Wine Lover’s Pilgrimage: 8 Places to Pull a Cork

Getting Around By Stefan Zechner May 10, 2017

Nobody wants to spend their holidays getting jammy mouthfeels from a flabby plonk with a crusty finish. The cork taint is just too real. A reasonable person goes on vacation to put their nose in something chewy, with real finesse and structure; something crisp and complex.

If you listen to the most pretentious pinky-raisers, it sounds like you need a Master Sommelier diploma to taste wine. But the fancy vocabulary just makes wine tasting sound more sophisticated than it really is; like enotourism, the industry term for wine travel.

Enotourism is growing in most major wine regions in the world; fueled by travel-happy millennials, who are drinking more wine than previous generations. And wine regions are reinvesting the influx of money in new wine routes and luxury hotels, making wine tasting an even more attractive option for travelers.

So leave the boxed wine at home and pack your corkscrews, here are eight epic destinations to quench your winederlust.

Sonoma County, United States

sonoma california wine country

Wineries: 500+

Closest airport: San Francisco (SFO), Oakland (OAK), or Sacramento (SMF)

Must-try grapes:  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel

A short drive from San Francisco, Sonoma County is the perfect weekend road trip for the budding enotourist. Rolling hills and rugged coastlines surround the award-winning vineyards on either side of the county’s 16 distinct wine regions. Sonoma doesn’t have a wine train like its more famous neighbor, Napa Valley, but the smaller crowds mean less traffic and better prices.


Tuscany, Italy

Tuscany vineyard

Wineries: 1,000+

Closest airport: Florence (FLR)

Must-try grapes: Sangiovese

When you’re ready to take your relationship with wine to the international level, you can’t go wrong with Italy. With over 3,000 years of practice under their belt, Italy is the biggest wine producer in the world. Tuscany’s proximity to Florence makes it the ideal getaway for a bit of culture and vino all wrapped in one.

The region’s wineries are the main producer of Italy’s most iconic grape, Sangiovese. It’s also home to some of Italy’s best known wines, like Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Mendoza, Argentina

mendoza wine country

Wineries: 1,500+

Airport: Governor Francisco Gabrielli International (MDZ)

Must-try grapes: Malbec

Mendoza is synonymous with Malbec. In fact, the region is synonymous with Argentinian wine in general because it produces 80% of the country’s grapes. But that’s not all Mendoza has going for it. Its much overshadowed, but equally significant olive industry means there are plenty of groves to visit when you need a break from all the wineries.

Plus, its location in the foothills of the Andes makes it a great jumping off point for outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, and white water rafting.

Bordeaux, France

saint emilion vineyard

Wineries: 9,000+

Closest Airport: Bordeaux–Mérignac (BOD)

Must-try grapes:  Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Carmenere, Malbec, Semillon, Saugivnon Blanc, Muscadelle

With six routes du vin and over 9,000 wine-producing châteaux, you could spend a lifetime tasting wine in Bordeaux. The region has been creating wine since the Roman times and there’s no sign of slowing: 60-70 million bottles are produced in Bordeaux each vintage (year).

For great sites and great smells, the town of Saint-Emilion combines a UNESCO heritage protected village and world-famous wineries in the quaint countryside of France.

La Rioja, Spain

city of wine complex Rioja

Wineries: 600+

Closest Airport: Zaragoza (ZAZ)

Must-try grapes: Rioja, Tempranillo, Viura

Famous for its namesake wine, La Rioja has been honing their wine-making skills since the 11th century B.C. Au contraire to Bordeaux, La Rioja is a relatively small wine region, but the wine is some of the best in Spain.

Architecture loving oenophiles should check out the City of Wine Complex, a futuristic hotel and winery designed by iconoclast Frank Gehry, which looks completely out of place in its rustic wine country surroundings.

Barossa Valley, Australia

Barossa, Australia vineyard

Wineries: 550+

Closest Airport: Adelaide (ADL)

Must-try grapes: Shiraz

When shiraz burst on to the scene in the 90s, Barossa Valley was to thank. Other regions in Australia are gaining recognition, but Barossa Valley is both the most important and the easiest to access from an international airport. Plan a trip around the Barossa Vintage Festival or Gourmet Weekend, when the area’s acclaimed exports steal even more of the spotlight.

Champagne, France

champagne vineyards in france

Champagne Houses: 300+

Closest Airport: Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG)

Must-try grapes: Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier, white Chardonnay

It’s Champagne, France. What more do you need to know?

Douro Valley, Portugal

duoro valley wine country

Wineries: 200+

Closest airport: Porto (OPO)

Must-try grapes: Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesa

Compared to its neighboring countries, Portugal has managed to stay relatively under the radar. They don’t even crack the top 10 in European tourist numbers. This oversight seems to spill into enotourism as well: Portugal was voted the most underrated wine-producing region in the world.

Douro Valley has everything a wine traveler could want: warm weather, postcard-worthy scenery, luxurious quintas (port villas), and most importantly, fantastic port wine. The Alto Douro region, which has produced wine for over 2,000 years, is so significant that it’s recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.

On a beer kick? Check out our beer lover’s pilgrimage around the world.