We’ve often said that most of our travel has to involve either wine or tennis, or ideally both. With that in mind, we have gone on wine tasting adventures all over the world. One of our favourite things to do is find out-of-the-way wine regions. Our wine tasting experiences have included both well-known regions, and some really under the radar areas that we think deserve to be better known. So here are our top 5 best wine tasting experiences.
1. New Zealand
This had to be on the top of our list, even though it’s not exactly “out of the way” unless you just count distance from anywhere else. New Zealand sauvignon blanc from the Marlborough region is, without question, one of our favourite go-to wines. In fact, we’re not sure we’ve met anybody that doesn’t like NZ sauv blanc.
So, when we finally managed to spend 2 weeks in New Zealand, we knew we had to do a wine tour or three. Luckily, all of New Zealand is like one big wine tour because there are so many grape growing regions and every restaurant seems to have a long list of local wines.
From the north, just off the coast of Auckland, we tried wine tasting at a few wineries on the island of Waiheke. Surprisingly, most of the wine on the island is red, with merlot and syrah being the dominant varietals. White varietals are mostly a mixture of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and pinot gris.
This is, without question, the best known wine region of New Zealand, famous for its clean, crisp sauvignon blancs that have redefined the grape worldwide. While other varietals are also planted, such as pinot noir and some chardonnay, whenever a wine drinker thinks of New Zealand, they usually think of a Marlborough sauvignon blanc.
The nearby region of Nelson has similar grapes, but we find the wines are never quite as good.
Near the impossibly beautiful town of Queenstown is the up-and-coming wine region of Central Otago. This region is incredibly picturesque, and getting more and more international recognition for its pinot noir.
New Zealand has several other smaller appellations scattered throughout the country. At least we have a reason to go back. 😉
Chile was long regarded as the source of average quality, good value wines. Many of the regions focus on red varietals, and are within driving distance of the capital, Santiago. Chile has the distinction (for us) of really introducing us to carmenere as a stand-alone grape. It’s become one of our favourite go-to juicy red wines when we’re looking for something casual with loads of flavour.
While carmenere is one of the 6 red grapes of Bordeaux, the vast majority of carmenere is now grown in Chile’s Central Valley.
Since Christine is more of a white wine drinker, our first stop after leaving the Santiago airport on our way to Valparaiso was the wine region of Casablanca. Naturally! With its proximity to the coast, Casablanca is known for cool-weather white varietals, such as sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. While the other regions have long histories of winemaking, the industry is relatively new in the Casablanca area with grapes only being planted in the 1980s.
Just before we left Chile, we had a long layover in Santiago. So we decided to take a quick tour through the nearby Maipo Valley region. The Maipo wine region dates back to the 16th century and is home to some of Chile’s best cabernet sauvignon wines.
For something completely different, we headed north by plane and car to the town of Vicuna in the Elqui Valley. While the Elqui valley does produce some regular table wines, it is best known for producing the traditional grape-based brandy used in pisco sours. This area is stunningly beautiful, and very off-the-beaten path for tourists. It’s well worth the detour from the better known wine regions further south. For more specific information on tasting pisco in the Elqui Valley, check out our post here.
We didn’t make it to the Colchagua Valley, further south from Santiago. It is probably the best known wine region of Chile, often compared to Napa Valley. Similar to New Zealand, all the more reason to go back. 😉
Check out our post on a 10 day Chile itinerary, one of the most popular posts on our entire site. Our itinerary combines big cities, small towns, beaches, mountains, and of course, wine tasting!
3. Okanagan Valley, Canada
Canada is definitely an up-and-coming wine region, but is still largely unknown outside its own borders other than for its ice wine. In Ontario, there are close to 100 wineries just in the region around the famous Niagara Falls. Smaller wine regions have popped up further south on the shores of Lake Erie and further northeast in Prince Edward County. Elsewhere in eastern Canada, wine industries have started up in Quebec, Nova Scotia, and even Prince Edward Island. On the west coast, there are a growing number of wineries on Vancouver Island. Due to Canada being the “Great White North”, all of these regions tend to specialize in cool climate varietals like riesling, pinot noir, pinot gris/blanc, and gamay.
