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Sunday, June 30, 2013

The U.S. Uncorked: Top 10 Wine-Travel Destinations [Part One]

"In vino veritas," or "There's Truth in Wine,” is referring to the often confessional loquacity of the intoxicated. ~ Pliny the Elder

Seeing another list recently featuring what readers [some travelers] believed were the top destinations here in the U.S for wine loving vino-sapiens, I was inspired to write my own. Especially in light of the fact, that two of them had me wondering where and a third closer to where I live had me wondering why?

Please don't get me wrong, I'm in complete agreement with seven of the ten and I've been to all but three of those listed in that article. But I think the criteria for making the selections seen on that "list" were made from an entirely different perspective than the list I'll be compiling below. And yes, unlike many other writers I've been to each one of these areas, more than once. 

My main criteria is going to be related to wine-regions which I believe are making some serious juice [wines with soul] representing the very best in winemaking, reflective of the terroir the vineyards reside in and overall consistent quality vintage after vintage. What you will not find, commodity wines, the bottles you'll typically find crowding the bottom shelves of your local grocery store aisle either. 

Before I proceed, slow your roll, just a moment. The numerical order below has zero correlation to any idea of which region I think is the best or not the best and is purely coincidental. It’s only for purely practical purposes that the numbering is useful for maintaining orderly article. So with that clarification stated it’s without any further ado, it's time to jump into it. 

1. Red Mountain: Benton County, WA: I've been to this area more than a few times, the wines here are more than exceptional, they're a true testament to following your dreams and the desire to make wines with soul. I've never had a bottle from this area, where I thought "ewww" I never want to try that again. I still have bottles of Red Mountain tucked-away in my cellar. To this day, I still purchase [for myself] and recommend this region at my day-job. 

You'll find getting there; is quite simple really, via a quick flight from Seattle. White EarthBlue SkiesRed Mountain. On the list below is many of my favorite vineyard sites. But if you want great value, please see my friends at Terra Blanca who make everything from the pop-and-pour Tuesday evening wine, to the more sophisticated wines to lay-down and enjoy later. Key Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. 

2. Paso Robles, California: For those living in either San Diego and or Los Angeles, Paso is a very easy wine-destination to access. Staying downtown is my preferred and recommend option. There are many delicious off-the-beaten-path white wines [Rhone Zone] and rock-star red wines, based on Syrah [plus others] and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Staying downtown, [which I recommend] you have walking-distance access to world-class restaurants and other more affordable but equally good dining choices. From downtown you can be in the vineyards within 10 to 15 minutes or feel free to access many of great choices for tasting via the plethora of tasting room there. Key Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon and Rhone Zone faves.

3. McMinnville, OR: Some of you may be wondering why I chose what is known as the sub-appellation of the greater Willamette Valley AVA. The answer is simple, because for me it makes a great jumping off spot to visit a majority of the other sub-appellation in the area. Once you land at the airport in Portland, it’s a quick hour to drive the 40 miles to McMinnville. It’s a city that rocks a small-town vibe, but still has plenty of upscale restaurants to tempt you. And with an abundance of B&B’s in the area finding a comfy place to stay is all too easy. Key Varietals: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris.

4. Sonoma County, California: In Sonoma, you'll find a less hurried pace, than in the neighboring Napa Valley. I don't look at one being better the other, only different. Both offer the thirsty vino-sapien vastly different wine experiences, while there make sure you make the drive out to coast. The scenery is gorgeous, you can follow the Russian River, if the adventurous type, maybe even bust-out the kayak. 

Either way do yourself a favor and get out to see all you can of Sonoma, it's far more than just a grape wine-destination. If you fancy yourself a cycling enthusiast, then this is definitely the place for you. Key Varietals: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

5. The Napa Valley: Now some folks generically think of Napa, as just being about one thing or another like big-brawny Cabernet Sauvignon. And while there's more than a grain of truth to that notion, from my many experiences Napa is so much more than big-gun Cabernets. Napa has so many different characteristics to-it via its many sub-appellations, it can be a little like trying to catch the wind. 

So slow, take your time and remember the road to exploration can be found beyond highway 29, the corridor which runs length and breadth of the valley floor. I like to take my tasting adventures appellation-by-appellation. If it has been some-time since you've been here, don't forget to check-out the newly revived downtown Napa, it has nicely re-developed, re-energized and has a great vibe. Key Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir via Los Carneros. 

5. Santa Barbara County: How in world was this amazing wine producing region was completely left off the list in favor of more obscure places is really perplexing, to say the least. A sad-fact which still has me scratching my head in amazement. But that said; hey Los Angeles and San Diego this wine-travel destination is even closer than a trip to Paso, there's even a quaint Danish Village like a step-out of time to explore, great-golf, an abundance of amazing wineries to visit; like Foxen, MelvilleStolpman VineyardsRusack and more. If you need my complete recommendation list, just email me. 

Remember folks this is the same wine producing region where Miles and Jack got Sideways in more ways than one. If you plan to visit this region, I'd recommend staying in Solvang, instead of the city of Santa Barbara itself. Solvang in my opinion makes for the perfect jumping-off spot to hit a majority of the wineries and, with amazing Los Olivos, where great dining and many tasting-bars abound. It's so nearby you'll wonder why you've not made the trek before. Key Varietals: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Rhone Zone Whites and Reds.

Check back here on Travel Tuesday for the complete updated list via Part Two

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Morgen McLaughlin said...

Thank you for including Santa Barbara County on your list. I have also been surprised how often the region is overlooked on the top wine region lists. I think though things are about to change...

Bill Eyer said...

Hi Morgen,

It really amazes me as well, but as you say, things are about to change in a big way" via next years #WBC14 and if any region deserves the attention it is SBC!



Unknown said...

Bill--you are overdue to come and visit Clos Pepe and the Sta Rita Hills. As the original petitioner of the AVA, I would love to have you come visit for a dirt-kicking tour of the AVA and a guided tasting of Clos Pepe Estate! Aren't we lucky to have Morgen on board? :-)

Bill Eyer said...

Hey Wes,

So good to hear from you. You know you're right very much overdue. It has been more than 3 years since I was there last.

A visit sounds like just the thing, hmm it would have to be in August or better yet it could be in early November?

Morgen is great addition to the team and a fierce champion of the SBC Brand.

Hugh Kruzel said...

Santa Barbara County is known by those who seek more than just the trophy winery "been there, done that" folk. Love the back country of Paso too. Such peaceful laneways that take you to both familiar and new.

Katie G. said...

Thanks for pointing the spotlight towards Santa Barbara! I don't know how this region was overlooked for so long, but I have a feeling we'll be on everyone's radar pretty soon!

Katie Grassini
Grassini Family Vineyards

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Top 10 Travel Destinations

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