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Wine is hot right now. Not just because Old World wine regions are continuing to crank out delicious juice, but also because a number of New World areas are using innovative techniques, old school grape varieties and leveraging seductive Terroir to create in demand travel destinations.
Today, we want to review the 13 best wine regions around the world that are currently worth a visit. This is of course a difficult list to narrow down, but read on to discover what makes these areas so special and why you might consider planning a wine vacation as your next bucket list item.
Note that we include a number of links within this list that lead out to more detailed articles on many of the regions discussed below. Feel free to click through if any wine region strikes your fancy.
Best Wine Regions of the World & Why
Visit the Texas Hill Country AVA
Despite over 1 million travelers sampling Texas Hill Country annually, it’s still one of the wine world’s best kept secrets. Texas has 3,500 acres of vineyards and 350 bonded wineries, according to the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association. Texas Hill Country itself has over 250 wineries that are spread throughout the region, which happens to be the second largest AVA in the United States. However, many individuals are not even aware of the region, since most producers only sell their wines within Texas. Word is quickly spreading due to the massive population influx into Austin, which lies only one hour East of the AVA.
This region is relatively young, (less than 30 years old!), however since the early 1990’s a number of innovative producers recognized that the terroir and climate here is conducive to producing great tasting Spanish and Italian varietals and blends, among others.
There are a few reasons as to why the draw to Texas Hill Country is so great — not only are Vintners producing fantastic wine, but the AVA’s proximity to Austin makes it an alluring destination for bachelorette parties, weddings and casual day trips. The drive through the region is beautiful and will have you feeling as though you’ve taken a quick trip over to the Italian countryside in some areas. Expect great food, Southern hospitality and fine wine.
Colchagua Valley in Chile
The Colchagua Valley, located within the South-central reaches of the Rapel Valley, is arguably one of the best wine producing regions in South America. It is located approximately 80 miles, or 130 kilometers from the Chilean capital of Santiago. While Chile as a whole is quickly becoming recognized as one of the best value wine producing countries in the world, it is select appellations such as Colchagua that are beginning to stand out for their quality red wine production.
Wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountain Range, the Colchagua Valley in particular offers two distinct micro-climates that are conducive to producing fine Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon in particular. Carmenere is currently recognized as Chile’s national wine grape, and no other appellation within Chile, in my opinion, is producing as refined and flavorful Carmenere as Vintners within Colchagua. In fact, Carmenere flew under the radar as a blending grape in Bordeaux for years, but it was Chile that successfully harnessed its true expression and made it famous as a single varietal wine.
The region is still relatively young, and the Viñas de Colchagua — Colchagua’s regional association — wasn’t established until 1999. Today, only about 15 wineries total reside with the valley, making it an ideal location to visit while not being overwhelmed by too many producers.
Bordeaux as a whole is a name that has become synonymous with quality and history in the wine world. It is without a doubt one of the most famous, if not the most famous Old World wine producing regions on the planet. Today, it has also become an in-demand tourist destination thanks to the reputation Vintners have earned here. It’s become so famous in fact, that recently a wine amusement park was erected in order to celebrate the wines of the region and offer an additional incentive for travelers to come visit.
While there are a range of sub-appellations within the Bordeaux region, it is perhaps easiest to dissect the area by splitting it in two. For the sake of this article, we’ll discuss it as having a Left and Right Bank, split in two by the Gironde River.
The Left Bank of Bordeaux is perhaps the most well known, thanks to centuries old producers still in existence that have been known of the years to produce some of the finest (and most expensive) red blends in the world. Those producers include Chateau Margaux, Lafite, Latour and others. Typically, Left Bank vintners produce Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blends, often backed by smaller concentrations of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.
On the other hand, Right Bank producers tend to craft wines that are Merlot dominant, backed by smaller concentrations of Cabernet Sauvignon and the other varietals we mentioned above.
It’s also important to note that Bordeaux wine makers on both the right and left banks are producing white wines and sweet wines as well. Some of these producers are equally historic if not more so.
La Rioja, Spain
In many ways, Rioja has created an all-encompassing brand for itself. In the US wine market, “Rioja” has become a name synonymous with exceptional craftsmanship, rich red fruit and just the right amount of spice. Producers within this wine region pride themselves on both ancient and innovative modern wine making techniques, which both produce a range of red and white wine styles that regardless of technique still depict the unique flavors of the region at their cores.
Rioja DOCa oversees 3 sub-appellations, Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja. Each sub-appellation offers varying degrees of elevation, climate, soil composition and landscapes, making it an ideal wine region to visit to observe the differences in wine styles, production techniques, general culture and exquisite vistas. All of this can be within your reach simply by renting a car and driving through the casual countryside.
