Sommelier Roundtable: What's Your Favorite Wine (or Food) Region to Visit?

From the Finger Lakes to Santa Barbara to Southeast Asia, here's where 8 somms and chefs find charm, beauty and palate inspiration

Sommelier Roundtable: What's Your Favorite Wine (or Food) Region to Visit?
Harvest season, with its excitement and festivals, can be the best time to visit a new region ... (iStockPhoto)
Aug 23, 2019

Working in a restaurant wine cellar or kitchen is not always a picnic, but one undeniable perk is the chance to experience some of the best wine and food in the world, right in the locales where it's made. But wine travel is one of the great joys for any wine lover, professional or not.

We asked eight wine and dining pros from Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winners which places have a special pull on their hearts and palates. From New Zealand to Napa—why not pack your bags and follow?


Wine Spectator: What's your favorite wine (or food) region to visit?


Carrie Lyn Strong, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Casa Lever in New York

With my affection for bubbles, one would think my favorite region to visit would be Champagne. But it's not. I love visiting Napa and Sonoma. Wine people from Napa and Sonoma are just about the most hospitable, warm, enjoyable people in the world. I prefer lighter styles of their wine, however. But I love going to Napa to visit friends from the Hill Family Estate, Rudd Estate, Chateau Montelena or Robert Sinskey Vineyards and amazing winemakers like Celia Welch, or heading over to Sonoma to visit with Clay Mauritson at Mauritson Wines. Every time I go to Napa and Sonoma, I meet new wine people and always have an amazing, delicious and fun time.


Wendy Heilmann, wine director at Pebble Beach Resorts and its three Best of Award of Excellence winners, in Pebble Beach, Calif.

That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child, but I haven’t finished having children yet! I have seen too little of the world as of yet, so I’m sure there will be more amazing wine journeys in my future. I’ve been very fortunate to have drama-free, lovely experiences everywhere I’ve traveled. However, I would say that New Zealand has been my favorite destination thus far. I traveled from Auckland to Central Otago, and tip to tip, and enjoyed every moment. Friendly people, delicious cuisine, diverse growing regions—and the most amazing view of the Milky Way I have ever seen (Felton Road under a new moon).


Lucile Plaza, executive chef at Award of Excellence winner Le Coq Rico in New York

I love visiting Castile and León in Spain, where my grandparents are from. It’s a beautiful mountainous region located a few hours from Madrid in northwest Spain. Spain is known for Ibérico ham and chorizo, and if you want the most authentic taste of this particular region, you should eat the roasted lamb or suckling pig. Pair it with a beautiful Ribera del Duero, which reminds me a lot of Bordeaux and is the perfect accompaniment to a rich, hearty piece of roasted meat.


Andrew Pattison, sommelier at Award of Excellence winner Sushi Note in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

My favorite region to visit is Santa Barbara for two reasons: the proximity and diversity. A mere two-hour drive from Los Angeles, Santa Barbara offers something for everyone. Regardless of your price range or stylistic preference, the region offers everything from a relaxed beach getaway with tastings in the city's Funk Zone to a deep dive with some of the most exciting winemakers in Sta. Rita Hills, Lompoc, Santa Maria and everywhere in between. The region's unique climatic features, number of winemakers experimenting with different varietals, terrific hospitality and the beauty of the landscape keep me coming back.


Nicole Cheon, head sommelier at Best of Award of Excellence winner Hakkasan New York

Finger Lakes, New York: Beautiful nature, the wonderful people and outstanding wines keep bringing me back to the region to explore more.


Chantel Dartnall, chef at Grand Award winner Restaurant Mosaic in Pretoria, South Africa

The Far East has always been a very fascinating and exotic destination for me, and I left my heart in the Far East very early in my life. I created a dish we call “The Flavors of Indochine,” combining flavors of red coconut curry, ginger, influences of Cambodia, Vietnam and then Thailand—all those elements into one dish.


Robin Puricelli, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Lido at Dolphin Bay in Pismo Beach, Calif.

I am totally drawn to the Santa Cruz Mountains—the wilderness, the dramatic topography and the stunning wines. I’ve been fortunate to be able to make a trip up to the top of the mountains to visit icons like Mount Eden and Ridge, and some smaller sites like Thomas Fogarty and Alfaro Family. It’s not the easiest region to navigate, but if you can brave it it’s totally worth it!


Catherine DiGennaro, sommelier at Best of Award of Excellence winner Jungsik in New York

Burgundy, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the Etna region have all been amazing to visit, but I'll always have a place in my heart for Bolgheri in the Maremma region of Tuscany. As a relatively young wine region, it's exciting to explore and discover the new winemaking projects popping up every year. You can't beat the view of the olive groves and vines overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea and the winding roads lined with towering cypress trees. I highly recommend exploring the small medieval hillside towns of Castagneto Carducci, Bolgheri and Bibbona, which are all charming, with incredible food, and host frequent festivals. The Etruscan Coast is full of history, beautiful seaside towns, excellent wine, and it's a convenient train ride away from Pisa or Florence, with far fewer tourists, to boot.


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