If there is one main axiom in the wine world, it’s that wine always tastes better at its source. French wine tastes better in France and California wine tastes better in California.
Why? Wine does not like to travel. It doesn’t care for the rocking of a ship or the shaking of the train, and the verdict is still out on airplanes. One Manhattan oenophile even had to move his wine cellar because it was too close to the subway.
This doesn’t mean that shipped wine is bad. It’s just that it loses some of its freshness and appeal. Since nearly all wine travels to market, this is obviously not a huge deal, but for the purist, spending time at a winery is the ultimate treat.
Is this the time to do it? Perhaps. People have money and are ready to move, and travel restrictions have abated. Where to go? Recently, Lettie Teague of The Wall Street Journal wrote that the current crop from Napa is cash—meaning the prices of hotel rooms and wine tastings have skyrocketed—but also that the prices in Anderson Valley in Mendocino remain reasonable.
To get a better perspective on the situation, I spoke with Holly Barrett of St. Armands Travel. She has extensive experience in creating and hosting wine tours, which can be created for individuals or small groups. Particularly popular are escorted tours, especially river cruises.
She agrees with Teague that Napa is costly, and instead recommends visiting less popular areas of France, such as Alsace, because the prices are reasonable and the area is less crowded.
Gian Pertusi, a fellow travel consultant and veteran of the wine trade and now a representative on wine tours, says that Portugal and Germany are also great bargains right now. A Google search shows that South America, particularly Chile and Argentina, are also very popular and affordable, and both Barrett and Pertusi agree. These countries have the added benefit of being no more than one time zone away from Sarasota.
The benefits of an escorted tour versus going it alone are obvious: the tour guides' connections to the great wineries and châteaux, foreign language translation and dependable transportation. Many customers find the small river cruises pleasurable because of the camaraderie of fellow travelers and the immersion in local culture.
Bottom line: However you travel, meeting winery principals and maybe even dining with them will expand your wine knowledge in so many ways. The personal connection creates an unforgettable experience, and allows you to better understand and appreciate their wines for years to come.
Bob McGinn has spent his entire career in the wine industry—forming wine clubs, working in wine sales marketing and engaging in all facets of the winemaking process, including vine management, fermentation and yeast analysis. He has developed wine programs for companies such as Marriott, Sheraton and Smith & Wollensky, and consults with local restaurants. You can read more of McGinn’s work at gulfcoastwinejournal.com.