Our Editors’ Nine Favorite Wine Travel Destinations From 2019

Rioja vineyard landscape
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Every year, Wine Enthusiast’s global team of editors and tasters travel around the world to seek out the best stories to tell, the latest releases to taste and new producers to watch. Such journalistic travel is not always as easy or fabulous as it seems, though it is often filled with exciting discovery and inspiring passion that fuels our reporting.

We asked our reviewers to share their top spots from 2019, noting why they were the best and what wine info they took away from the experience. Read their stories here, and experience more of their travel escapades by checking out their Instagram accounts.

Carmel Valley, California

Matt Kettmann, Contributing Editor

Why it was Tops: “This quaintly chic stretch of rural highway is lined with about two dozen tasting rooms, and producers such as Ian Brand are tapping into the region’s deep winemaking roots. He showed me the almost forgotten Durney Vineyard, now called Massa, where they’re reviving Cabernet Sauvignon vines from the 1960s. Be on the lookout for future vintages!”

My Wine Takeaway: I. Brand & Family 2016 Enz Vineyard Mourvèdre from Lime Kiln Valley. Though this hails from adjacent San Benito County, it shows what Brand can do with historic vines. And, if you’re lucky, you can sample it and other old vine bottlings at Brand’s Carmel Valley tasting room. Also, Seabold Cellars 2018 Rodnick Farm Old Vines Pinot Blanc from Chalone. Sommelier-turned-vintner Chris Miller just opened a tasting room in Carmel Valley when I visited. Although this wine comes from across the county, it reveals what magic there is in old vines, and how thoughtful winemakers like Miller can tease out those elements.”

Etna, Italy

Kerin O’Keefe, Italian Editor

Why it was Tops: “A perpetually smoking volcano, native grapes, ancient vines and drop-dead gorgeous wines: this is why Etna was my favorite travel destination in 2019. Thanks to unique growing conditions including volcanic soils and extremely high-altitude vineyards—up to 3,280 feet in some area—Etna’s crisp, mineral-driven reds and whites boast elegance and compelling tension.”

My Wine Takeaway: “Etna is more renowned for its polished reds made with Nerello Mascalese, but I also love the area’s radiant, linear whites made with Carricante, which boast floral, mineral and wild-herb sensations. Great versions include those by Tornatore, Carranco and Torre Mora.”

Franconia, Germany

Anna Lee C. Iijima, Contributing Editor

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Be still my ❤️ these gorgeous clusters of Frühburgunder, the early ripening clone of Pinot Noir, aka Pinot Noir Précoce. The low yielding, wildly aromatic variety is so attractive to birds and other pests, it’s shrouded in nets as it approaches ripeness. In Franken, Sebastian Fürst grows Frühburgunder in the cooler, lower regions of the famed grand cru Centgrafenberg vineyard. The warmer “tenderloin” of the Centgrafenberg is known as the Hundsrück, or spine of the hound. . . . . . #vdpgg2019 #vdp #germany #deutschland #grandcru #winery #vineyard #germanwine #vin #winelover #wein #vino #winetasting #winesofgermany #pinotnoir #wine #redwine #ワイン #ワイナリー #ワイナリー巡り#赤ワイン #ドイツ #ドイツワイン #ピノノワール #ぶどう #葡萄

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Why it was Tops: “Franconia, aka Franken, is one of Germany’s best-kept secrets. It’s a magical place populated by Shire-like wine villages and a city center rich with architecture, history and art. Sylvaner, typically dry and lusciously textured, reigns supreme here, but there’s fantastic Riesling and Pinot Noir too.”

My Wine Takeaway: “Cultivated on Franken’s limestone slopes, Pinot Noir, known as Spätburgunder locally, is breathtakingly finessed and fragrant. Sebastian Fürst is Franken’s star Pinot Noir producer and a chance to taste his Frühburgunder, an especially perfumed, delicate clone of Pinot Noir, is not to be missed.”

Kakheti, Georgia

Mike DeSimone, Contributing Editor

Why it was Tops: “Georgia is natural wine heaven, and as an agricultural country, it is farm-fresh vegetable and cheese paradise as well. Meals included a lineup of entirely unpronounceable but utterly delicious wines accompanied by a supra, a feast of salads and spreads served with cheese-filled bread and freshly grilled meat.”

My Wine Takeaway: “Amber wines made with the white Mtsvane grape, either in single varietal versions or blends, offer a surprising combination of complexity and freshness. Winemaking in qvevri—clay amphora—and aging on the skins creates wines with interesting texture and mouthfeel while still maintaining brightness on the palate.”

