Five great wine destinations to visit

The winelands make great destinations ... EVERYWHERE!

I’m very fortunate in that my work involves travel, writes Gregory Dal Piaz. Well, that’s not the fortunate part, the fortunate part is that my work involves travel to places that are conducive to growing vines. Those happen to be some pretty spectacular places. However, the longer I do this the more difficult it becomes to reconcile where I want to visit with where I have to visit, not that I am complaining!

Sitting here planning out my travel for 2014 gets me to daydreaming about some of the great visits of the past, and thinking about how to incorporate them into my upcoming travel schedule. Now, while I may or may not be able to fit them all in, I certainly wish I could, so allow me to share some of my dream destinations with you all. perhaps if I can’t get there in 2014, I can motivate some of you to start making plans!


Walla Walla, Washington State

I just left Walla Walla, literally, and I'm already thinking of how to get back there. Once you deal with the fact that it is not easy to get to, you can reconcile the effort with the ease of visiting within the region. Stay downtown at the Marcus Whitman Hotel and spend a day just walking from tasting room to tasting room. You could probably spend two days just doing that, and dining at the myriad restaurants of note in town, but then there's so much more to do.

Spend a day at the airport and hit all the wineries there, or go to the south side of town and taste through the cluster of wineries around Pepper Bridge. But the ease of tasting isn't the only reason to come to Walla Walla, the wine are exciting and there's some impressive variety on offer from wonderful Cabs, Merlot and Syrah to surprisingly delicious Carignan, Riesling, and even some Tempranillo and Grenache.


Two must visit wineries:

Seven Hills in town for classic expression of Bordeaux varieties.

Gramercy Cellars on the edge of town for some of the best Rhone styled Syrah.




Yes, it's the most over recommended place in winedom. Yes, it's filled with wineries that have adopted a Napa-esque approach to wine tourism, but with so many people coming to visit, that's probably a necessity. But let us consider why that is. Why so many people visit the Tuscan wine region. For starters, it's because it's in Italy, a land so rich with cultural, natural and gastronomic pleasures that wine lover and wine novice alike can have a fabulous time there. But also because it remains one of the greatest regions for wine in the world.

Packed with great offerings priced from well under $10 to well over $100, it's one wine region that holds appeal for all drinkers, and again there's that whole being in Tuscany thing. Seriously, it's easy to diss Tuscany, but you'd be a fool to do so. Maybe go in the off season, the autumn is particularly gorgeous when the rolling hills are tinged with the golden hued colors of fall. The wines still taste great, and the food even better than if enjoyed under the often quite strong Tuscan sun.


Two must visit wineries:

Castellare in Castellina for some of the most exciting terroir driven wines.

Montevertine in Radda for some of the purest expressions of Sangiovese.




If you’re looking for a road less travelled but still appreciate the finer things in life, consider Portugal. A relatively small country with a wide variety of terrain that is relatively easy to navigate, Portugal remains on the fringes as a wine destination, but it’s not for lack of great wine. In fact, the country offers great food, accommodations, sightseeing opportunities and cultural attractions, plus a compelling range of fabulous wines, and all at very fair prices to boot!

You can fly into Porto and out of Lisbon, travelling throughout the country in between and have a great week of exploring new wine regions. The distribution of Portuguese wines in the USA has been notoriously spotty, with the exception of the Port houses of course. Now that Port houses have begun to distribute their own table wines as well things are getting better, as are the wines, but there remains a lot to be discovered by paying them a visit.

Two must visit wineries:

Not a winery per se, but a hotel with its own wine. The Buçaco Palace Hotel is a grand hotel that has seen better times but staying there gives one a taste of of how life once was.

Since we’re talking about accommodation, you might also want to check out the Quinta do Vallado. A gorgeous new hotel compliments a set of fabulous wines all located at the gateway to the Douro wine region.


Trentino Alto-Adige, Northern Italy


Or should I write Sud-Tyrol? These two distinct regions, linked by politics, offer one of the most fascinating trips down memory lane that I’m aware of. Ignoring for the moment the incredible wines produced in both regions, the region is worth a visit simply for the stunning cultural, natural and archeological treasures they contain. Travel within the joined regions is awesomely simple. Just hop on a train to experience all the Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance architecture of the region. And then there are those mountain vistas - breathtaking!

As far as wines go, the two regions are quite distinct with world famous Co-ops dominating the landscape in the Sud Tyrol, each producing myriad varieties at multiple price points. In Trentino you’ll find a few very familiar names, plus a number of smaller players struggling to establish their own identity.  Disclaimer: It’s also where my family is from.

Two must visit wineries:

I’m going to cheat and include two for each region.

Girlan in the Sud Tyrol produces the greatest expression of Schiava extant and as such is required visiting for those who want to learn about the wines of the region.


Lagrein is the great red of the Sud Tyrol and no one does it better than Muri Gries with their Abtei Riserva.

Zeni is producing some wonderfully compelling Teroldego but like Girlan also produces an obscure little wine, from Rossara, that should not be missed.

San Leonardo at the far south of Trentino sits like an island in more ways than one. Producing wines based on Bordeaux varieties, their flagship wine is a blend that  remains one of the great Bordeaux style wines produced today. Their hamlet is also stunningly beautiful.

South Africa



Finally, I’m going to talk about where I want to go, but have yet to visit. No region captures my imagine like South Africa does. The wines, time and time again, really talk to me of a variety, a time and a place. They are in my wheelhouse so often that frankly I’m surprised that I have yet to visit, but it’s a big deal to head down to South Africa. A visit that deserves more than the week I can usually allocate for these sorts of things.

Still, the visions of Table Mountain behind Cape Town, and the gorgeous vistas of Franschhoek that I’ve seen leave me itching to go. Of course, as soon as I finish my first visit to South Africa’s wine country I’ll probably be planning for my return visit, so I’d have to make round one count. Planning the winery visits would be a painstaking affair, looking to blend the new and the established. Where would I start?

Two must visit wineries:

Adi Badenhorst represents the new in South Africa, though taking advantage of great 50 year old bush vines. I’ve been smitten by both his white and red blends and wouldn’t miss the chance of kicking the dirt in his old vineyards.

Rust en Vrede is one of South Africa’s historic wineries, though they lack the continuity of some others their wines today are as compelling as one is able to find and highlight the beauty of South Africa’s reds based on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

(Source: SNOOTH)