Marlborough, New Zealand
Marlborough has emerged in recent years as one of the worlds premier New World wine producing regions — especially when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc production. If you like medium bodied white wines with refreshing acidity, complex mineral tones, fresh citrus and tree fruit notes with slight hints of vegetable flavors, you need to visit Marlborough.
Compared to some of New Zealand’s other wine regions, Marlborough is the most famous despite its relatively small geographical stature. It’s also the home of the Marlborough Wine Research Centre, which happens to be New Zealand’s premier research facility for viticulture. You can be sure producers here take their job seriously, but you can expect a laid-back greeting if you were to knock on any cellar door.
So the wine is good here, we know that. But New Zealand also offers travelers one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. In fact, if you were to travel through most of the North and South island, you could potentially experience all four seasons throughout your visit. Just watch Lord of the Rings and you’ll have a pretty good sense of what I mean.
Willamette Valley, Oregon
The Willamette Valley spans approximately 150 miles North to South in the Northwestern corner of Oregon and currently hosts over 500 wineries spread across a number of sub-appellations. If you’re a Pinot Noir fan, chances are you’ve heard that Willamette is one of the world’s premier regions when it comes to quality New World Pinot Noir. Currently, over 14,000 acres are dedicated to Pinot Noir production throughout the valley. Smaller acreage consisting of Pinot Gris (Grigio), Chardonnay and Riesling can also be found.
Wedged between the Cascade Mountains and the Coast Range, this relatively cool climate region has successfully carved out a name for itself for its beauty and relaxed atmosphere. Wine makers are happy to greet guests, offer low cost tastings and offer in-depth tours of their facilities and production techniques. Many of which are small operations producing incredibly refined small lot varietal wines. There’s a rusticness here that makes one feel at ease, and simply driving through the valley without even tasting wine will leave you in awe. You can even tour vine acreage on horseback in some locations.
I had the pleasure of visiting Priorat last year in the Spring just as the Garnacha vines were beginning to bud. This region is exceptionally beautiful, and ancient. You can go from tasting wine directly on the vineyard, visiting an ancient monastery to climbing to the top of an ancient Moorish town on a precipice.
That’s all a blast, but it’s the wines in particular that stand out to me. In fact, Priorat is the only other Spanish wine region that falls under the classification of DOCa — meaning the quality controls and production here really don’t get much better. The terroir and climate here exemplify wines of rich complexity, and the soil itself is largely made of ancient volcanic elements and schist, which forces the vines to work hard to grow. This ultimately enhances the complexity and flavor composition of the wines by yielding smaller grapes and grape clusters.
Wine has been made in Priorat as early as 1100 AD. As you drive through the region, you can see the remnants of ancient vines, ruins and terraced plantings along the hillsides. This place is truly magical, somewhat remote yet easy to access by train from Barcelona. Winederlusting contributor Ashlee McRae covered Priorat in more depth previously, so take a look at her article if you’d like to learn more.
Known as the “Sun and Wine Province” of Argentina and located at the foothills of the Andes, Mendoza is on my radar as a favorite region due to one particular grape — Malbec. Despite Malbec being an Old World grape variety harvested for centuries in Bordeaux and some other French regions as a blending grape, it is the Argentines who have had the most success in getting it to best express itself as a single varietal wine. In fact, many French producers have since moved to Argentina to break new ground with Malbec production techniques.
Malbec is notoriously a dark, inky grape variety in the glass that mimics its appearance on the palate. These wines are rich, tannic and bold — a variety not for the faint of heart and for those who crave a deep red wine with strong plum-based notes. Mendoza has no doubt achieved the most success with the variety of any other region in the world.
Ribera del Duero, Spain
While it may not hold the prestigious classification of DOCa as both Rioja and Priorat do, Ribera probably should. To native Spaniards, especially those who live in Madrid, Ribera isn’t just another Spanish wine region, it’s one of two choices they typically make when deciding what wine to drink at night. Many Spanish restaurants only serve either Ribera or Rioja when you look at the menu.
This is all for good reason — it offers a different take on barrel-aged Tempranillo and Spanish red blends. As opposed to Rioja where the wines are traditionally a bit more spicy and red fruit forward, Ribera red blends tend to be more fruity, fuller-bodied and loaded with black and blue fruit. Since my first sampling of Ribera, I actually now prefer these reds over many others from Spain. So apparently does Prince Charles, who is said to purchase his red wines exclusively from the vintner Vega Sicilia.
