The sun sets over the Mediterranean as you lounge aboard the deck of Sea Cloud, a regal four-masted sailing ship. You sip Moscato di Pantellería, a rare Italian dessert wine from an island off the coast of Tunisia known as “The Black Pearl of the Mediterranean.” Soon you will port in Tunis, to explore the exotic souk, visit historic Carthage and sample several up-and-coming Tunisian wines. In the meantime, you're sailing the wine dark seas.
A wine vacation is a great way to get to know a new corner of the world, dining on cuisine de terroir while enjoying local vintages and chatting with affable vineyard owners. Texan Rich Klein, who celebrated a 50th anniversary with his wife by taking a two-week wine vacation in Italy, summed it up, “Wine is the glue that holds the trip together. It makes every day feel like a celebration.”
Wine holidays don't have to involve bus tours or Sideways-style tasting rooms. Many trips afford the opportunity to enjoy not only magnificent landscapes and world-class accommodations, but also great meals and private vineyard tours. We spoke with several luxury wine tour operators from across the globe, as well as experienced wine travel aficionados, to compile this list of 10 amazing wine vacations.
“Wine is the most civilized thing in the world,” wrote Ernest Hemingway. He was right in more ways than one--the cultivation of grapes for fermenting dates back 5,000 years to the birth of civilization between the Tigris and the Euphrates. While the storied vineyards of France, Italy and Spain are still the largest producers of wine, over the last thirty years new-world vintages from the U.S., Australia and Chile have practically become the New Establishment. Recent contenders include South Africa, Argentina, New Zealand, Hungary, and ... Tunisia.
“Tunisia is fascinating, and it’s starting to produce many great wines. But it may not offer the level of comfort to which high-end travelers are accustomed,” said James Horwitz, president of X.O. Travel Consultants and the Sea Cloud trip’s organizer. “Traveling by yacht is the perfect way to pamper yourself while experiencing an off-the-beaten-path destination.”
Those prone to seasickness—or simply short on vacation time—might pass on the Mediterranean yacht tour in favor of a top-notch day trip via private helicopter from Barcelona to Priorat. Home to the most expensive wines in Spain, this remote, mountainous region can be difficult to reach by road. By heli, you’ll arrive in just 45 minutes.
The tour’s first stop is to pick up Carles Pastrana, owner of the Costers del Siurana winery and one of the men attributed with raising the region’s wine production to world-class levels. “Carles is a colorful fellow,” said Genevieve McCarthy, director of Cellar Tours, the Madrid-based travel agency that arranges the tour. “He’s the bête noire of Spanish winemaking.”
Once Pastrana is on board, the group toasts the voyage with a glass of Cava, Spanish sparkling wine. The helicopter then takes a sweeping tour of terraced vineyards and picturesque medieval towns as Pastrana pontificates on the unique characteristics of Priorat wine.
Back on land, guests dine on a six-course meal, including steamed mussels and duck confit with Mediterranean figs. Each dish is accompanied by one of Costers del Siurana’s highly regarded reds, some priced at hundreds of euros per bottle.
For adventure seekers, a wine vacation in South Africa can easily be combined with a safari. Visitors might begin with a stay at Londolozi, one of the world’s most luxurious game lodges, commended for its eco-friendly practices and the best leopard viewing in Africa. Then sample the finest South African cuisine and wines by traveling in deluxe style on the fabled Rovos Rail to Cape Town. “That railway is a moving palace,” says Max Bellune, who made the voyage several years ago.
Cape Town, with its five-star Mount Nelson hotel, makes the ideal home base for day trips to wineries throughout the region. Constantia is the area with the oldest vineyards on the Cape. Enjoy a tour of the renowned Klein Constantia winery, which has been operating since 1689. Taste the sweet vintage-style Vin de Constance, dynamic Chardonnay, and rich Cabernet Sauvignon.
Many travelers prefer not to move around so much on vacation, particularly one that involves imbibing generous amounts of alcohol. No problem—just concentrate on getting to know one small region in depth. For example, X.O. Travel Consultants offers a week in Burgundy, France with Clive Coates, one of the most respected wine experts in the world and former publisher of the fine-wine magazine The Vine.
During this immersion course, guests have the opportunity to taste more than 200 Grand Cru and Première Cru wines of the Burgundy region. Every day, Clive accompanies the intimate group of 10 professionals and amateurs to meet the winemakers at such famous vineyards as Domaine de la Vougeraie, Clos des Lambrays and Domaine Ponsot.
And now that the American Heart Association has officially included wine on its list of heart-friendly foods (when consumed in moderation, admittedly), it’s possible to rationalize a wine vacation as offering more than the satisfaction of your hedonistic urges; you can claim that it’s good for you. Now that’s vin-dication!
View our slideshow to discover more details about each of the wine vacations described above, as well as suggested itineraries for exploring the spectacular scenery and tantalizing whites of New Zealand; the fresh, undiscovered Malbecs of Argentina; the deeply rich Tokajis of Hungary; and more.