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Top 10 wine regions

The harvest season is here for many of the world’s viticultural centers, tempting visitors to tastings of tried-and-true vintages and more innovative wines.
Tuscany is a sight to behold all year long, but oenophiles should visit during harvest season.
Tuscany is a sight to behold all year long, but oenophiles should visit during harvest season.Dan Bannister
/ Source: Sherman's Travel

The harvest season is here for many of the world’s viticultural centers, tempting visitors to tastings of tried-and-true vintages and more innovative wines. Our to visit at this time of year range from the classic castle-country of France’s scenic Loire Valley and the sun-kissed vineyards of Tuscany, to the Western US, where America’s marvelous wines emerge from soils stretching from California to Oregon. But we're also keen on lesser-known wine-producing areas, like Canada’s Niagara region, which touts scenic wonders and icewine to boot, and European centers that specialize in sherry and port. Even if you're too late to catch this year's bounty, you can plan ahead for a visit to three top grape-growing destinations in the Southern Hemisphere, whose coveted harvest season will spring forth when our northerly winter ends.

With more vineyard acreage than anywhere in the world, this south-western Spanish province produces an array of fine wines but is most renowned for its dry to sweet amber sherry. Most tours in the region start off in Seville and head to Jerez de Frontera (the sherry capital of the world) where you’ll learn the ins and outs of wine making and how varietals like vinegar and Jerez brandy are produced, and, of course, get to taste some quality selections.

The Cape’s striking wine country, just 45 minutes northeast of Cape Town, in South Africa, is the seventh-largest wine-producing region in the world, comprising some 417 square miles of vineyards. In addition to world-class wineries such as the Bergkelder, famous for its subterranean “cellar in the mountain,” you can indulge your palate at world-class restaurants like Bosmans at the Grand Roche Hotel, in Paarl.

The largest wine-producing area in the US, wine-tasting tourism in California has exploded in recent years, having been particularly bolstered by the release of the popular film Sideways (2004), which showcased the state's Santa Barbara wineries. The appeal is obvious – small, family-owned, boutique wineries are neatly tucked away in the scenic rolling vineyards – discovered only by curious visitors who come for sampling of their sublimely flavored vintages.

As harvest season unfolds in the northern hemisphere, spring is in full swing Down Under – marking the start of a new winemaking season in these spectacular rolling vineyards just two-hours north of Sydney. Thriving with first-rate vintages and over 60 wineries, this South Wales valley offers a fantastic spread of shops and restaurants, many of them overlooking verdant vineyards, to make it one of the most attractive and visited wine regions in Australia.

Arguably the most beautiful wine region in the world, the famed fertile valley of the sinuous Loire River is a place seeped in a rich history, where regal chateaux meet a long viticultural tradition. While the Loire’s numerous vineyards are most famous for their production of white wine (accounting for 75% of the wine produced here) such as Sauvignon Blanc,Muscadet, and Chenin Blanc, some delightful, fruity and pleasant reds such as Cabernet Franc can be enjoyed here, as well.

In addition to flourishing vineyards nestled in the foothills of the snow-capped Andes (the highest peak on the South American continent), this Argentine region also touts nature reserves, alpine ski resorts, and a picturesque city. Various bodegas offer free tours and tastings all year long, while the annual harvest festival, Vendimia, kicks off in January and brings folkloric celebrations, grape-blessing ceremonies, and plenty of other merry events.

Moderate temperatures and rich soils allow dozens of wineries in Southern Ontario (Canada) to turn out an excellent variety of vinefera grape harvests each year, from Chardonnay to Riesling to Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. But the region’s biggest claim to fame is its icewine, a delicious, intensely flavored wine created from grapes harvested after the first winter frost – the area is one of the only wine-producing regions in the world to produce the coveted product with such consistency and quality.

Many speculate that, if it weren’t for the state’s more longstanding stint with Prohibition, Oregon today would be the de facto forerunner in the US wine-producing industry. As it is, the state currently lays claim to the third-greatest number of wineries of any state, and turns out more than 40 varieties including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, and Syrah. The Willamette Valley is its thriving center (and the largest region), luring connoisseurs with its internationally acclaimed Pinot Noir and plethora of charming wineries that occupy some 100 scenic miles between Portland and Eugene.

Porto’s biggest claim to fame is the sweet fortified wine that bears its name and which has been aged here for centuries, in nearby Vila Nova de Gaia, where 50+ port traditional port lodges offer samplings and tours. Set aside an afternoon for some sampling of the renowned Sandeman label’s wares – the distillery was founded back in 1790 and housed in a former convent – or, for a less touristy experience, head to Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman, a wonderfully atmospheric lodge that’s been around since 1692 and features some top-notch vintage brands.

For a romantic rendezvous or an enlightening vineyard tour, Italy’s best-known wine region is divine, especially during the autumn harvest season when you can really get in on the grape-stomping action and taste the fruits of your labor. Tuscany’s highlight is no doubt Chianti, the source of the country’s most famous wine, which is decked out in gothic bastions, olive groves, and 10,000 acres of sprawling vineyards in the shadow of protective mountains.

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