Everyone has a preference on wine. - sweet or full-bodied, sparkling or still, red or white? Luckily, there are vineyards and cellars all over the world offering everything from Moscato to Sauvignon. Here’s where to visit...
"Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!"
The rumor goes that upon tasting Champagne for the first time, a French monk and wine maker, known as Dom Perignon, yelled this out in joy having known he had created something special. And who can blame him? Champagne is light, bubbly, and quite frankly, delicious. It's quite literally what gets me out of bed on a Sunday morning. While I could recommend just one winery in the Champagne region, I strongly encourage staying in either Reims or Épernay to fully experience multiple of the world's finest Champagne houses. For those unaware of the “giants”, some Champagne houses I recommend traveling to include:
Ruinart is the oldest established Champagne house in the world, producing wine since 1729. It is even rumored that the Madame de Pompadour drank this wine herself, claiming it was the only wine that made a women more beautiful after drinking it. This house is located in Reims where they offer cellar tours and tastings.
COVID-19 Protocol We reached out to Ruinart to find out how they're handling the current pandemic, and while they are closed due to the lockdown, their cuvées are available for purchase from specialist wine merchants, in which they recommended Nicolas.
This particular Champagne is labeled with making champagne the drink of choice at courts across Europe during the Napoleonic wars, and today has become one of the largest Champagne houses in world since acquired by Louis Vuitton. Also located in Reims, they offer cellar tours, tastings, and master classes.
Moët & Chandon is another famous Champagne house you may have heard of, as they produce the famous Dom Perignon. This is one of my personal favorites, and their mansion in Épernay is a must visit for tastings, cellar tours, and even brunch.
If you're looking for a more personalized Dom Pérignon experience, Moët & Chandon offers private cellar tours, and I would recommend visiting the Abbey of Dom Pérignon in the village of Hautvillers, which is known as the "birthplace of Champagne".
The Taittinger family has managed the Champagne house for nearly a century and has continuously aimed for excellence. The Champagne house offers tours of their cellars to demonstrate the art of champagne production and the history behind their house. During the cellar tour, there is a tasting session included that allows you to try the classic Taittinger Champagnes from the fruity Prestige Rose to the sophisticated Champagne Blanc de Blancs, matured for over 10 years.
While smaller than the other houses mentioned above, this Champagne house located just outside of Épernay is famed as the winner of the 1999 "Champagne of the Millennium", which they won in a blind tasting by a jury of experts in Stockholm for their 1959 Vintage. Their house and cellar tour is regarded among visitors as one of the most entertaining in the region, so make sure not to miss this one!
COVID-19 Protocol We reached out to Billecart-Salmon, and while their house is temporarily closed during the lockdown, they have reported that they will be taking all measures to provide a safe environment for their visitors once they can be welcomed back. One of the measures they plan to institute includes minimizing their maximum tour size to eight people, so make sure to arrange accordingly if you plan on visiting in the future.
If you want the best of all these vineyards, consider attending a wine tour with the Champagne Tour Co., who offer guided, customizable tours and experiences for every type of traveler.
It is important to mention that while France undergoes a nationwide lockdown until at least December 1st, 2020, tours of these vineyards will be temporarily unavailable. However, it's more important than ever to support these houses, whether by purchasing their products at home or planning a trip for next year!
Napa Valley, California
"No taste of wine I’ve had since has been as profound, it was a reminder how great wine can be."
Writes Larry Olmsted, the NY Times Bestselling author of Real Food, Fake Food, discussing tasting Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon for the first time. Napa Valley in California has dominated the wine stage when it comes to the "king of red", producing some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon in the world. With vineyards including Abreu, Screaming Eagle, and Harlan, Napa is home to some of the greats, humbling even the most earnest European wine snobs.
However, for the unknowing Napa Valley traveler, here are the best vineyards to add to your list:
Oh, Caymus. Trying this wine for the first time was like falling in love. It’s chocolatey, warm, smooth, and blows me away again and again. Make sure to try their cheaper Cabernet Sauvignon line, Bonanza, while you're there. It’s a great alternative for those not wanting to dish out on a bottle of Caymus.
This laid back winery located below the Stags Leap Palisades is the perfect place to sip a glass of one of my favorite Cabernet Sauvignons, Artemis, while overlooking the California landscape. They offer a variety of different reasons to visit, including events, tours, tastings, and even weddings!
They offer a variety of different tour options ranging from $50 to $195, letting you customize how you want to spend your visit.
