dinner reservation for a stupendous meal combining local ingredients and modern cooking techniques. So expect everything from goat milk butter and radishes to toasted hay ice cream. Or nitro frozen salmon mousse:
The dining room is lovely, too. Wake up and enjoy breakfast at the Inn; it's a wonderfully causual, lingering affair. Here's a view from the outside:
And though not an island, visiting the Olympic Peninsula will give you that same feeling of a getaway. Beverage-wise, it's a cider-lover's dream. Along the lines of the refreshing and unique white wines you'll find on Whidbey and Bainbridge, the panopoly of ciders produced on the Peninsula will delight you.
EXPERT PICKS:CRYSTIE KISLER (FINNRIVER FARM AND CIDERY)
Crystie Kisler of Finnriver Farm and Cidery in Chimacum recommends touring a trio via the Port Townsend Cider Route, which includes a stop at Finnriver as well as Eaglemount and Alpenfire. [Eaglemount also produces red wine from Eastern Washington grapes, and both Finnriver and Alpenfire offer dry sparkling hard ciders that go through a secondary fermentation in bottle a la Champagne. Fans of sparkling wines will not be disappointed! --JF]
If you're looking for more wine on the Peninsula, Crystie points you to Harbinger and Camaradarie wineries in Port Angeles. [I've been to the former, and it has a very festive atmosphere housed in a former logging truck shop. Also, there's beer! --JF]
Olympic National Park photo via Frank Kovalchek.
Here are more of Crystie's picks:
Willamette Valley, Oregon
If I could distill (ferment?) why I love the Willamette Valley into one weekend, it would revolve around the "Bounty of Yamhill County" event, which benefits the Yamhill Enrichment Society. Saturday you get to choose from three farm experiences (where you can check out how cheese, wine, or mead is made) culminating in a lunch at Stoller Family Estate.
Sunday's main event takes place at Sokol Blosser Winery, with an outdoor meal that's a harvest dinnner with vintners, farmers, and chefs. What's cool about the latter two is that the farmers are on hand to see what the chefs do with the fruits (and vegetables, and cheese, and more) of their labor. There's a real camaraderis and sense of satisfaction all around. And one nice touch with the wine service is that vintners are constantly circulating with a variety of bottles to every table. So you have the chance to try a lot of wines without leaving your chair, which makes for some friendly, informal interaction as well.
And speaking of informality, there's something so, well, Willamette Valley, about a speech delivered by a pioneer of of Oregon wine, Susan Sokol Blosser, not from a podium but rather a ladder.
And don't forget to budget some time to visit the tasting room at Sokol Blosser. It's really cool and equally fascinating from an architectural standpoint inside and out.
Photo: Sokol Blosser Winery
Looking for a place to stay? It's hard to beat the vineyard views from Black Walnut Inn and Vineyard as well as Youngberg Hill. And though not perched a top a vineyard, the rooms at The Alison Inn and Spa are so spacious you may just want to run a bath, pour a glass of Pinot Gris, and call it a day.
Red Ridge Farms is also a great option. Stay above the gift shop or in a vineyard cottage. Since your right at the Oregon Olive Mill, make sure to sign up for the Extra Virgin Olive Oil Expert Tasting. Not only do you taste out of blue "competition" glasses, but you get bites alongside the oils to see how they compliment food. Pray that they have some olive oil ice cream from Salt and Straw (made with Oregon Olive Mill oil, naturally) for you to try, as it is heavenly.
In need of a wine country picnic? Red Hills Market is your stop for sandwiches, salads, and pizza. It's also a nice place to stay for lunch; grab a beer from the cooler while you'r at it.
EXPERT PICKS: MARY CRESSLER (VINDULGE WINE EDUCATION AND CONSULTING)
Portland resident Mary Cressler of Vindulge, who we got to know via her SpeakEasy interview, offered some tips on wineries to check out. Natrually, she suggests beginning with sparkling wine and takes it from there: "On your way into town from Portland (via 99w) it would just be silly to not start your day at Argyle for some bubbles, and then continue on your path.
Head to Stoller Family Estate for the gorgeous tasting room, great wines, and fantastic views.
Photo: Stoller Family Estate.
Anne Amie for lovely white wines and more stellar views.
Soter (by appointment) for some of the best sparkling wine in Oregon.
I completely adore the town of Carlton. There are several shops, restaurants, and tasting rooms all within a walking distance of each other, many of them are small or boutique producers, like Ken Wright, Seven of Hearts, K&M, and Kramer Vineyards, just to name a few. Just park your car downtown and make a day of it"
Blenheim, New Zealand
Sauvignon Blanc fanatics, it's time to make a pilgirimage to the northern edge of New Zealand's southern island and spend some time in Blenheim. Population-wise, it's the largest town in the famed Marlborough region. Though a great contrast in scale, two wineries I visited stood out because of the animal life there that's closely related to sustainability initiatives and biodynamics.
