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What you need to know to visit world-famous wine regions

Gone are the days when wine tasting was limited to local wineries or national borders.

Today’s consumers seek authentic wine experiences from the land where they are grown.

In Europe, where the wine economy is primarily export-oriented, tasting rooms tend to be run by families. This means there is only one person serving visitors and appointments are often difficult to schedule.

The United States, Australia and South Africa are taking a more open approach, building wineries to accommodate tourism and walk-in visitors.

No matter where your wine travels take you, consider these questions before you go:

  • What type of wine do you like?
  • What type of experience are you interested in?
  • Do you need to make an appointment?
  • Will there be food on site?
  • How are you going to get there?

Wine tourism in the Old World

France

Among the 11 wine regions of France, Bordeaux, Burgundy (or Burgundy) and Champagne are the most prominent.

Bordeaux is known for its lush reds such as cabernet sauvignon, while Burgundy champions pinot noir and chardonnay wines. Champagne produces sparkling wines made from chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes.

While in Bordeaux, visitors can stop at the Cité du Vin wine museum, explore elegant châteaux, and dine at Michelin-starred restaurants. Bordeaux is the only city in Europe to have intramural wine estates. Some are accessible by bike or tram.

Château Angelus in Saint Emilion, France, is listed as a “Châteaux to Visit” on the Viniv Bordeaux website.

Georges Gobet | Afp | Getty Images

Burgundy is home to spectacular landscapes covered in vines and dotted with century-old castles. Part of its vineyards, called Les Climats, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Champagne is worth a visit and not just for its bubbles. Wine tours to some of the oldest producers can include views of the ancient underground cellars used to escape German soldiers during World War I.

Montagne de Reims, one of the five sub-regions of the Champagne wine region.

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The most requested French tasting experiences must be booked in advance. Additionally, opening hours vary from region to region.

Travelers should consider hiring a driver in Burgundy and Champagne. Alternatively, river cruises, such as those on the Rhône, are a great way to discover these magnificent wine regions.

Italy

Tuscany, one of Italy’s oldest wine regions, is a beautiful region of rolling hills, cypress trees, olive groves and vineyards.

Chianti classico is Tuscany’s main attraction, but Montalcino’s Brunello is a huge draw for aficionados. Although both are made from Sangiovese grapes, the flavor profiles are quite different.

The vineyards of the Chianti wine region of Tuscany, Italy.

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Wine festivals are an easy way to enjoy regional wine in Italy. In Tuscany, the village of Greve hosts the Chianti Classico Wine Festival in mid-September. Also in the fall, the town of Alba in Piedmont hosts a very popular wine and truffle festival. Parking can be difficult, so visitors may consider carpooling or traveling by taxi.

Hired drivers are recommended in Tuscany; the area is mountainous with lots of turns and narrow roads. As in France, visitors must make an appointment in advance.

Wine tourism in the New World

Wine tourism in the New World is relaxed and easy. Appointments are rarely necessary and most tasting rooms are open seven days a week.

United States

California is known for wine tasting, although almost every state in the continental United States has a wine region or wine tourism area.

Napa Valley, known for its bold Cabernet Sauvignon, is the premier wine region in the United States. Visitors can drive between wineries, bike the Napa Valley Wine Trail, or book a ride aboard the vintage Napa Valley Wine Train.

Visitors taste wine at Freemark Abbey Winery in Napa Valley.

Kim Kulish | History of Corbis | Getty Images

Sonoma is a vast region with rolling hills and 50 miles of rugged coastline – best known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as Zinfandel in the warmer appellations. The tasting rooms are spread out, so it takes more time to explore them.

The best way to visit both regions is to book a driver, ideally with winery contacts. While it was once customary to book in advance, many visitors now come for a tasting. However, appointments remain privileged.

Other states with strong wine tourism include Texas, Washington, Oregon, Virginia, and New York.

Australia

Wine tourism in the Netherlands is at the forefront.

Most wineries and tasting rooms are called cellar doors. Some areas to consider are the Yarra Valley in Victoria; Barossa Valley, near Adelaide, and Margaret River, about two hours south of Perth.

Wine at Helen & Joey Estate at the company’s ‘cellar door’ in the Yarra Valley wine region outside Melbourne.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Wine tourism in the Yarra Valley is convenient, with cellar doors open daily and wineries located within a kilometer of each other. On-site meals and even accommodation are very common, making this area easy to visit.

Many top producers host outdoor concerts and events showcasing the region’s chardonnay, pinot noir, and some sparkling wines.

Margaret River offers surfing and wine tasting. Visitors can search for unoaked Chardonnays and Bordeaux blends. Its winding roads are known for frequent kangaroo crossings and drivers are recommended.

Barossa is one of Australia’s oldest wine regions, with some 200 cellar doors within two hours of Adelaide. Here, wine tasting can be accompanied by koala and kangaroo sightings. Many grape varieties are grown in the valley, including Grenache and Riesling, ensuring that there is something for everyone.

South Africa

South Africa may be considered a new global wine region, but Constantia, a premier wine tasting destination, is centuries old.

Opened in 1685, Groot Constantia is South Africa’s first wine farm. It sits among other vineyards that make up the Constantia Wine Route, a 20-minute drive from Cape Town.

A wine tour bus passes a vineyard in the Constantia wine region of South Africa.

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Stellenbosch is a popular region with an established and cycleable wine route. The area also has world-class restaurants.

Specific wineries can be reserved in advance, but most are open daily. The country’s best grape varieties include Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinotage and Shiraz, showcasing the diversity of South African wines.

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