For a very long time, the only wines that were taken seriously were those that came out of Europe. These were the “Old World” countries, where there was a long history of winemaking – mainly countries like France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Portugal. The Middle East has also had its own history of winemaking, but this was a relatively older phenomenon; in more recent history, wine has not had the same kind of cultural importance there as it did in Europe.However, in the latter half of the 20th century, wine from other parts of the world started to not only get more attention, but also began to be taken seriously by drinkers and experts, at least partly because of an improvement in the quality of the wine produced in places like Argentina, Chile, the United States, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. In addition, Canada, Mexico, and Peru have started producing some high-quality, world class wines in the last few decades. Most recently, a few Asian countries (notably India and China) have developed their own vineyards, and there have been a few award-winners from here too.
Clearly, winemaking is now a worldwide phenomenon, and wherever you live in the world, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to find a local wine that’s at least decent, and perhaps even visit a local vineyard. Here are some of the best vineyards around the world.
Château La Villatade – Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Located in the south of France, the Languedoc-Roussillon region has been an important winemaking region for many centuries, although its wines weren’t taken too seriously outside the country until a few decades ago. Today, the Languedoc-Roussillon region is estimated to have three times the area of vineyards that Bordeaux has. The Château La Villatade estate is an ancient farmhouse property of 127 acres, of which around 22 hectares is vineyards, with an amazing view of the Minervois plains, right up to the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. There’s accommodation available on the property, for those who want to stay a while – a small, stylish apartment, as well as a larger, more rustic cottage, both of which are self-catered. You can spend hours wandering around the property on your own, exploring the charming little kitchen garden, the pine groves, the caves, the trout pond, and of course the vineyards and the tasting room.
Castello di Ama – Tuscany, Italy
The vineyards of Castello di Ama are part of a large estate containing a 12th-century castle and a more recent Tuscan villa that houses a restaurant where you can try the wines along with some delicious food. Tuscany is of course famous for its wines, particularly Chianti (it’s often known by the affectionate nickname “Chiantishire”), and the little hamlet of Ama was a major winemaking hub around five centuries ago. However, the estate subsequently fell into a state of disrepair, until it was bought and restored by a group of families that were passionate about wine and fell in love with the place. Since then, Castello di Ama has turned into one of the best Tuscan wineries, with numerous awards, including Best Winery of the Year, by the Gambero Rosso wine guide. Visiting the vineyards is an unforgettable experience, especially because Ama itself is so charming, with its chapels, villas, and gardens.
Codorníu – Penedés, Spain
The Penedés region has been producing wine since ancient times, and now, in addition to some of the best still wines in the world, also produces sparkling wines that arguably pose the only challenge to the original French champagne. In fact, the owner of Codorníu was responsible for producing the first sparkling wine in Spain. Codorníu still produces among the best cava (Spanish sparkling wine made using the traditional champenoise method) in the world, and has huge, beautiful vineyards. The winery’s property includes the imposing Modernist architecture of the main building and a labyrinth of underground wine cellars.
Weingut Bercher – Kaiserstuhl, Germany
Bercher is a family-run winery that has been around for 300 years, and is now being run by the 10th generation of winemakers. The land and the climate are ideal for Pinot wines, which is what Bercher is famous for, especially some excellent Pinot Noirs (Spätburgunders). The Bercher wine estate is home to a beautiful 18th-century house, 24 hectares of vineyards, massive wine cellars of course, as well as orchards of cherries, pears, and quinces, which are used in their distilled spirits. The Bercher distillery also produces some excellent brandy as one of the by-products of the winemaking process.
Quinta do Vallado – Douro Valley, Portugal
The Douro Valley is one of the oldest demarcated wine regions in the world, and is also considered the home of port wine. In fact, the winegrowing parts of the valley have even been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Quinta do Vallado (a “quinta” is essentially a wine estate) is one of the oldest and most well known estates in the region, and although it has been producing excellent grapes and port wine for nearly 200 years, started bottling under its own label relatively recently, in the early 1990s. The estate today is a beautiful mix of the old and the new – 70 acres of 200-year-old vineyards sit on the banks of the Corgo river, tended to using modern techniques, and with a modern, state of the art winery and tourist center. In addition to taking a tour of the vineyards, the winery, and the cellar, visitors can also take a cruise down the river, soaking in the sight of the surrounding vineyards from a rather unusual perspective.
Ruca Malen – Mendoza, Argentina
There are several regions in Argentina that are known for producing great wine, but Mendoza, which is sometimes described as Argentina’s Napa Valley, is probably the largest and most diverse, and has some of the country’s best vineyards and wineries. It’s also visually gorgeous, with the majestic Andes Mountains always in the background. Ruca Malen is one of the many wine estates in Mendoza where you can soak in all the pleasures of Argentina’s wine country – stunning views of the vineyards and the mountains, a tour of the winery and an introduction to the winemaking process, an exquisite five-course meal – paired with appropriate wines of course – right in the middle of the vineyards, and, for those who are interested, a hands-on class in wine blending too.