COVID-19 Protocol Luckily, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars is still accepting visitors by reservation and have since implemented various safety protocols and precautions, including going cashless and daily health screenings for employees. However, if you can't travel to California, their wines are always available for purchase from their online wine shop (Shipping restrictions apply to a select few states.)
After reaching out to Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, they recommended that their wine club offers the best way for loyal fans and wine lovers to show their support. This includes generous benefits such as access and exclusivity to the best of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.
Looking for Tuscany in California? This is your place. Castello Di Amoroso is a 13th-century–style fortress castle built right in Napa Valley. They primarily carry Italian wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Primitivo, and Sangiovese.
Sterling Vineyards offer more than just a wine tasting experience, as they lift visitors on a gondola from the parking lot to their stunning vineyard located 300 feet high on a volcanic hill.
This Vineyard is currently closed as a result of the fires in Napa Valley, so make sure to check their website for updates about reopening.
Opus One is one of the most prestigious vineyards in Napa Valley, the birth child of Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, which only produces one blend a year that is reminiscent of the Bordeaux-style.
After reaching out to the Opus One team, they've notified us that they are conducting most of their tastings outdoors, limiting the amount of tastings to keep groups spread out, as well as conducting cleaning and sanitation between each tasting. While they are of course asking guests to social distance and wear their masks, they also have hand sanitizer stations set up around the winery, as well as at each tasting table. In addition, they are providing glass water bottles for their guests to drink from and their hosts will wear a mask at all times. All price lists/protocols/menus are viewed through QR codes to minimize the use of paper and touch, and although their wine shop continues to be open, guests can also purchase Opus One online.
The Robert Mondavi Winery is proudly named #5 on the World’s Best Vineyards 2020 list and is the highest ranking vineyard in North America. Since 1966, the Robert Mondavi Winery has celebrated and emphasized the appreciation of wine, food, and art. The winery offers tours, tastings, and culinary experiences, as well as concerts, international tours, and winery events. Before you go, make sure to book a tour online since reservations are required.
If you're traveling to Napa Valley, make sure to look into the Wine Train, a luxury train experience that runs through the region, offering dining experiences, half day, and full day tours, as well as giving you the most expansive view of the vineyards this area has to offer.
"Il vino fa buon sangue." (Good wine makes good blood.)
It's no wonder this is a popular Italian proverb, as wine in Tuscany is more than a drink - It's a way of life. Wine making in Tuscany dates back to the 8th Century BC, home of some of the most notable wine regions in the world, including Chianti, Bolgheri and Montepulciano. Visiting a region so famous for wine and so full of vineyards can be confusing to know where to start. Here is our selection of vineyards worth visiting:
This 900+ year old vineyard isn't just famous for its stunning castle views of the Tuscan country side, but also for its brilliantly crafted wine. Their property offers a restaurant experience, tasting tours, and castle ground tours.
This contemporary vineyard was built by one of the oldest surviving wine families in Tuscany, dating back to 1385. Walking through this vineyard is like walking through a museum; a piece of art placed in the hills of Tuscany. They offer four different tours to visitors to sample their Chianti Classico, along with a rooftop restaurant, Rinuccio 1180.
As the artists of the Renaissance were commissioned by the likes of the Medici family and other wealthy art procurers, this vineyard keeps the tradition alive with commissioning contemporary artwork that is displayed throughout the estate like a gallery. In addition to the creation of their award winning Chianti Classico, they also produce olive oil.
In contrast to the vineyards mentioned above, Poggio Amorelli is a quaint, small family owned vineyard with stunning views of Chianti. This is one of the vineyards I visited on my tour of Tuscany, and I was instantly charmed with the estate.
Due to their size, this will be a fairly quick stop, so make sure to account for adding another vineyard or two into your day.
I visited Tuscany while backpacking through Europe, and due to only being there for a short amount of time, decided to do a guided half-day wine tour from Florence. If I were to do it again, I would strongly recommend staying in Tuscany overnight and doing a private tour with a driver. I also recommend stopping into one Tuscany's many villages. We had the opportunity to spend an afternoon in the quaint town of Greve, where you can find charming wine shops selling glasses of Tuscan wine for less than 2€.
Other notable vineyards
Domaine du Daley - Lavaux, Switzerland
Zuccardi Valle de Uco - San Carlos, Argentina
Josef Chromy Wines - Tasmania, Australia
What are your favorite vineyards? Let us know in the comments below!