Just about every region of the world is open to those willing to travel for wine, whether you have a serious case of oenophilia, are looking to learn more about viticulture, or just enjoy traveling via your taste buds. While Europe is home to the top three wine regions, that being France, Spain and Italy, the planet is dotted with major players from California to Chile and Australia.
This week we bring you a mini guide to those major wine regions. You can fill your passport with a few stamps and likely a wine stain or two while exploring these destination, from the rural vineyards of Tuscany or hillside wineries of Napa Valley.
Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.
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Thanks to the Napa and Sonoma valleys, the United States is now a top wine producing country. While other areas like New York and Oregon produce wine, the overwhelming majority come from California. The region is famous for its variety of wines, especially cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir. With more than 400 wineries throughout the Napa and hundreds more in nearby Sonoma, the options can be daunting. Tours are recommended and are in no short supply. Don't miss a ride on the popular Napa Valley Wine Train. A variety of tours of the area and its offerings are available aboard their 100-year-old Pullman railcar.
Photo by James Daisa, CC BY-SA 2.0
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Of South America's wine producers, Argentina is top dog. Head to the foothills of the Andes where you'll find yourself in the heart of the country's wine industry. In Mendoza be sure to sample copious amounts of malbec, Argentina's most famous variety. Bodegas blanket the region, most of which are open for touring with a reservation. More formal tours are also available in a variety of forms and from countless providers. Each March Mendoza erupts in celebration for the Grape Harvest Festival. The event features lights, music and dance performances all in the name of wine.
Photo by Eduardo Fonseca Arraes, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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South Africa's wine industry is often described as old meets new. Its most famous varietals include chenin blanc and pinotage, among others. Head to the Western Cape, specifically the Cape Winelands region and the cities of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek for the highest concentration of wineries and the country's best wine offerings.
A visit to Groot Constantina is a must. It's been producing wine since 1687 and today offers a variety of options, including sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay and pinotage. The estate is also home to the Iziko Museums, a collection of historical buildings located at the winery.
Photo by Valerie Hinojosa, CC BY-SA 2.0
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Unlike many of its European wine-producing counterparts, Germany is most famous for its white wine, specifically riesling.
If you're a fan of sweeter whites, head to the Mosel River Valley to see what all the fuss is about. The terraced vineyards grow on steep hillsides punctuated by small villages and old castles. The Mosel Wine Museum in Bernkastel-Kues is a great place to educate yourself on the region's varietals before diving in. The Mosel Wine Route is also a good guide for where and what to visit. The 150-mile trail meanders around the valley from Koblenz to Perl and is well marked by signs along the way.
Photo by Cameron Wears, CC BY-NC 2.0
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France and wine go together like--well, wine and cheese. The wine is so intwined in the country's culture that it's hard to disassociate the two. No matter where you visit, there are bound to be opportunities for imbibing, but France's prominent wine regions include Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne and visits to all three deserve a spot on your itinerary. There is something for just about every wine preference, from sparkling or dry whites in the north to reds in the south.
Don't miss a trip to Epernay for a tour of the stately Moet et Chandon maison (pictured) and its famous Champagne cellars. In Bordeaux, there are no shortage of vineyards to tour and tour operators to take you to them. If you can swing it, plan to visit in summer during the Bordeaux Fete le Vin (Bordeaux Wine Festival) when "wine, food and culture aficionados are invited to join the festival and discover the architectural beauty of the city, the surrounding vineyards and its exceptional regional products." In Burgundy, vineyard hopping through the region via a series of themed routes is a popular option. One of the most frequented is the Grands Crus de Bourgogne, which has been dubbed the Champs-Elysées of Burgundy. It will take you from Dijon to Corgoloin as you pass 24 of the region's 33 grands cru vineyards.
Photo by Steve Harris, CC BY-NC 2.0
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When in Portugal, drink port. The dessert wine is best enjoyed in the Douro Valley. The entire Alto Douro (upper Douro) is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for producing wine since the 18th century. The terraced vineyards that line the Douroa River are breathtaking, as are the countless quaint villages and their wine farms that surround the area.
