The Most Fascinating Travel Destinations for Wine Lovers in 2016
So you’ve been to Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Tuscany and splashed out for the exorbitant winery tasting-room fees in the Napa Valley. Where next?
The current oeno-tourism boom means you don’t have to sacrifice luxury if you branch out to less-traveled spots. An ever-growing number of wineries are wooing curious wine lovers with sophisticated boutique hotels, serene infinity pools, soothing spas, Michelin-starred restaurants, and insider experiences such as harvesting grapes at midnight wearing a headlight.
My criteria for what makes a great wine destination starts, naturally, with truly superb wines. And spectacular scenery is a must, as is fabulous, creative food. But beyond the grape and the glass, I want other experiences—not just the option of being pummeled with grape skins or lolling in a red wine extract bath.
The following destinations offer these luxe options in spades.
For Art Lovers: Viña Vik, Chile
Take Viña Vik, a dramatic art-centric wine resort that opened last year in Chile’s Millahue Valley, a two-hour drive south of Santiago. It’s a rare combination of raw nature, cutting-edge art and design, and ambitious red wine.
The vineyard and winery came first. Norwegian-born entrepreneur Alexander Vik had a eureka moment while running the Bordeaux marathon, and he and his wife Carrie started hunting land where they could “make the best wine in South America.” With the help of star Bordeaux winemaker Patrick Valette, they found an 11,000-acre property of sloping hills, a glassy lake, and spectacular views of the forested Andes mountains in an undeveloped valley and planted vines.
A fabulous resort was always part of the plan—and 10 years later, it's a reality. Perched on a hilltop overlooking the vines, the hotel has a cantilevered slate pool jutting over the valley below. Staying in one of the 22 suites is like living inside an installation of a single artist’s work, with a glass-walled view of vines. The winery entrance is even enchanting, with a sloping plaza with streaming water and artistically placed rocks, crisscrossed by wooden walkways.
When you’re not oohing and aahing, tasting the two red blends (powerful, plush Vik and velvety Milla Cala), horseback rides to neighboring vineyards and joining the harvest will keep you busy.
Suites start at $1,200 a night, including meals, wine, mountain biking, horseback rides, and tastings.
For Italophiles: Venissa, Italy
Venissa, on the tiny, peaceful island of Mazzorbo in Venice’s lagoon, is the ultimate urban vineyard resort and surely the only wine destination where you can learn how to row a gondola. And it’s only 20 minutes from Venice proper by water taxi.
A decade ago, Gianluca Bisol, whose family makes top proseccos, discovered almost extinct dorona grapes in a private garden on a lagoon island. For centuries, until a flood in 1966, these islands fostered a thriving winemaking culture. Bisol delved into grape research, using the vines he’d discovered to revive this ancient white variety in a tiny walled vineyard on Mazzorbo, then renovated the large country house within it as a six-room boutique hotel and restaurant. (The recently released white and red, made from grapes on a neighboring private island, cost $200 a bottle.)
The spacious suites (from $275) are the best bet, with exposed wooden rafters and simple, elegant furnishings. Staying here is like being in the midst of a wine fairy tale, complete with once-lost grapes now found and side trips across a wooden footbridge to Burano, a colorful island of lacemakers. In Venissa’s one-star Michelin restaurant you can taste the winery’s violet-scented red and intense, slightly salty white, which both pair nicely with local lagoon delicacies such as sea-snail soup.
For Surfers and Beach Lovers: Margaret River, Australia
This 60-mile-long narrow peninsula in Western Australia’s southwest corner, three hours south of Perth, is an irresistible wine paradise. The Margaret River region is known for world-class surfing, secluded coves of wild, sandy beaches, and air scrubbed whistle clean after its thousands-of-miles journey across the ocean. On top of this, its 100 wineries make some of the country’s most sophisticated and collectible cabernets and chardonnays.
You can spend the morning tasting, the afternoon lolling in the surf, hitting the reef breaks, or hiking part of the long coastal Cape-to-Cape track with views of the Indian Ocean. In the evening, dine at a winery on local marron, a succulent freshwater crayfish, and, yes, kangaroo steaks.
The essential estates to visit are Cullen, Vasse Felix, Voyager Estate, Moss Wood, Cloudburst, and Leeuwin Estate, whose sleek, lemony chardonnay is one of the world’s best, and which offers the top daylong wine experience. Though most wineries have restaurants, none offers luxe accommodation. My pick for a romantic hotel is Injidup Spa Retreat in Yallingup, a secluded group of villas right on the beach, with private plunge pools and access to a private chef (rooms from $800 for two nights).
For Traditionalists: Douro Valley, Portugal
No wine region surprises you more with its beauty than the sleepy, remote Douro Valley. The Unesco World Heritage site is a 90-minute drive from the city of Porto, in the northern part of Portugal. Flanking the winding Douro River are stone-terraced vineyards on steep, vertigo-inducing hillsides dotted with whitewashed 18th and 19th century quintas (wine farms). For centuries the quintas were difficult to reach. Driving the twisting road can still be a white-knuckled proposition—one scenic 17-mile stretch, from Peso de Regua to Pinhao, has 93 hairpin curves.
This is home turf for sweet vintage ports, but more recently dozens of port houses have begun making luscious dry reds from such grapes as touriga nacional. Quinta do Vallado (delicious dry reds) offers privacy in the vineyards at its new six-suite Casa do Rio guest house (from $210) in Vila Nova de Foz Coa, while port house Quinta do Bomfin in Pinhão opened for superb tastings, tours, and lunches last summer.
But the latest extraordinary place to stay, opened last year, is Six Senses resort in Lamego (from $577 during high season; suites $1,386). Blue and white azulejos (tiles) and cork ceilings echo the region’s aesthetic. Besides the requisite gorgeous pool, aerial yoga (it’s very complicated), and wellness spa, the staff can arrange private quinta visits and a day picking grapes and crushing them by foot in a traditional square stone trough called a lagare. Prepare for purple feet.
For the Adventurer: Franschhoek, South Africa
The Cape Wine Country is a tapestry of lush green vineyards, craggy hills, 17th century white-washed Cape Dutch farmhouses, and sleek, glamorous contemporary wineries. South Africa's stunning wines are still under the radar and deserve discovery.
Picturesque Franschhoek is east of better-known Stellenbosch and an hour from Cape Town. Its appeal is contrast—ringed by towering, dramatic mountains and nature preserves ideal for hiking, it’s also studded with 50 wineries, super-luxury places to stay, and shops and restaurants with French flair.
Settled by fleeing Huguenots, it now attracts such people as Sir Richard Branson, who bought wine farm (and hotel) Mont Rochelle two years ago, and Indian entrepreneur Analjit Singh, the founder of the local Leeu Collection boutique hotels, as well as new hot micro-brewery Tuk Tuk. Just-opened Leeu Estates (from $506, suites from $830) is set among sauvignon blanc vineyards with brick walkways and gardens and includes a winery, boutique hotel, and wellness spa; the Mullineux-Leeu wines are stellar.