1. NAPA VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
What’s good in Napa: If the only thing you know about wine is that you love to drink it, then Napa’s where you want to go. It’s perfect for the newbie who’s starting her wine education. Many wineries run tastings and tours daily, walking you through the entire process and flavor profiles in a very approachable way. The Culinary Institute of America has wine boot camps and courses for wine enthusiasts of all levels.
Winemakers to visit: The Chandon caves are well worth the trip (and don’t forget a glass of Étoile bubbly afterward); Sterling for its sweeping views of the valley; Silverado Vineyards has top-notch wines, a stunning property, and a killer movie poster collection (it was founded and owned by the daughter of Walt Disney). And if you love Cabernet Sauvignon, be sure to check out these vineyards: Silver Oak, Corison, Scarecrow, Spottswoode, Bond, and Inglenook
When you need a break from drinking: Take a detour from your
boozing wine education with a stop at Shed, a market and café in Healdsburg (part of Sonoma County). While you’re there, get a massage at Charlie Palmer’s Hotel Healdsburg and spend the afternoon lounging at the pool — you won’t regret it. Also, do you like English muffins? Put The Model Bakery on your list for fluffy English muffins as big as your face.
Best time to go: Honestly, it’s California — Napa is great all year. But, there’s something truly special about the harvest season, which goes from late August to October (Yay, fall!). If you happen to be in Napa during the summer, make sure to buy tickets for Auction Napa Valley, which is basically the Super Bowl of wine events — it’s a can’t-miss.
2. SAINT-EMILION, BORDEAUX, FRANCE
What’s good in Bordeaux: Situated in the southwest part of France, Bordeaux is one of the most historic and important wine regions in the world, and visits there should not be taken lightly. It’s serious about wine, but that doesn’t mean you need to be intimidated by it. Saint-Emilion, located on the eastern edge of the Bordeaux winegrowing region, is a particularly magical spot, full of stunning chateaux, amazing food, and places to taste for both novices and connoisseurs alike.
Winemakers to visit: Many of Saint-Emilion’s most famous names don’t open their doors to the public, but plenty of others will gladly do tours and tastings if you call ahead of time. Hit up Chateau La Dominique (plan to stay for lunch on the rooftop), Chateau Villemaurine (take a tour of the miles of underground caves), and if you want a truly family-run experience, tryChateau de Sales Pomerol (it’s been in the family since 1464). Also, definitely set up a visit to the wine school in Bordeaux (L’Ecole du Vin) or in Saint-Emilion (Maison du Vin de Saint-Emilion), where you can acquaint yourself with the wines, talk tasting notes, and top vintages.
When you need a break from drinking: Hit the spa at Hotel Grand Barrail (where they offer hydromassage baths of grape juice and anti-stress massages with grape seed oil — whaaaaaat); take a cooking class with Francoise Lannoye at her cooking school, Chateau Ambe Tour Pourret; or head to the city of Bordeaux (which is a UNESCO World Heritage site) for shopping, a river cruise on the River Garonne, and Michelin-starred dining.
Best time to go: The temperatures are generally mild year-round, but the spring and fall seasons here are especially pleasant. One thing to keep in mind: the biggest international wine museum is slated to open this spring in Bordeaux.
3. FRANCIACORTA, ITALY
What’s good in Franciacorta: While Prosecco is Italy’s most famous sparkling wine, Franciacorta is regarded by many wine experts as the nation’s best fizz producer. And, it’s increasingly being regarded as one of the best sparkling wines in the world. (Those claims are not unwarranted — the wines are beautifully balanced and elegant. And who doesn’t love a good bubbly?)
When you need a break from drinking: The northern Italian region gets more sunshine and warmth than Champagne, but makes its bubbly in the Champagne method. Along the Strada del Franciacorta (wine road), you’ll find historic mansions and over 150 different wineries. The region, surrounded by a coliseum of stunning hills, is absolutely breathtaking at every turn.
Best time to go: Harvest season here generally happens in August and September, so that’s an exciting time to visit. Plus, the temperatures are pretty ideal at this time as well.