Photo by nmmacedo, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Chile is a major contender among the producers of new world wines. While its varied climate and terrain allows the country to produce a variety of wine from cabernet sauvignon to pisco, its most famous for carmenere.
Any Chilean wine trip should include a visit to the Maipo Valley within Santiago Metropolitan Region, about 30 minutes for the capital. The valley is considered the birthplace of Chile's wine industry, specifically its central part, and is home to more than 7,000 acres of vineyards dedicated to producing various cabernet blends and carmenere.
Further south you'll find the Colchagua Valley, home to no shortage of vineyards from Santa Cruz to Apalta. If visiting the latter, be sure to tour Montes, one of the region's most famous wineries. If you're loving Chile, but not in love with red wine, then a trip to the Casablanca Valley is a must. This region, within Valparaiso Province, is known for its white wines like sauvignon blanc and chardonnay.
Photo by Dear Garou, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Italy is known for its diverse old world wine offerings, from brunello to prosecco. Every single region of the country produces wine, so you won't miss a chance to partake regardless of where you're visiting. If you're looking to narrow down the overwhelming number of options then focus on Tuscany, Piedmont and Veneto, which are famous for their Chianti, moscato and prosecco, respectively.
While Tuscany's bigger cities like Florence and Pisa are known for their Renaissance art and architecture, its rural countryside is known for vineyards. You can tour them on foot, bike or car via self-guided or organized tour. Also consider pairing your tastings with a cooking class specializing in the world-famous Tuscan cuisine.
Like Tuscany, Piedmont is known for its cuisine and wine is often best enjoyed with paired with food. This northwestern region shares a border with
Switzerland and France and sits in the foothills of the Alps. The hillsides are famous for producing wines like barolo and barbaresco, as well as moscato. Don't miss the WiMu. Self-described as "Italy's most innovative wine museum," it's housed within Costello di Barolo (Barolo Castle).
Famous for its capital of Venice, Veneto is also renowned for its wine, especially prosecco. Head for the hills near Treviso to Conegliano Valdobbiadene for what's considered the best prosecco in the world. Just over an hour's drive away you'll find Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy, which offers stunning lakeside scenes of medieval castles and villas.
Photo by Konrad Jagodzinski, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Australia's diverse climate and geography has helped make it one of the world's most renowned wine countries. It's known for turning out an impressive variety of wines, most notably shiraz/syrah. Experiencing Australia's wine culture can be condensed with a visit to two specific regions, McLaren Vale and the Yarra Valley.
McLaren Vale is just 45 miles from Adelaide in South Australia and is known for its shiraz, as well as cabernet sauvignon varietals. Around an hour from Melbourne you'll find the Yarra Valley, home to countless wineries that serve up glasses of syrah, chardonnay and pinot noir. The area's breathtaking scenery makes vineyard hopping by bike a popular option.
Photo by Jon Lin Photography, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Like France and Italy, Spain is a top European wine producing country. In fact, it has more acres of vineyards than any other country in the world. It's famous for its old world red blends. You can find vineyards in every nook of the country, but among the best produces are Catalonia and La Rioja.
No trip to Spain would be complete without a stop in Barcelona. Conveniently, the capital city of Catalonia is also a great jumping off point for touring the region's wine culture, which includes sparkling white cava, garnacha and tempranillo-based reds. Besides the obvious and outstanding attractions in Barcelona (think world-renowned restaurants and any of Antoni Gaudí's architectural contributions), a wine and Catalan cuisine tour of the region at large is a must.
A visit to La Rioja should be spent touring the wineries that produce its namesake varietal. There are hundreds scattered throughout the area and countless tours options are available for visiting them. Haro, a small town known for its wine offerings, is a must-visit as well. Plan to be there in late June during the Batalla Del Vino (Wine Fight), a famous and quirky festival that involves dressing in all white, donning a red scarf and getting doused in red wine by fellow participants.
Photo by Alfonso Bermejo Garcia, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)