Our Favourite Wine Region In Canada
However, our favourite Canadian wine region, and honestly one of our favourite wine regions in the world, is the Okanagan Valley in the interior of British Columbia. The climate inland is drier and warmer than the coastal regions, allowing the Okanagan to grow a much wider variety of grapes.
In the northern parts of the region, there is still a focus on cool climate white varietals like pinot gris. For our money, we think the Okanagan Valley has some of the best pinot gris/grigio in the world, better than almost anything we’ve tasted in France or Italy.
Further south, the valley gets hotter and drier until it becomes the only desert region of Canada, near the US border. This allows for the production of big, bold red wines with syrah and merlot being particularly good. Many people compare this area to Napa and Sonoma in California, but we’ll take the Okanagan every time. Both because the scenery is amazing, and because the wines are delicious.
Also check out our post on our top 5 reasons we love the Okanagan Valley. We’ll be honest…if we could find something to do for a living in the Okanagan Valley, we would move there and live happily every after.
Ok, we haven’t found many Greek wines that we really like. So we didn’t have high hopes for Cypriot wine. But man, were we wrong! The wineries are in the central, mountainous region of the island where temperatures are a bit cooler at the higher altitudes. While the whites didn’t impress us much, many of the red wines, made from unique indigenous grapes, were delicious. Christine even started drinking red, which only took Trevor 8 years and traveling to Cyprus to achieve! Read about our time in the interior of Cyprus here.
Cyprus is particularly known for a dessert wine called Commandaria. Unlike other better known sweet wines like port or sherry, commandaria is made by drying the grapes in the sun. The heat evaporates some of the water in the grapes, concentrating the sugars and resulting in a sweet (but not syrupy) wine.
5. South Africa
Our trip to South Africa was booked very last minute. Trevor had been there before, so knew much of the trip would be spent in and around Cape Town. In fact, the first time Trevor went wine tasting near Cape Town, his first thought was “Christine will love it here”.
After touring the cape area, we spent a few days in the Franschhoek wine region with a few stops in the better known Stellenbosch on the way. For something different, we did a cycling wine tour with Franschhoek Cycles. The activity made us feel a little bit less guilty about all the wine and cheese we consumed along the way.
One thing we really liked about wine tasting in South Africa, aside from the gorgeous scenery, was the wide range of wines available. They don’t specialize in only whites or only reds, like many regions around the world, and have a full selection to taste. The prices on bottles were also quite reasonable.
We know, we know, 5 wine regions isn’t quite enough. Well, here are our…
- Montenegro. Who knew, right? Wine tasting in Montenegro isn’t always easy as many of the vineyards are very small and not always welcoming to visitors. It’s worth doing your homework first, and reaching out to a few wineries before you show up. The most “sure bet” is the government-owned Plantaze. One of their wine cellars is a converted underground Air Force hanger, on the edge of a 2300 hectare, 11.5 million vine vineyard (you read that right!). For the proper experience, try the Vranac, a local grape. Delicious and affordable. You can even buy one of their wines in Ontario! This is probably the best wine in the LCBO for under C$11.
- Northern Israel. Not all the wine we tasted was great, but some was outstanding. Prices on bottles tend to be quite expensive (like many things in the country) and you often need to call ahead to book a tasting at a winery (and tastings can be expensive too). Do yourself a favour, get a designated driver then head over to Stern Winery. Say “hi” to the owner, Johnny, for us.
- Croatia. For something a little different, explore the islands and peninsulas of Croatia for some wines you can’t get anywhere else in the world. If you’re on the island of Korcula, make sure you book a hiking or biking tour with Korcula Explorer and try some Grk, a local white wine only available on Korcula.
So those were our top 5 best wine tasting experiences. We’ve also tasted wine in Tuscany, different parts of France (although not Bordeaux or Burgundy yet, shocker!), California, and several regions in Australia, but that just wasn’t as exciting. Trevor has also been wine tasting in Hungary and Argentina.
Part of what we love is finding off-the-beaten-path wine regions. For that reason, the next places we hope to go wine tasting are Slovenia, Austria, and Bosnia. Honestly, when we passed through Slovenia and Bosnia, we didn’t make the effort to tour wineries. But, based on our experiences in nearby Croatia and Montenegro, that was a mistake!