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Drinking Out Loud

Where Should You Go?

You're on vacation now. But what about the next one?
Photo by: Jon Moe
British Columbia, South Africa and Western Australia are at the top of Matt Kramer's list.

Matt Kramer
Posted: August 2, 2016

I don't know about you, but when my wife and I are on vacation we always start planning the next destination. So much for "be here now" and all that. Still, that's what we do.

Chances are, you're on vacation at this very moment—or soon will be. So, if you're like us, you may well be wondering, "Where should we go next?" I'm assuming, of course, that you'd like some sort of a "culture of wine" to be part of the trip.

I use that phrase particularly because, well, I think it's boring as hell to make visiting wineries the sole purpose of a trip. I mean, what kind of a vacation is that?

But being in a place that has a "culture of wine" is a whole other thing. It means that, yes, there are wineries to visit if you're so inclined. (One a day is enough, trust me.)

More important, you'll be in a local wine culture every time you dine out. You'll see vineyards. You'll be surrounded by a kind of civilization that's fundamentally different than one devoted to, say, cows or corn. And you'll feel that difference, which is a refreshing thing in itself.

So, where to go next? This question applies as much to me as it might to you. Probably I visit more wine regions each year than many folks. But there absolutely are places that I have not seen that I should (Croatia), or that even though previously visited I should explore in greater depth (Spain, South Africa, Tasmania).

My suggestions? Regular readers will recognize several recommended destinations as reflecting some of my most recent travels, which inevitably pop up in these columns. I wouldn't send you anywhere I haven't been. Equally as important, at least to me, I wouldn't suggest a destination that I don't consider absolutely worth both your time and money.

I am excluding American destinations in the following list for no other reason than that they are already widely known. That said, many American wine regions are terrific vacation destinations—and not just the famous Californian ones, either.

That noted, you might consider fantasizing about the following places:

Canary Islands. A recent column reveals that I am just back from my first-ever trip to the Canary Islands. Was it worth it? You bet it was. A long schlep? Ditto. After all, the seven main islands that make up the Canaries, which are part of Spain, are located off the coast of southern Morocco.

Each island is different; all are volcanic in origin. What's more, each island has different microclimates (often within the same island) thanks to elevation, the effects of the Gulf Stream, whether a site is on one side or the other of a high mountain, and so forth.

Wine abounds on these islands. And it's often really, really good. Most of what you’ll drink is made from ancient grape varieties imported centuries ago from Spain and Portugal. (Shakespeare mentioned "Canary wine" in Twelfth Night and the Merry Wives of Windsor.)

Tourists abound on the islands too. Just stay away from the big resort hotels, and you'll be in another (more serene) world.

Bottom line: Once you're in Europe, you can grab cheap flights to the Canaries. And there are numerous inexpensive inter-island flights once you're there. Many of the locals speak English and often German.

Ontario (for the East Coasters) and British Columbia (for the West Coasters). I've said it before and, to be blunt, I'll keep saying it: Canada remains one of the world's great off-the-radar wine destinations. And no, it's not all about ice wine. Really, the great majority of wine from Ontario (which does create the icy stuff) is table wine. You'll be amazed at, especially, Ontario Chardonnay. It's superb.

British Columbia, for its part, is another wine region entirely, as it's not just western, but also situated in dry, east-of-the-mountains West Coast (think Washington state). Yet its numerous and various wines (including some superb Syrahs) are different from those of Washington, despite the superficial similarities. Also, the main B.C. wine area is about 100 miles long. It holds at least three and likely five subdistricts which are still sorting themselves out.

Bottom line: Both these Canadian destinations see a lot of tourists, so there are all sorts of winery welcomes, as well as good restaurants. And after tasting their best wines you will wonder, as I do, why their wines aren't sent south of the border.

Margaret River, Australia. Now, I realize that the Margaret River area, which is a three-hour drive south of Perth, is hardly on the way to, well, anywhere. But the scenery! This is "unexplored Australia." First, the wines: They are stunning. I promise you some of the most rewarding Chardonnays you'll find anywhere, as well as Cabernet blends that can rival—and I'm not exaggerating here—some of Bordeaux's best.

Once you're done with the wine thing, you want to head farther south and see the Karri forests about an hour south of the town of Margaret River. Karri trees are a type of eucalyptus of towering height with gray trunks, which in these dense forests creates a ghostly feel unlike that of any other forest I've ever visited.

