Wine tastings typically involve arriving at a winery, quietly taking a seat at the counter and learning about the tasting notes of each pour. But the experience can be so much more than sip, spit and repeat. To shake up your next wine-focused outing, we’ve put together a list of adventerous and unusual wine tasting experiences around the globe.
Spotting a classic London cab in Bordeaux may have you wondering if you’re in England, but rest assured, you’re in the heart of France’s wine country. Wine Cab whisks wine tasters through this legendary wine region by way of an iconic Fairway FX4 London cab. Once on the road, your guide will tell you all about Bordeaux wines and the region as you hop from one winery to the next. Oh, and the photos will be sensational.
Wine Cab’s Classic Tours are available for two to four guests, and range from four to six hours, visiting up to two wineries with up to six tastings at châteaus in Médoc, Saint-Emilion and Pessac-Léognan. Rates start at 140€ ($154) and include pick-up and drop-off at your hotel in Bordeaux, winery visits and tastings, a tasting in the vineyards and an English-speaking guide. Customized tours are also available.
Step into coveralls, don a headlamp, lace up your hiking boots and make your descent beneath the Earth’s surface for an otherworldly adventure called SpéléOenologie—a term that combines the words “spéléology,” the study of caves, and “oenology,” the study of wine. Operated by Les Dégustations de Jézabel, the excursion features local, professional cave guides for three-hour explorations into the Saint Marcel Cave, also known as Grotte Saint-Marcel, in France’s Rhône Valley.
Once inside the cave, tour owner Jézabel Janvre leads a tasting of three wines from the Ardèche region: a white Côtes du Rhône and two red Côtes du Rhône bottles, one of which aged in the cave for two years. Oh, and tastings are held in pitch black.
“Halfway [through the tour], we stop by, sit down in the clay, turn off all the [headlamps] and do the wine tasting in the absolute darkness,” says Janvre. Tasting the wines inside the dark cave—without sights, sounds and other smells to distract you—creates an opportunity to home in on your wine-tasting senses.
“Smell and taste become the two main senses we use in the absolute darkness. They are tenfold. Especially smell—since we are in a cave,” she says.
SpéléOenologie experiences start at 74€ (about $81) per person and can be booked online through the Grotte Saint-Marcel website.
Water to Wine Paddling
River & Trail Outfitters in Virginia offers two six-mile Water to Wine paddling tours along the Potomac River, which the National Park Service describes as “one of the most beautiful stretches of navigable waterways in the mid-Atlantic.” Both tours begin with a voyage in a single or tandem kayak, or a canoe with a guide that provides insights about the area’s history and ecology. Don’t worry, the paddling half of this excursion is a sober one: The four-to-five-hour outings end at a shuttle that will whisk you away to either Creek’s Edge Winery or Big Cork Vineyards. There, you’ll enjoy a wine tasting and rewarding bites to satiate an appetite worked up on the river.
The Water to Wine guided paddling tours to Creek’s Edge are available Sundays from June 4 to October 1. Pricing is $121 per person and includes equipment, river guide, shuttle, wine tasting and a hot sandwich. Guided paddling tours to Big Cork are available one Sunday a month from June to October, with two Sundays offered in August. Pricing is $115 per person and includes equipment, river guide, shuttle, wine tasting and a cheese plate. Both tours can be booked online.
Salem to St. Paul, Oregon
If you’re looking for even more water-to-wine adventure, cross the country to Oregon for Willamette Riverkeeper’s Fourth Annual Pinot Paddle on June 24 and 25. The event came about when Erica Stock Williams, who’s married to Willamette Riverkeeper’s executive director, Travis Williams, had the idea to connect people with the organization’s environmental mission. They hope to protect and restore the Willamette River by connecting with the land recreationally and agriculturally.
Over the course of the two-day event, paddlers leisurely meander along the Willamette River, which runs through Oregon’s largest wine region, the Willamette Valley. After a day on the river, paddlers set up camp (their camping gear is transported for them while they’re on the river) and settle in. The evening begins with hors d’oeuvres and wine tastings presented by local winemakers and vintners, followed by a wine pairing dinner served by caterers from nearby McMinnville.
“You just sit in a camp chair, look at the river, meet new people and have some good food and wine,” says Travis Williams.
