A wine vacation should be 100 percent fun, so skip the logistics hassles, and take a wine tour organized by top professionals. True insiders in their regions, these operators arrange warm welcomes for you at famous wineries not generally open to the public.
Itineraries include visits to new cult favorites as well as renowned grand castles. Owners and winemakers bring out “the good stuff”: older vintages, limited-production bottlings and rare vertical tastings. But wait, there’s more: Tour operators arrange to have guests pampered with private guides and luxury hotels, as well as dining at top-rated restaurants and cozy, authentic eateries serving regional specialties.
The world’s greatest wines, and some of wine’s most fascinating people and places, are waiting for you.
Barolo, Truffles and Castles
Surrounded on three sides by the Alps, the Piedmont region is home terroir for superstars Barolo and Barbaresco, as well as lavish cuisine that includes truffles, cream sauces and soft-ripened robiola cheese. On the Piedmont Wine Tour, a private, chauffeured Mercedes-Benz shuttles guests on VIP visits to estates that include La Spinetta for tastings of top-ranked Barbaresco and Barolo, and Borgogno (established 1761), where vertical tastings are available.
Travelers also discover boutique properties like Gigi Rosso, where Winemaker Maurizio pulls out vintages from his own cellar, and Cordero di Montezemolo, managed by the same family since 1340. Enjoy pampering at accommodations like Castello di Guarene, an 18th-century palace with beautiful gardens. Meals are equally memorable at Piazza Duomo in Alba, where Chef Enrico Crippa brings out the best in seasonal ingredients. Other activities can include tours of royal houses built by the Dukes of Savoy, bicycling excursions or skiing at Sestriere, site of several events during the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Add-On: The International Alba White Truffle Fair is special fun in late autumn and early winter.
Contact: Cellar Tours; Piedmont Wine Tour: Nine days/eight nights from $7,500 per person.
A 1,000-Mile Journey
This 12-day exploration spotlights the country’s top wine regions, from Waiheke Island in the north to Central Otago in the south, as well as extraordinary landscapes. Guests enjoy exclusive tastings with owners and winemakers. “We’re a small country, so we’re not in such a hurry,” says Grape Escape Owner Greg Beachen, who guides tours personally.
Participants explore the city of Napier in Hawkes Bay, renowned for its concentration of Art Deco-style buildings, and visit historic properties like Mission Estate, founded in Napier by French missionaries in 1851, and modern architectural showstoppers like Craggy Range, set beneath Te Mata Peak in Havelock North. Most of all, visitors will remember the people they meet. That list includes Anna and Jason Flowerday, owners of Te Whare Ra, one of the oldest vineyards in Marlborough; and Kevin Judd, former winemaker at Cloudy Bay, who now has his own label, Greywacke. “We’re making friends,” says Beachen. “That’s what it’s all about.” The tour also presents one-of-a-kind opportunities like swimming and sailing at Abel Tasman National Park, scenic flights over Milford Sound and Jet-Boat rides near Queenstown.
Add-On: Take the helm of an America’s Cup sailing yacht on Waitemata Harbour in Auckland.
Contact: Grape Escape Wine Tours; Wine Trail New Zealand: Twelve days/eleven nights from $7,800–$17,000 per person.
Malbecs and Mountains
Start with landscapes that stretch from snowcapped Andes to the pampas. Throw in tango, galloping gauchos and a glacier, and you have this 12-night tour focused on Argentina’s wines and wonders. In Mendoza, guests follow the winemaking process from vineyard to vintage. Bodegas Salentein captivates with its modern architecture, art gallery and Malbec-led red blends.
Andeluna occupies a state-of-the-art winery poised at 4,265 feet, while at the restaurant, tasting menus harmonize with acclaimed Malbecs and Bordeaux-style red blends. The accommodations of the tour match the caliber of the wines. One option is the Vines Resort & Spa, set in the Uco Valley, which offers wine-blending sessions and dinner with wine pairings at superstar Chef Francis Mallmann’s on-site restaurant, Siete Fuegos. Travelers also stay at an estancia in the Cordoba region and a luxury lodge in Patagonia where they can trek on Perito Moreno glacier.
Add-On: Learn something new—take a tango lesson in Buenos Aires.
Contact: Scott Dunn, Private Journeys, Malbec & Mountains: Argentina in Luxury: Thirteen days/twelve nights from $7,300 person.
Taste Your Way Through the Region
Legendary châteaux open their gates for this six-day/five-night tour. Highlights include tasting an older vintage of Pétrus, private meals at Classified Growth estates, a visit to the Museum of Wine in Art at First Growth Château Mouton Rothschild as well as a tour and tasting at Château d’Yquem. Guests stay at one of the oldest Grands Crus of Bordeaux (first harvested in 1252), Château Pape Clément, named after its founder and most famous owner, Pope Clement V.
Dining opportunities feature Michelin-starred restaurants as well as small-gem local favorites. Guides, which may include a Master of Wine or a James Beard award-winning author, share insider knowledge about the futures market, where to purchase Bordeaux wines and importance of provenance. “We help wine lovers become connoisseurs,” says Pascale Bernasse, president of French Wine Explorers.
Add-On: The company also arranges custom tours and small group visits to Bordeaux during harvest.
Contact: French Wine Explorers, Bordeaux Prestige Tour (November 12–17, 2018): Six days/five nights from $6,900 per person.