Indulge your tastebuds at the top vineyards
Wine tour vacations are a great way to find out more about your favorite tipple while you relax, enjoy local hospitality and devour delicious regional foods. Discover how different grapes are grown and blended to achieve the desired results, and learn about magnificent old wines, regional variations and the history and traditions of wine making.
Top 5 Locations for Wine Tours
1. California and the Napa Valley
California is home to over a thousand wineries, and has a climate that enables many different vines to flourish. Famous for fruity wines with high alcohol content, the peppery flavors of Grenache and Zinfandel are popular in reds, whereas Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc produce amazing whites. California is divided into nine different wine regions, including the Sonoma Valley, Santa Barbara and the world famous Napa Valley. Collectively these form what is known as the Wine Country.
Wine Country tours are a popular pursuit in California. You can do this independently, as many wineries offer free tours and tastings. Maps detailing the locations of wineries are widely available at hotels and tourist attractions, and the Californian countryside is stunningly beautiful to drive through. The only downside is the need to assign a designated driver in your party each day. For this reason, it's worth considering an organized tour.
There are many Napa Valley wine tours available such as the Wine Country Tour Shuttle in San Francisco. For $95, they take you across the Golden Gate Bridge to visit four excellent Napa Valley wineries, and then provide a picnic before returning you to San Francisco via a relaxing ferry cruise. The region can also be traversed by bus or train, or you can hire a chauffeur driven limo to take you to wine tastings in style!
The Wine Country offers a huge range of activities to complement your visit: hot air balloon flights over the Napa Valley, a trip to a casino or maybe a visit to Monster Park for a San Francisco 49ers game. There are also hundreds of caves in the Wine Country such as the ones at Hans Fahden vineyards, which provide a romantic setting for a honeymooning couple to enjoy a glass of wine. There are also the caves at Storybook Mountain Vineyards that double as a tasting room. For the very best of New World wines, California wine tours top the list.
2. France – The Rhone Valley
If California produces some of the best New World wines, then the Rhone Valley is certainly home to the best of the Old World. They have been making wine here since Roman times, and are famous for warm, spicy red wines and aromatic whites. In the steep daunting vineyards of the North, where the climate is colder, Hermitage and Cote-Rotie are the big dogs; in the South of the region it is Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Cotes-du-Rhone.
Several companies offer wine tour vacations to the Rhone Valley, such as Wine Tour Inc. and French Wine Explorers. Typically these tours include tastings at private vineyards, meals at Michelin starred restaurants and opportunities for sightseeing and shopping in traditional towns such as Avignon or Valence.
3. Tuscany – Florence and San Gimignano
The Tuscan region of Italy is famous for its Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Tignanello and Sassicaia wines. The red wines outweigh white by far, although the crisp and delicate Vernaccia di San Gimignano does go some way to redress the balance. Tuscany offers many excellent wine tasting tours, typically lasting half a day or a day. These tours are a good value and easy to join, usually setting off from the capital city Florence, before moving on to picturesque wineries in places such as San Gimignano and Chianti.
Tuscany is also the home of the Puccini Opera Festival, held every summer in July / August, in Lucca. If the timing of your trip allows, a visit to the open-air theater is a must. Each year, in keeping with a dying wish of Puccini's, a selection of his performances take place outside, with Lake Massaciuccoli providing a gloriously imposing backdrop. Arblaster and Clark offer the tailor-made Opera and Wine vacation with the best tickets guaranteed, and trips to visit vineyards in the Lucchesi Hills.
Tuscany also boasts fantastic trattorias, wine bars and designer shopping opportunities alongside the historical architecture and monuments. Tuscany wine tours are amongst the most culturally stimulating of vacations available.
4. Spain – Andalucia, Rioja and Navarra
Spain has the largest amount of vineyards per square meter anywhere in the world. A good starting point for investigating the myriad wine tour opportunities here is cellartours.com, where several intriguing trips are suggested.
Andalucia in southern Spain is home to that most famous of wines, Sherry. Real sherry comes from a very specific area in the province of Cadiz, making a visit here a must for wine buffs. Andalucia also has wonderful tavernas and tapas bars to tempt you, the stunning Alhambra palace in Granada and the Mezquita in Cordoba to explore. Further north, there is Navarra, a region making a name for itself with Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines, and near to Navarra is Rioja, the region in which the rich, oak-flavored red wine sharing its name originates.
5. South America – Chile and Argentina
Argentina produces excellent Malbec, especially in the dry, warm province of Mendoza, whereas Chile is better known for its quality Cabernet Sauvignons. Avalon Wine Tours runs a deluxe vacation package that takes in the vineyards of both Chile and Argentina. With the Andes running between them, both countries share a similar climate, and are rich in diverse flora and fauna. The dramatic mountainous landscape makes this part of the world a very exciting location to explore on a wine tour, and the competition that exists between Chile and Argentina in the world of wine has led to both countries raising their game, thus providing an even more rewarding taste experience for their visitors.
The choice is constantly growing, but wherever you take your wine tour, the experience is one that's bound to enrich and delight. It's a great complement to making wine yourself!
By Michelle Strozykowski