Viña Aquitania – Santiago, Chile
Santiago is of course Chile’s capital city, and also the largest city in the country, making it a strange place to find a vineyard. However, the outskirts of Santiago is where you’ll find Viña Aquitania, a winery that Lonely Planet has described as “Santiago’s most interesting”. You can actually reach Viña Aquitania by Santiago’s metro, and from the vineyard, you can see the city in one direction and the Andes in the other, making for a rather surreal experience. This is a small, relatively young winery – 18 hectares of land and only a few decades old – with a focus on creating only a handful of unique, distinctive wines of extremely high quality. Tours begin at the winery itself, followed by a look at the vineyard, and then the wine cellar, the barrel room, and other areas of the production facility, finally wrapping up with a delightful tasting session. Viña Aquitania has another vineyard further south, in the Malleco Valley, which is also stunningly beautiful and creates some amazing wines, but the Maipo Valley vineyard is much more easily accessible.
Bien Nacido Vineyards – California, United States of America
This is one of the oldest vineyards in the country, with roots going back nearly 200 years, although the land has changed hands and names over that time, and was not entirely dedicated to growing grapes until relatively recently. Located in the Santa Maria Valley on the central coast of California, Bien Nacido Vineyards has more than 800 acres of land, of which the majority is dedicated to growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. In addition, the vineyard has smaller plots dedicated to other varieties, including Pinot Blanc, Merlot, and several experimental or clone varieties. Customers of Bien Nacido include some of the region’s best and most highly reputed winemakers, such as Au Bon Climat and Qupe, with many of the relationships going back decades. Wineries typically have their own rows in the vineyard, and some of these have remained the same for over 20 years.
Rust en Vrede – Stellenbosch, South Africa
The Stellenbosch area is part of South Africa’s largest wine-growing region, and most of the vineyards in the valleys here have been around for over 300 years. Rust en Vrede is one of these old vineyards, although the family currently running the winery and estate took over relatively recently in its history, only in 1978. The vineyards are located on the lower slopes of Helderberg Mountain, with spectacular views of the surrounding landscape in every direction. The winery is known for its robust, full-bodied red wines, which are what they specialize in, and which, apparently, are the wines that Nelson Mandela chose to serve at his Nobel Peace Prize dinner. Rust en Vrede is now probably better known for its restaurant, but its exceptionally full, rich wines too are reputed to be among the best in the country. There is of course a tasting room at the estate, which is bright, elegant, and beautiful, but for the full experience, you should probably get a meal with wine at the Rust en Vrede restaurant.
Rippon Vineyard & Winery – Central Otago, New Zealand
New Zealand is famous for its natural beauty, particularly its unique and spectacular landscapes, so it’s no surprise that the vineyards here are also incredibly beautiful and often unusual. Rippon Vineyard & Winery is located in Central Otago, which is said to be the southernmost wine-growing region in the world and the only part of New Zealand with a continental climate. The vineyards are located next to Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps, making for a truly dazzling view across the vines to the water and the mountains, with the protective and beautiful Ruby Island in the middle of the lake.
Rippon cultivates their vineyards based strictly on the principles of biodynamic agriculture, which, apart from many other things, means eschewing modern fertilizers and pesticides as well as many modern farming techniques and technologies. Biodynamics is often described as a confused pseudoscience, a return to alchemy or magic spells; but if what you’re interested in is the wines, Rippon makes some of the best in the country. In particular, the winery is famous for its pinot noirs and rieslings.
Leeuwin Estate – Margaret River, Australia
Australia’s Margaret River wine region is one of the country’s most well known, and although most wineries here are boutique operations producing small quantities of wine that make up barely three percent of the country’s total, in terms of the premium wine market Margaret River wine makes up more than 20 percent of the total. Leeuwin is one of the most well known estates in the region, and is also very diversified, with a variety of art and cultural events taking place on the premises through the year.
In addition to the 121 acres of vineyards, the winery, and the cellars, the estate is home to an excellent, award-winning restaurant that has been described as the best in the region, as well as an art gallery that contains works by the country’s best contemporary artists. There are also cooking classes, wine tastings, wine dinners, and various celebrations at the Leeuwin Estate, but the biggest and most well known event is probably the Leeuwin Estate Concert Series. These annual concerts feature the best of local and international performers, and have been going on since 1985, when the London Philharmonic played here. This year’s concert, which takes place on February 27th, features Chris Isaak.