When planning a trip to a wine region, tours and tasting room visits are usually the first activities that pepper the itinerary. But if the destination or its offerings are less familiar to you, it can help to get a little context. That’s where these museums come in.
These institutions are themed around the native juice that makes each region stand out, from Spanish vermouth to French Bordeaux. The exhibits, interactive displays, tasting areas and restaurants are designed to give you a deeper, richer understanding that’ll come in handy when you swirl and sniff the local specialty.
Museu del Vermut (Reus, Spain)
In the Catalan town outside Barcelona, the vermouth literally flows like water, usually served on tap over ice garnished with olives. This museum and restaurant is housed in a modernist building downtown, which serves as more of an ode to the more than 2,000 brands of the aromatized wine from more than 56 countries.
The bar boasts more than 1,300 bottles, and museum staircases flank a collection of 3,000 labels, print ads, posters and glassware. Reserve a table in one of four exposed-brick dining rooms and order spherified vermouth orbs and red tuna with vermouth reduction.
La Cité du Vin (Bordeaux, France)
Designed to evoke thoughts of knotted vine stock, wine swirling in the glass and the curves of the nearby Garonne river, this striking building encompasses 10 levels of experiences to engage you in the history and culture of the region’s incomparable wines.
At La Cité du Vin, you’ll encounter interactive maps, state-of-the-art technology, tasting rooms and glass jars that capture whiffs of the aromas encountered in different varietal wines and styles. Afterward, take in a 360-degree view of Bordeaux from the observation deck at The Belvedere and sip from a rotating selection of 20 bottles.
Koutsoyannopoulos Wine Museum (Santorini, Greece)
Greece’s only wine museum is nestled in a cave 26 feet underground on an island rich in volcanic soil that’s known for both its iconic blue-domed roofs and its full-bodied, mineral-driven Assyrtiko. Learn about Santorini’s wine industry that dates back thousands of years, discover rare artifacts and see how innovations like vines shaped into baskets called kouloura protect grapes from the fierce winds. Cap the visit with a tasting of four offerings produced by the family winery.
WiMu—The Wine Museum in Barolo (Barolo, Italy)
Set inside a castle that dates back a thousand years, the WiMu is a literal descent into the story of wine. It starts on the third level’s panoramic terrace and finishes in the cellar, where the region’s Nebbiolo-based wines were first produced in the mid-19th century. Along the way, it covers the role of wine in history, art, the kitchen, cinema, music and literature, myth and tradition. Bottles and labels from all 11 towns that produce Barolo are represented in the cellar, including recent vintages. Bring a few bottles home to savor the experience.
The Vivanco Museum of Wine Culture (Rioja, Spain)
Six rooms spread out over 43,000 square feet are devoted to the history of wine over the past 8,000 years, quite a lofty ambition. Five permanent exhibition halls hold old vessels, farming tools, works of art and other items acquired by the Vivanco family. There’s also a restaurant with a seasonal menu as well as a fixed menu with traditional Rioja specialties like potato stew with chorizo and roast baby lamb. Outside, stroll through The Garden of Bacchus, whose vineyards grow 220 varietal grapes from around the world.