When it comes to impressive wines, incredible views, coveted cuisine and hospitable service, wine lovers needn't search too hard to find the world's best vinous destinations, writes Adele Thurlow.


Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux, is an especially beautiful little town renowned as much for its buildings, cobbled streets and scenery as its diverse wine. It was here that the history of viticulture began, during Roman colonisation, and developed over 2000 years to give Saint-Emilion wine a huge reputation worldwide and classification as a Unesco World Heritage site. Inland, Meursault, Burgundy, is an equally picturesque medieval village with some of the world's greatest chardonnays.

The Loire Valley is also a fabulous place for a wine visitor. The wines are less famous than other French regions but it's a particularly beautiful area with interesting tuffeau (limestone) caves around Saumur, housing sparkling wine cellars, cider and mushroom producers. At Bouvet-Ladubay you can follow an 8km underground cycle trail beneath the estate where the troglodyte tunnels are more than 1000 years old.


Greece is not to be missed. The cooler regions, such as Greek Macedonia, are akin to Central Otago, with red wine dominating production. Just 150km away are the starkly different coastal Thessaloniki vineyards where a visit to Gerovassiliou, with its ultra-modern winemaking technology, is an absolute must for its utterly beautiful location, award-winning wines and excellent wine museum.

On the island of Santorini, 200km from the mainland, the volcanic soil vineyards are unlike anything else in the world. The century-old vines have been trained into baskets for protection from the harsh summer elements and to capture moisture from the air. At the local Santo Wines co-op, wine tasting and dining is on a clifftop terrace overlooking the dazzling Santorini caldera; Siglalas and Hatzidakis are not-to-be-missed producers. Less than 10km away is the Santorini Brewing Company, which uses hops all the way from Nelson - the beer is great!


There is much more depth and history to Australian wines than commonly thought, along with some extraordinary styles not found anywhere else in the world.

Hunter Valley, an easy drive from Sydney, is regarded by wine experts as the world's best Semillon region. It's extremely well set up for wine tourism with tour transport ranging from bus to bike, helicopter to horse-drawn carriage.

Another region that knows a thing or two about wine tourism is Rutherglen - Victoria's original wine destination. Here, the quality and variety of the local fortified wine is every bit as good as the area's cuisine, accommodation and hospitality. The wines are produced in limited quantity and are classified using a four-tier system peaking with "Grand" and "Rare" muscats which are rich, luscious and viscous.

McLaren Vale in South Australia is a long-standing favourite among wine lovers for its internationally renowned red wine, particularly the intensely flavoured shiraz. At d'Arenberg, the Blending Bench experience allows visitors to play winemaker, and the boundary-pushing $13 million d'Arenberg Cube - housing tasting rooms, bars, and a high-end restaurant - is due to open later this year. Nearby, a classic Aussie pub, the Victory Hotel, features an unexpected and astonishing cellar housing more than 8000 bottles from around the world.

Napa Valley in California is, unsurprisingly, the home of Disneyland-like wineries. The region is California's second most popular tourist destination (behind Disneyland, obviously), with around 500 producers. One of the more lavish establishments is Domaine Carneros, founded by the French family behind Champagne Taittinger and modelled on the family's 18th century chateau. Its distinctive sparkling wines are best sampled with caviar in a private suite overlooking the vineyards. If this doesn't leave you feeling suitably well- heeled, join the A-list of Californian philanthropists at the annual Auction Napa Valley. This four-day charity wine event features fancy dinners, bidding frenzies and, unsurprisingly, a river of wine. This year's event raised more than $21 million, with six-figure bids offered for world trips on private jets.

Domaine Carneros, founded by the French family behind Champagne Taittinger, Napa Valley, California. Photo / 123RF
Domaine Carneros, founded by the French family behind Champagne Taittinger, Napa Valley, California. Photo / 123RF


Locally, we're spoilt for choice. Hawke's Bay is home to a substantial wine trail and some of our more impressive wineries, such as Craggy Range and Elephant Hill. Black Barn in Havelock North is a boutique vineyard with limited release wines available at the cellar door, in the bistro or in one of their luxury retreats predominantly dotted along the beautiful Tukituki River. In summer, Black Barn hosts an elegantly rustic growers' market where the best of Hawke's Bay's produce and artisan goods are snapped up by Saturday shoppers.

In the South Island, sprawling Marlborough has big names and well set-up tasting rooms at the likes of Cloudy Bay and Brancott Estate, but there are excellent smaller producers too such as Seresin, Te Whare Ra and Clos Henri. A relatively new treasure amid the vines is Arbour - a two-year-old restaurant wowing foodies and taking titles in both food and business awards.

And then there's Central Otago with its spectacular landscape saturated by world-class wineries. Amisfield, Gibbston Valley, Mt Difficulty, Wooing Tree and Peregrine are all well-known crowd-pleasers, but smaller producers such as Rippon and Maude in Wanaka, and Mt Edward in Gibbston are achieving at impressive levels too.

The wealthy hilltop town of Montalcino, Italy, offers stunning views over the valleys of Tuscany with equally impressive wines. It's here one of Italy's most prestigious wines, Brunello di Montalcino, is produced at the world's second oldest winery - Barone Ricasoli in the medieval Brolio Castle.

In contrast, the trendy islands of Sicily, Corsica and Sardinia are the destinations of choice for stylish travellers seeking intensely flavoured local wines and rustic culture.

The vines in Germany's Moselle Valley, planted on vertiginous granite slopes above the Moselle River, create the world's best riesling. The Moselle Wine Route stretches for 243km through this romantic landscape and is flanked by internationally acclaimed winegrowing villages, breathtaking vineyards, castles, and palaces. You can opt to bike or hike the route, though a boat cruise is an easy choice, especially during the region's annual wine festivals.

Thank you to Emma Jenkins MW who shared her vast knowledge of wine regions for this article.