Yealands, a sprawling, majestic property with a large winemaking facility and tasting room, impressed me with its commitment to the environment.
Sheep photo Yealands Family Wines.
One example? These Babydoll miniature sheep. They eat weeds and bugs, add, uh, "fertilizer" to the vineyards, and are too short to feast on grapes. Wave to them on your way to the tasting room. And once you get there, be sure to try some sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, and travel to Lookout Point for some astonishing ocean views.
Where to stay? I loved the Marlborough Vintners Hotel. Your room is a one-bedroom suite that's like its own little house, where you awake looking at vineyards and/or a garden. The fruits and vegetables from said garden end up on your plate at the excellent restaurant. There are tons of wineries nearby, too. You can even rent a bike. (Note: Yealands is 45km away.)
Seresin Estate is worth a visit to witness the efforts of Estate Manager Colin Ross. Be sure to make an appointment for a tour of the place. I asked Colin to explain what people might see while walking the estate.
"On the Estate we are fully certified Biodynamic with Demeter. Our farm is being considered as a model of a 'self-contained living organism'. We have embraced diversity and, depending on the time of year, you can see our wetlands, working horses, cows, sheep, chickens, vegetable growing, compost making, worm farms, cow pat pits, bio-dynamic preparation making and applications.
There are also opportunities to view the vines and look at the harmony we are fostering within our vineyard landscape. From February to April the fruit can be tasted. I hope that our guests leave us with the impression that our wines and olive oils are an authentic reflection of our land and people."
[The olive oil is fantastic; definitely get a bottle to take home. --JF]
EXPERT PICKS: COLIN ROSS (SERESIN ESTATE MANAGER)
Here are some of Colin's recommendations for visitors to Blenheim:
Food: Depending on your budget and mood, check out the restaurant or bistro at Herzog.
Outdoors: Experience the "world-renown" walks of the Queen Charlotte Track. Or take a one-hour drive to the The Nelson Lakes National Park for mountain hiking. (Stay at Alpine Lodge.) And if you're less outdoors-y, Colin calls The Omaka Aviation Centre "a surprising asset in a small town."
EXPERT PICKS: KAT WIGGINS (SERESIN ESTATE MARKETING MANAGER)
Seresin Estate Marketing Manager Kat Wiggins also chimed in with her local knowledge:
Cellar Doors for food: Rock Ferry (good fresh, home made warm food and salads), Giesen (platters) and Wither Hills (quite “upmarket” dining). [I'll add Wairau River, where I had an excellent lamb and mint kofta salad. --JF]
Restaurants: Hotel d'Urville (mostly fish), Gramado's (Brazilian), Ritual (casual dining with a Mexican flavour) [Note: I'd go to Ritual just based on the description on their Facebook page: "Urban hippy food, stonking coffee, retro junk decor, brilliant if under-appreciated Barbie Doll art, really really good looking Baristas, music you could conceivably listen to if it was a choice between that and having your pancreas removed with a blunt spoon." --JF]
Beaches: Robin Hood’s Bay and Whites Bay are both lovely sand-based beaches, to the north of Blenheim. Rarangi, which is right next to Blenheim is a wild and stony beach, but beautiful in its own way. Further to the south, the beaches around The Store at Kekerengu are lovely, and there is walk to see baby seals at Ohau, another 30 mins south, that is worth doing.
Walks: Other good walks would include the Wither Hills Farm Park outside Blenheim, and general walks along the rivers (when they are not full), which give you a good chance to get the lie of the land. There are also a lot of great hikes in The Richmond Ranges to the North, including Lake Chalice, which is worth the walk.
Historical and Cultural: The Brancott Heritage Centre is worth a visit for an overview of the wine-based history of the area.
Other wineries: Herzog, Te Whare Ra, Fromm, Rock Ferry, Huia, Clos Henri – all part of the Mana Group with us (organic wine growers in Marlborough)
When explaining my enduring love for Sonoma, I like to point to one one word: Geyserville. This name of this tiny town encapsulates everything I love about the food and wine of this wine region. It starts with...pizza? Yes.
One day I was having lunch at Alexander Valley Vineyards and a guest asked me what my dinner plans were. He told me in no uncertain terms that I must go to Diavola Pizzeria. I wish I could remember that dude's name because I would like to send him a bottle of wine. Not only do they have my favorite pizza in the country, but they also make their own salumi. And if for some insane reason you didn't love pizza, the rest of the menu is outstanding as well. I always start with a salad, as they usually have an interesting combination of seasonal ingredients masterfully combined.
