The U.S. is the second biggest consumer of wine, behind — you guessed it! — France. But enotourism, travel centered on wine, is an American invention that started in the 1970s with the Napa Valley marketing itself as a wine connoisseurs’ dream destination.
As other wine-producing nations caught on, enotourism has boomed: As many as 27 million U.S. travellers partake in wine-related travel each year.
As with any trendy destination or activity, the “money is no object” mindset is common in enotourism. But who says you can’t drink great wine in a fantastic vacation spot at a reasonable cost?
With that in mind, we found 10 amazing trips that will thrill any budget-conscious oenophile.
1. Taste All of France Without Leaving Paris
France is mecca for oenophiles, producing some 7 to 8 billion bottles of wine each year. But a tasting trip of France’s many, many wine regions is out of reach except for the wealthiest travellers.
But here’s an idea for oenophiles on a budget: Head to Paris and take a “virtual” tasting trip across the major wine regions of France. Just minutes from the Louvre, you can take the two-hour “tour de French wines” for under $US100.
A private sommelier will take you through a tasting tour of seven regional French wines, explaining how the differences in climate, grape varieties and winemaking produce unique qualities in each. You’ll master the art of wine tasting — and may even impress your friends with your fluency using terms like terroir and appellation, as you learn how to read a French wine label.2. Become A Champagne Expert In Reims
Perhaps the mystique of Champagne has a hold on your heart. Then we recommend that you head to Reims, about an hour’s drive east of Paris. The most populous city in the province of Champagne, ancient Reims has a noteworthy role in history: For centuries its Cathedral was the venue for the coronation of French kings.
While in Reims tour the Champagne House of G.H.Mumm — with over 25 million bottles on the racks of its vast cellars that span 15 miles — for about half the cost of a bottle of their Champagne. Tour ranges from $US20 to $US35, depending on your choice of wines to taste.
You will learn how Mumm Champagne is made, and also to fully appreciate the qualities of Champagne and the fascinating rituals involved. You will also see one of the finest museums on Champagne making in the world.3. Porto, The World HQ Of Port Wine
Portugal is renowned for its superb wines as well as for being a budget-friendly European destination. And there’s no better place to experience Portuguese wine than the charming city of Porto. The most ancient city in Portugal and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Porto gave its name to both the nation and also its signature port wine, produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in the nation’s northern provinces.
The Douro Valley is the oldest defined, regulated and protected wine region in the world — predating even France. At under $US50, this wonderful tour acquaints you with the city’s iconic sites, like the Bolhão Market and Clérigos church, then on to the caves at the House of Croft — the world’s oldest extant port winery — for a superb tasting.4. Buenos Aires
Called the “Paris of the Americas,” Buenos Aires is a vibrant city with Old World charm, featuring broad avenues, leafy parks and classic architecture. Originally a smuggler’s haven, by the 19th century the city had became one of the world’s richest and most sophisticated — and remains fiercely proud of famed Buenos Aires natives like Pope Francis and Evita Peron, with an exceptional museum dedicated to the latter.
And then there are the wonderful wines of Argentina! Hosted by the sommelier of the famous El Querandi restaurant, you will experience the specialised wines of Argentina’s Patagonia, Cuyo and Northeast regions. At $US51, this 90-minute tour of their wine cellar is unique for its special pairings of wine and foods — a specialty of the chefs of El Querandi. A five-hour version of the tour also includes dinner and a tango performance.5. The Wineries of Sonoma
Sonoma County was named one of Wine Enthusiast’s 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2014. And its Carneros region — where San Francisco’s San Pablo Bay meets Napa and Sonoma — provides an ideal spot for the production of the finest cool-climate pinot noir, chardonnay, and sparkling wines.
But that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to taste wine in Sonoma. This half-day adventure, costing under $US50, is a one-and-only. Embarking from Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco at noon, it thrills both the palate and the eye, with tastings at multiple vineyards amid the splendor of the beautiful vineyards and hillsides of Carneros. You’ll tour both boutique and mass production vineyards — all in all, an unforgettable celebration of the joys of California wine country.6. Assisi
Assisi is one of the cultural treasures of Italy, with its massive medieval castle, Roman-era ruins and of course the Basilica of Saint Francis, which houses the remains of Italy’s patron saint. Assisi is also home to a number of important works of art, most notably by Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti, both fresco painters influenced by Giotto, who pioneered lifelike portrayal of figures versus the stylised representations made by earlier artists.
Try a three-hour tour of the Mencarelli vineyards, at the wallet-friendly price of less than $US30 per person. The highlight is a picnic lunch or dinner, under a breathtaking panorama of the Basilica and Umbrian landscape. Your basket includes a bottle of SIAO wine (and olive oil as well), Perugia bread, pecorino cheese, a variety of cold cuts and more. Tour also includes information about viticulture and the wine-making process, with a focus on Umbrian wines.7. Barcelona
Since reaching the spotlight during the 1992 Summer Olympics, Barcelona has emerged as one of the favourite tourist destinations in Europe. Famed for architect Antoni Gaudi’s works — which brought the term “gaudy” into being — this lively city rivals Madrid as a showcase for the arts, music and design. Its location between the Mediterranean and the Serra de Collserola hills also makes Barcelona a mecca for oenophiles.
We recommend this half-day small group tour, which at under $US70 per person features wine tasting in Oller del Mas, a 10th century castle located outside of Barcelona, along with visits to its vineyard and cellar. Go in the afternoon for the wine tasting experience, or in the morning to experience a visit to Montserrat and a Spanish brunch. See the rave reviews from customers!
8. The Nuanced Wines Of The Little Carpathians
Bratislava, located on the Danube River in southwest Slovakia, is an ancient city famous for its ceramics, and also its winemaking. First settled around 5,000 B.C., the region would become one of the oldest Roman centres for making wine. Its location nestled in the foothills of the Little Carpathian mountains imbues its wines with special characteristics due to the unique composition of the soil, and further enhanced by local vintners with fruity and floral essences.
The town of Modra, located just minutes outside of Bratislava, also offers one of the best values in wine-tasting, with 10 wines to sample at a price of roughly $US20 per person. This “amazing” three-hour tour is hosted by the vineyard’s world-recognised winemaker, who regularly serves as a judge in prestigious wine competitions.9. Budapest Tour
Hungarian wineries are said to produce wines that rival the best of Bordeaux. Its 22 winemaking regions produce numerous varieties, though the dessert wines of Tokaj are most distinctive to Hungary. Its capital city of Budapest is also laden with history, and serves as one of the greatest monuments of Jewish history in Europe; try a 2.5-hour walking tour, notable for its excellent guides, and costing under $US40 per person.
Start in the historic Jewish Quarter of Pest, and then visit the largest functioning synagogue in Europe. Other stops include the Jewish Museum, the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park to the Jewish Martyrs, and the labyrinth of courtyards and alleys that linked the buildings of the ghetto. End your tour in one of the most atmospheric wine bars in Budapest, sampling wines from across Hungary, all in the company of a skilled sommelier.10. The Charm Of Italy’s Adriatic Coast