Marrakech, Morocco

Lauren Mowery, Contributing Editor

Why it was Tops: “From imperial cities and date palm oases to the golden dunes of the Sahara, Morocco puts the ‘transporting’ back in travel. A key stop on historic trade routes, craft culture persists today, an ethos of ambitious beauty expressed in each tiny, dazzling tile restored in the romantic riads of Fez and Marrakech. The old arts of carpet weaving and ceramics still thrive in the Berber villages of the Atlas Mountains, while the ancient industry of winemaking blossoms anew with Mediterranean varieties and modern insights.”

My Wine Takeaway: “La Perle Noire, an organic GSM red blend from the Atlantic Coast near Essaouira. Domaine du Val d’Argan founder Charles Melia left his vineyard in Châteauneuf-du-Pape to plant Rhône and Corsican grapes in Morocco. He follows biodynamic principles, employing a camel named Goliath for plow duty.”

Puglia, Italy

Alexander Peartree, Tasting Director

Why it was Tops: “World-class wine, unique regional cuisine and stunning beaches—Puglia has it all. More than 200 miles from tip to tip, this southern Italian region boasts an incredible array of wines: from richly fruited Primitivo to bold rosatos and crisp, zesty white wines made from indigenous grapes.”

My Wine Takeaway: “The Salento peninsula flatlands are speckled with historic masserie, or farms, turned wineries and seaside vistas which cannot be missed. But for truly unique experiences, drive through the hillside towns of the Valle d’Itria to discover the iconic trulli stone huts or immerse yourself in history with a visit to the Castel del Monte, a 13th-century castle that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”

Rioja, Spain

Michael Schachner, Contributing Editor

Why it was Tops: “In May, I spent a week in Spain’s signature wine region, Rioja. The highlights were many, including a tapas crawl on renowned Calle Laurel in Logroño and bombing through the vineyards of Bodegas Manzanos in a Humvee. But the pinnacle of the trip was our visits to Bodegas Bilbainas and Muga, both in the town of Haro. Reconnecting with the legendary Isaac Muga Sr. was a moving experience, and I can still taste those fire-grilled baby lamb chops that we had for dinner at Viña Pomal. Trips like this are why I love my job.”

My Wine Takeaway: “The most eye-opening wine I tasted during my Rioja sojourn was a white wine, not a Tempranillo-based red (surprise!). Conde de los Andes’s 2015 Blanco is a barrel-fermented and aged varietal Viura made from vines planted some 30 years ago around the towns of Ollauri, Haro and Briñas in Rioja Alta. The wine sports a Burgundian overall character, bracing acidity and the potential to age for decades. Winemaker Chema Ryan should be proud of this superb white Rioja.”

Roussillon, France

Jim Gordon, Contributing Editor

Why it was Tops: “Roussillon, where France borders Spain, was a fantastic place to kick up the gravelly soil—if you can call it soil—and admire broad expanses of Grenache vines before ducking into the nearby port towns of Collioure, Banyuls-sur-Mer or Port-Vendres for a long look at the Mediterranean while dining on seafood prepared with a Catalan flair.”

My Wine Takeaway: “While many winemakers in Roussillon touted their dry, increasingly sophisticated table wines, the sweet and fortified Vin Doux Naturel wines of Rivesaltes, Maury and Banyuls were eye-opening. Aged for many years before release, they offer ethereal, honeyed, nutty complexity and down-to-earth prices.

Tasmania, Australia

Christina Pickard, Contributing Editor

Why it was Tops: “The only major wine region in Australia I hadn’t yet visited, Tasmania had been top of my must-see list for a long time. My expectations for it were extremely high. I’d heard heaps about the stunning natural beauty, vibrant farm-to-table food scene and top-notch, cool-climate wines that Australia’s smallest state—an island the size of Ohio located 150 miles from the southeast coast—had to offer. My expectations were exceeded. Tasmania is truly a wine, food and nature lover’s paradise.”

My Wine Takeaway: “It’s well known that Australia’s coolest climate wine region produces outstanding sparkling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But Tasmanian Riesling, too rarely seen if you ask me, blew me away with its precision, texture and shimmering beauty. I fell especially hard for the Huon, a bucolic region on the southern coast where new-to-the-scene producers like Mewstone, Sailor Seeks Horse and Chatto Wines are already achieving outstanding results from young vines. Watch this space!”

Published on December 27, 2019
Topics: Wine Travel