And speaking of interesting, the wine list has a lot of unusual suspects. Like the last time I was there I enjoyed a red wine from Paul Mathew Vineyards made from a grape I'd never heard of: Valdiguie. It was perfect with my go-to pizza, the eponymously named “Diavola”. It's got roasted red peppers, provolone, and housemade meatballs with pine nuts and raisins. When it comes out of the oven, a pile of arugula goes on top. Normally I am opposed to pizza having a salad topping, but enjoyed the argula's peppery bite. Also, nervous about meatballs rolling off your pizza and onto your lap? Fear not, as they are sliced to prevent such a catastrophe.
The other thing that comes to mind when the word "Geyserville" is uttered aloud or whispered in the wind? Ridge Vineyards. Their Geyserville blend is worthy of the cellar but can also be pretty irresistible in the short-term. A visit to their Lytton Springs winery and tasting room in Healdsburg provides a fascinating contrast between the modern and the ancient. A mostly solar-powered facility that can count among its building materials straw and (vineyard) clay, it sits right next to vineyards featuring vines over a century old.
It's really something to stand out in the vineyards and peer back to the tasting room. You really appreciate's Ridge's connection with the future and the past.
Photos Ridge Vineyards.
For a broader array of things to do in Sonoma, I turned to Elaine Chukan Brown of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews. If you're not familiar with her, have a look at our SpeakEasy interview with Elaine.
EXPERT PICKS: ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN (HAWK WAKAWAKA WINE REVIEWS)
"The town of Sonoma has a special agreement for the beautiful park in the center of town. Sonoma Square offers a wonderful combination of lots of grass to sit on, a pond where ducks and geese congregate, a playground and picnic tables. It also is legal to drink in the park. The original deed from Sebastiano Winery stated that the town of Sonoma had to legally allow open containers as a way of encouraging community spirit through picnicking. Doesn't get better than that!
Also in town of Sonoma, El Molino Central makes some of the best Mexican food anywhere. It's a must stop for food.
Healdsburg in Northern Sonoma County includes SHED, which combines good food, with a food and curiosities market, and some of the best local wines on tap, plus a few available to take home in bottle.
A newer development in Sebastopol, The Barlow, has converted an old apple and grain warehouse into a new food, wine, beer, coffee, and shopping destination. Wind Gap Winery's new tasting room sits there beside excellent food, a big grass sitting area perfect for outdoor shows, and a local produce market.
The town of Guerneville offers quaint and quiet feeling hipness, with its mix of wine bar, biker bars, homestyle food, and redwoods by the river.
Just half an hour from Guerneville too you can hit the ocean. Below Jenner the beaches are beautiful, often chilly but lovely. North of Guerneville it's hard to find ocean access but what you do find are vineyards near the end of the world producing some of the finest wines of the county."
Yes, every wine geek ends up falling in love with Burgundy, the home of the world's finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. And not that it's a relationship without its share of disappointment and some heartbreak. But that's part of why the high moments sing so dramatically. Visiting Burgundy is the chance to indulge your total wine nerd. Especially strolling through vineyards you've only read about, looked longingly at on a map, or, if you're fortunate, experienced in a bottle of wine.
I mean, it's pretty amazing to gaze out at Musigny. Or wander around Chablis on a sunny day.
And if you need a guide in Chablis, you should get to know Eric Szablowski of Au Coeur du Vin. This guy knows Chablis. He's lived there for over three decades and spent much of that time working for famed producer William Fevre. Eric's thoughts on how do best understand the region? "If you want to know Chablis," he says, "you need to go everywhere."
And if you want to cover a lot of ground, Eric has one sweet ride when it comes to vineyard touring. Check out his 1983 Citroën 2CV
If you're staying in Beaune, get a room at the Hostellerie Le Cèdre. Excellent Wi-Fi and a breakfast I could get used to eating every day. I also enjoyed, at the end of a long day of wine tasting, having a beer in the lounge/library. They also bring you a small tray of snacks with your drink, which is a really nice touch. Service was memorably good.
EXPERT PICKS: ERIC SZABLOWSKI (OWNER, A COEUR DU VIN)
Eric has a plethora more of suggested places to stay on his website. Just look under "Links" and you'll find "Where to stay" and "Where to eat" off to the left.
Finally, Eric has one more don't-miss suggestion: "If people come in the Yonne, I always speak about "GUEDELON". It's a group of CRAZY people who want to build a castle like in the 12th century! You need to see this!!"
Dining room photo via 21 Boulevard. Castle photo from Guedelon.