4. VALLE DE GUADELUPE, MEXICO
What’s good in Valle de Guadelupe: Wine might not be the first beverage that comes to mind when you think of Mexico, but this largely untapped wine region along the northern part of Baja California is changing that. Right now, the region is making a host of red and white wine varietals worth noting. Expect to taste full-bodied reds (cabernet sauvignon, malbec, tempranillo, zinfandel, etc.) with black fruit flavors and a generally high alcohol content; the whites are typically very dry and a bit tart (sauvignon blanc, viognier, semillon).
When you need a break from drinking: Dine at Deckman’s En El Mogor, where chef Drew Deckman dishes up market fresh, Baja seafood-based fare that will blow your mind. Or, stop at the popular Troika taco truck, where you can pick up tostadas, sliders, and tacos (duh) with fresh octopus and crisped skinned lechón, or roasted suckling pig.
Best time to go: Situated just a few hours from San Diego, California, Valle de Guadelupe boasts beautiful weather nearly year-round (except for the late summer months, when temps are regularly over 100 degrees).
What’s good in Oregon: Portland is a very funky but incredibly alluring city. It’s always been hub for the outdoors-y, active types, as well as creative minds, the city has also made its mark as a world-class culinary destination for chefs and wine lovers alike. Oregon is making a whole lot of noise on the wine scene these days. Pinot noir is by far the most planted grape in the state, and fittingly, its most prized juice. Unlike some of the California and Australian pinots, Oregon pinots are subtle and not quite as alcoholic or sweet.
Winemakers to visit: If you are in Portland proper, stop by the SE Wine Collective, a wine bar and tasting room where you can sample vino (made on-site) from 10 different wineries. If you are in the Willamette Valley, try Domaine Drouhin, Lemelson Vineyards, or Argyle.
When you need a break from drinking: Head to Powell’s City of Books, one of the largest bookstores in the world, for shelves and shelves of reading options (ranging from rare cookbooks to graphic novels). Or, sober up with a Stumptown coffee at the ever-popular Ace Hotel (which is also home to Clyde Common, a restaurant with an amazing cocktail list) and then go shopping at Canoe, where you’ll find plenty of local designs on offer.
Best time to go: Harvest season generally (depends on the year) starts in late September and goes through early November. If you aren’t all that eager to see the picking in action, summer is pretty majestic here.
6. FINGER LAKES, NEW YORK
What’s good in the Finger Lakes: If you are looking for something off the beaten path, try the Finger Lakes wine region in upstate New York. You’ll find world-class wines (riesling, in particular), unparalleled scenic views around the three lakes, and a burgeoning food scene. This is one of the wine world’s best kept secrets and it won’t remain this way for much longer.
Winemakers to visit: Plan stops at Dr. Konstantin Frank (one of the region’s most iconic labels),Ravines Wine Cellars (named one of Wine Spectator‘s top 100 wineries in the world), Hermann J. Wiemer, Sheldrake Point Winery (situated right on the shores of Cayuga Lake), and Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars.
When you need a break from drinking: Take in a bit of the area’s rich history. Visit theWomen’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, the birthplace of the women’s rights movement. Or, enjoy the region’s stunning natural landmarks, including its 19 waterfalls and abundant hiking trails.
Best time to go: Plan a visit for summer (when temperatures linger around 80 degrees) or early fall, when the colors are beautiful. Winter is just too cool here to really enjoy a visit.
7. HAWKES BAY, NEW ZEALAND
What’s good in Hawkes Bay: If you like to have your vino and workout too, Hawkes Bay is your spot. The beautiful Hawkes Bay, situated on the east coast of the North Island, offers award-winning wines and 22 miles of well-executed bike trails (Wineries Road) to bike to and from the wineries. (We aren’t encouraging drinking and biking here, but tasting and a leisure cycle ride never hurt anyone.)
When you need a break from drinking: Take a hike or drive up Te Mata Peak for breathtaking views of the surrounding area, tour the city of Napier and check out its Art Deco architecture, or go snorkeling and diving in the Te Angiangi Marine Reserve.
Best time to go: This spot is sunny pretty much all year long, so there is hardly a bad time to go. However, harvest time is generally in late May and the wine festivals take place in January/February.