South Africa. This one is simple: Go! Anywhere and everywhere. Of course visit the famous Stellenbosch wine region an hour's drive outside of Cape Town. But there are many more wine regions elsewhere as well, a number of which I myself have yet to visit.

And what about the famous safaris? You bet. I've now done several such safaris and my advice is that, if you can, you should do one of the guided walks in Kruger National Park.

The vast Kruger Park (it's about the size of New Jersey) is divided into very large zones, and only eight guests accompanied by a ranger and a tracker (both armed) occupy each zone. You camp in a permanent campsite, and the food served is pretty tasty, too. (You can bring your own wine, as we did.)

Seeing the animals this way—you hike out early in the morning and in the early evening—is like no conventional safari. And it's amazingly inexpensive.

Salta, Argentina. By all means go to Mendoza, where most of Argentina's wineries are located. But you don't want to miss the Salta region in northwest Argentina. It's more remote and almost wild compared with the Mendoza region. And the wines are like no others in Argentina. You really feel like you're barely within the confines of civilization in the Salta area, where the vineyards start at 5,000 feet and can reach an astonishing 10,000 feet in elevation.

I could go on easily with yet other possible destinations, but this is a start. More to the point, where do you suggest we go? After all, I'm hardly the only wine lover who thirsts for new "wine civilized" destinations.

What's your next trip, and where should the rest of us go that you've already been?

Mike Olszewski
Newcastle, WA —  August 2, 2016 10:08pm ET
Matt,

You may not want to say it but I will, it could be “your” backyard. Just returned from a wonderful weekend in the Willamette Valley. The attraction was the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC), which was celebrating its 30th Anniversary. This event gets better every year and the wines we tasted from around the world were matchless, all assembled at one location. What’s great is the wines and winemakers come to you and not the reverse. Wineries from France, Oregon, California, New Zealand, Australia (even one from Tasmania), Germany and also Canada, Michigan, Virginia were showcasing their best for us to enjoy. The point of all of this is to suggest that you do not need to get on an airplane and fly to some distant spot to have a phenomenal wine experience. The fun is closer than you think. Congrats to the IPNC team. They do a terrific job every year. This event should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Andre Belotto
Los Angeles, CA —  August 11, 2016 7:35pm ET
Rio is making the news for Brasil right now, but my wife and I don't care about the Olympics. In June 2016, I took my wife to visit my elderly parents in Southern Brasil's Rio Grande do Sul state, and we went on a short three day tour of that state's "Napa Valley", the Vale dos Vinhedos. In this valley, we enjoyed driving around a beautiful hilly and forestry environment with vineyards surrounded by ranches and livestock. The nicely maintained dirt roads that takes you into the area and the vineyards. Most of the vineyards are run by decendants of Italian immigrants who arrived in the area in the early 1800s.

My ancestors arrived here in 1801 from the Veneto region of Italy. We visited small vineyards like Torcello, which produces 10,000 to 12,000 bottles a year, divided among Merlot, Cabernet Sauvingon, and Tannat varieties. Other wineries reflect their roots, with names like Cavalleri, Terragnolo, Miolo, Valduga, and Tasca. Everywhere we went, from the established large operations to the small one room barn operations, we were met with genuine hospitality, and an immense interest in explaining their wines and showing us around. We stayed in a great hotel in nearby Bento Goncalves, and spend the days driving around the valley visiting wineries and wine tasting. This is magical place that was devoid of tourist buses and crowds while we were there.

In town in the evenings we enjoyed great local cuisine, which consists of local cheeses, game meats, beef, and chicken dishes. We complimented our dinners with the local wines, and were amazed at how inexpensive food and wine was at the restaurants. Our most expensive meal was filet mignon medallions in a balsamic wine reduction, roasted potatoes, mixed salad, desert, a bottle of 2013 Aurora Tannat, and after dinner drinks for $60. Wines at resturants average between $12-18 a bottle.

So, yes, everyone wants to go to France, Italy, Germany, South Africa and places like Napa Valley to enjoy wines. But there are many undiscovered wine areas in the world that welcome visitors with an unusual experience in a very economical way. We can't wait to return to Vale dos Vinhedos.
Matilde Parente
Indian Wells, Calif. —  August 23, 2016 6:00pm ET
Up next, Valle de Guadalupe, for the food as much as the wines.

Worth visiting: beautiful Southern Oregon, notably Abacela.

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