This region is both beautiful and ancient. Wines have been made here for over 2,000 years since the Romans first inhabited the area. Today, travelers can journey along the now famed “Golden Mile,” stopping and tasting along the Duero River through the center of the region for fantastic and intimate wine tasting and culinary experiences.
It’s not everyday that you hear about a wine region that’s so beautiful it has been given a UNESCO World Heritage designation. The region spans 800 hectares, with the majority of vines being planted along the Northern banks of Lake Geneva on steep terraces for over 30 kilometers. Lavaux is actually a sub-appellation within the larger area of Vaud.
All told, Blauburgunder (which is Pinot Noir) and Chasselas (a light-bodied, crisp white variety), account for about 60% of grape production within Switzerland. The elevation, cool and consistent micro-climates and layout of terraced vineyards are highly conducive to producing great quality wines that you’ve probably never tried before. That’s because most Swiss wine never leaves the country — only a small percentage of it is exported to Germany. That’s a shame, because it’s damn good. I guess you’ll just have to go visit this region, stop by the cellar doors of friendly wine makers and sit and drink at any of the small intimate restaurants and pubs along Lake Geneva. Damn.
Paso Robles, California
When I hear about Paso Robles, my mind instantly gravitates towards Cabernet Sauvignon. For other wine connoisseur, one may think of Zinfandel — the regions most famous grape variety. However, Paso Robles is fast becoming one of the best quality Cabernet Sauvignon producing regions in the United States. But the region has much more to offer than just great Cabs and Zins. This beautiful area located by California’s Central Coast lies almost directly between Los Angeles and San Francisco — making it a relatively easy location to visit.
Over 40,000 acres of vines can be found here, producing more than 30 different grape varieties and dozens of styles of wine. The climate here is consistent whole offering a long growing season filled with days of warmth and crisp nights that ripen fruit almost perfectly.
Discover Bordeaux and Rhône style blends and strong and complex single varietals, both red and white. The downtown area is also beautiful and intimate, with a number of boutique shops and restaurants the casual traveler should be content to stop at. Travelers can also sample a wide variety of wines at tasting rooms that dot the downtown hosted by nearby producers.
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
For one to truly experience all that British Columbia has to offer, you’d need to take a drive through all 7 of the Okanagan Valley sub-appellations. That’s because each sub-appellation has its own unique terroir, wine styles and gorgeous scenery. Perhaps best known for its Pinot Noir production, the Okanagan region of British Columbia is Canada’s most famous wine producing region. Unfortunately, US consumers won’t be able to find many of these beautiful wines in the states due to stringent liqour and licensing laws currently enacted within Canada. Again, you’ll just have to visit the region yourself.
It’s worth the trip, considering that British Columbia as a whole offers picturesque mountain views, crisp clean air, remote mountain roads and vine acreage that stretches for miles through both the low and highlands.
In addition to Pinot Noir, be sure to sample Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris through the region — all of which are cooler climate varietals that have seen dramatic success locally. Lastly, let’s not forget to sample the Ice Wine coming out of Okanagan — a unique and very sweet style of wine that British Columbia has also become famous for. A style of wine that is produced by allowing the grapes to freeze on the vine late following ripening, essentially ridding the grapes of water and allowing the remaining juice to become highly concentrated. Learn more about Ice Wine production in this article.
Stellenbosch, South Africa
There are a few reasons as to why we’re including Stellenbosch on this list. First — because the wine coming out of here is fantastic. Second, it’s a viticultural hub, hosting arguably one of the most prestigious viticultural schools in the world — the University of Stellenbosch. Third, Stellenbosch hosts over 150 wineries and tasting locations, making it one of the premier tourism destinations in South Africa. Fourth — it’s the second oldest settlement in South Africa behind Cape Town, making it a very historic district.
The landscape is largely made up of expansive fields loaded with long, rolling hillsides, granite soil and mountain-scapes. Wines that are worth mentioning are often Cabernet Sauvignon dominant, and some producers have also had great success in producing beautiful Bordeaux style red blends. In addition, travelers should most certainly stop and sample any iteration of Pinotage wine that they can find. Pinotage is considered South Africa’s national grape, a variety that was essentially crafted as a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault — a Southern French grape. There’s a unique story behind the variety, and it’s a variety that was actually invented by a University of Stellenbosch viticulture professor.
Are we missing a few amazing wine regions in this list? Yup. Unfortunately, I could spend the rest of my life writing about regions I love and still probably leave a few out. That being said, please feel free to leave your thoughts on your favorite regions and what makes them special to you in the comments.