The Fourth Annual Pinot Paddle is $435 per paddler and includes a river guide, tasting fees, catered dinner and breakfast, live music, camping gear, shuttle transport and more.
Taste, Paddle and Pedal Sonoma Tour
For those who can’t choose between biking and paddling, WineCountry Experiences in Sonoma offers the Taste, Paddle and Pedal Sonoma Tour. Over the course of five hours, adventurers start with a guided bike tour through the Green Valley, stopping at boutique wineries for tastings along the way. Next, they tuck into a picnic featuring local foods before setting out in a kayak for a guided tour of the Russian River. There’s the opportunity to jump out and swim, too, so bathing suits are encouraged.
WineCountry Experiences’ Taste, Paddle and Pedal Sonoma Tours are available year-round and can be subject to weather conditions. Booking ahead is advised and pricing is $275 per person. This includes guides, bike and kayak rental and lunch. Wine tasting fees and guide gratuities are not included.
Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir Hiking Trails
Alto Adige, Italy
In the picturesque Italian Alps, why not combine stunning hikes with wine tasting? Alto Adige, also known by its German moniker, Südtirol, is a geographically small region in the northeastern corner of Italy where wine has been made for more than 3,000 years. Here, you’ll also find the 93-mile-long Alto Adige Wine Road, along which 16 wine-producing villages and 70 wineries are found.
Alto Adige boasts numerous self-guided hiking trails throughout the region, but the wine-influenced trails in particular are not to be missed. One trail to consider is the Gewürztraminer Hiking Trail, a one-mile route that is classified as moderate and passes through multiple vineyards where you can stop and sample.
Another longer route is the Pinot Noir Trail in the south of South Tyrol. This new, nearly 15-kilometer (nine-mile) trail winds through vineyards in Mazon, Glen, Pinzon and the Trudner Horn Nature Park. Interactive stations and informational panels along the trail provide information about the region and its history. And, of course, there are wineries easily accessible along the route.
For those who’d rather not go it on their own, guided hikes that appeal to all tastes are available throughout Alto Adige. Prices vary.
Guided Vine to Snowshoe Tour
Suttons Bay, Michigan
Wine tasting doesn’t slow down when fall turns into winter in Michigan. In fact, the folks at Grand Traverse Bike Tours encourage strapping on a pair of snowshoes and making your way to wine and cider tastings via its Guided Vine to Wine Snowshoe Tour.
“Winters can be long in Northern Michigan, so you have to make it fun,” says Nick Wierzba, owner of Grand Traverse Bike Tours. “We have great wines, so why not make a day of exploring the wintery vineyards and tasting wine?”
On the Vine to Wine tour, you’ll glide through the vines on snowshoes, making your way to two wineries and a cidery, which if you’re lucky will be all wrapped in a quiet, magical winter wonderland. The private vineyard trail connects Suttons Bay Ciders, Ciccone Vineyards and bigLITTLE Wines. During the trek, you’ll enjoy tastings and a warm chili or soup lunch overlooking Grand Traverse Bay. The full tour completes a five-and-a-half-mile snowshoeing loop, but there is an option to complete a point-to-point tour that clocks in at three miles with shuttle service back to your car.
Grand Traverse Bike Tours offers its guided Vine to Wine Snowshoe Tour Saturdays starting in late December through early March, depending on the snow. The price is $69 per person, which includes snowshoe rental, three winery stops and a warm, catered lunch; tasting fees are additional. It’s suggested to book a few months early.
Rides by Me Classic Sidecar Tours
Multiple Locations, California
Sidecar tours are popping up across the world, so why not try one in California’s wine country? You can choose to hop into a sidecar in Sonoma, Napa, Monterey/Carmel or the Russian River Valley without ever worrying who will be the designated driver.
“We think [sidecars are] the best way to explore and discover all the best of the wine region. It’s fun and unique,” says Jérôme Ribeiro, founder and owner of Rides by Me Classic Sidecar Tours.
Each six-hour tour is in an open-air, classic sidecar, which makes stops at three wineries for small-group tastings and a gourmet French-style picnic. Every tour is 100% private and customizable, so you can decide where you and your sidecar stop and sip.
Rates for the sidecar tours start at $300 per passenger and include a private guide and driver, helmets with wireless communication, a picnic and weather insurance in case of rain.