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

After having read another 'list' 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.
I was especially puzzled, in light of the fact, that two of them had me wondering what their possible criteria could be for such a recommendation. The third region listed, one closer to where I previously lived in San Diego had me wondering how it could have possibly made the 'list' at all?

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 established 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 (brag alert).

My main criteria are going to be related to wine-regions which I believe are making some seriously tasty juice (wines with soul) representing the very best in winemaking, reflective of the terroir the vineyards reside in and the 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. I want to preface my comments to the 'list' by saying, 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.

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 real testament to following your dreams and the desire to make wines with soul. I've never encountered 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 regularly purchase (for myself) and recommended this region while working as a Wine Steward for Vons in San Diego.

You'll find getting to this wine destination, is quite simple really, via a quick flight from Seattle. White Earth. Blue Skies. Red 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 recommended 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 excellent dining choices. From downtown, you can be in the vineyards within 10 to 15 minutes or feel free to access many of the great opportunities for tasting via the plethora of tasting room there. Key Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon and Rhone Zone favorites, like Grenache.

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 quite simple really, one because 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. Second, it’s a city that rocks a small-town vibe, but still has plenty of upscale restaurants to tempt your tastebud. Lastly, let's not forget about the MAC AVA itself is flush with excellent wineries and a plethora of downtown tasting bars; coupled with the fact there's 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, Chardonnay, and the occasional Syrah.

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 is better the other, only different. Both regions offer the thirsty vino-sapiens 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 or take off on one of the many cycling tours.

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 the world was this fantastic wine producing region was left entirely off the list in favor of more obscure places is extraordinarily perplexing. 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 also a quaint Danish Village like a step out of time to explore, great-golf, an abundance of fabulous wineries to visit; like Foxen, Melville, Stolpman Vineyards, Rusack and more. If you need my complete recommendation list, feel free to message 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 area, I'd recommend staying in Solvang, instead of the city of Santa Barbara itself. Solvang, in my opinion, it makes for the perfect jumping-off spot to hit a majority of the wineries and, with a vibrant small town feel Los Olivos, where great dining and a plethora of 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


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...

Will 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? :-)
Will 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.
Unknown 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

Popular Posts