One of the most fun ways to explore a new destination is by getting to know its beer, wine and spirit culture. I don’t mean an “I want to get wasted every night and not remember this entire trip” type of experience, but instead learning about how different regions of the world create unique libations, and how these drinks affect the culture of the area. Here are 10 of my favorite destinations for getting tipsy. Have one of your own? Please share in the comments below.
Everything you’ve heard about Mendoza is 100% true. The asado is juicy, the people are friendly, the nearby Andes Mountains are a hiker’s paradise and, best of all, the wine is some of the best in the world. Malbec is the most well-known grape of the area, and for good reason. I’ve had Malbec in other regions of the world, and in Argentina it tastes a lot more Earthy. To be honest, no matter what time of day it was I seemed to be craving it. One of my favorite things about the wine region in Argentina was the fact you could easily take a bus to the Maipu area, rent a bike and cycle to all the 16 stops on the “Roads of Wine.” My favorite spot was Entre Olivos. For about $5, you’ll get a tour of the property as well as an unlimited tasting of olive oils and pastes like Chardonnay mustard and olives with blue cheese, marmalade and jams like pear with Chardonnay and Malbec jelly and two shots from an array of flavored liquors.
Known to many as the “bourbon capital of the world,” Bardstown offers many opportunities to imbibe in Kentucky bourbon. Kentucky bourbon is a barrel-aged distilled spirit made mainly from corn. Interestingly, 97% of bourbon is distilled and aged near Bardstown. You’ll pass through when following the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, stopping at Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc. This is American’s largest independent family-owned producer of bourbon, and visitors are able to take a tour through a working rickhouse as well as sample bourbons in a barrel-shaped tasting room. Along with visiting the many distilleries, it’s also worthwhile to visit the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History. Here you’ll see 50 years of rare whiskey artifacts, antique bottles, a moonshine still, bourbon art and more.
Want a visual of this libatious city? Check out this ultimate whiskey road map to see just how much Bardstown loves its bourbon.
During a trip to Adelaide, I got to experience the magic that was the Barossa Valley. The area is primarily known for its Shiraz, as well as its Riesling, Semillon, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon. With a very hot, dry climate and higher-altitude hills, the area can produce a variety of wines. Moreover, South Australia also features many lesser-known yet worthwhile wine regions, like Hahndorf, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley and Flinders Ranges, all of which are less than an hour from Adelaide, aside for Flinders Ranges, which is about four or five. If you can go during an odd numbered year, you’ll get to experience the week-long Barossa Vintage Festival. The event celebrates the end of the year’s vintage season, and features a variety of wine-themed events like tastings, competitions, musical performances, food sampling, parties and parades. There’s also the Barossa Gourmet Weekend, that happens every year in August. Local wineries host individual events featuring wine, food and music.
Baja California, Mexico
Of course, a trip to Mexico is a great way to experience quality blue agave and mescal. What many people don’t know, however, is that it’s also got a great undiscovered wine culture. The Mediterranean climate makes it ideal for producing the libation,with 90% of Mexico’s wine coming from the Ensenada region of Baja. Moreover, many people don’t realize Mexico is actually the oldest wine-growing region in America, having produced wine since the sixteenth century when the Spaniards arrived to the country with vine clippings from Europe. Some of the popular varietals include Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Malbec and Barbera; however, they rarely export, so you’ll need to visit Baja to sample some for yourself. I recommend doing a tour of the Ruta del Vino or Wine Route, which connects over 50 wineries in the Baja California state.
Chianti and Riomaggiore, Italy
No matter where you go in Italy, you can be sure the food and drink will be superb. After touring the country for a few weeks, making my way from Cinque Terre down to Bari, two areas I really loved for libations were Chianti and Riomaggiore. If you’re looking to try high quality wine, Chianti in Tuscany is a must. I booked this tour from Florence for Chianti, and felt it was really worthwhile (note: I paid about $80 for one person booking through my hostel). You can also use this tool to find great wines in the famous Chianti Classico area. Chianti, which is well-known for its production of the Sangiovese grape, is hundreds of years old, and while enjoying tastings you can also explore ancient cellars, medieval villages and peaceful scenery.
If you want to try delicious wine, Limoncello and Grappa, I’d suggest visiting Riomaggiore in Cinque Terre. First of all, the charming hillside town on the Italian Riviera makes for the perfect setting to enjoy a liquor while watching the sunset. Additionally, the unique climate and altitude make for excellent grape growing. Sciachetra is a famous wine for which Cinque Terre is known for. It is a full-bodied sweet wine with colors of gold and amber made using Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino grapes. Flavors include honey, white blossoms and hints of citrus. Other popular alcoholic treats of the area include Limoncello, a lemon-flavored liqueur, and Grappa, a brandy made with pomace. I’d recommend renting a room for Mar-Mar, where you wil have an enormous balcony to share these drinks with new friends.
Bacharach is one of my favorite destinations in general, simply because it’s a peaceful, off-the-radar city on the Rhine River. It’s great for getting away from tourists, and will immerse you in a charming, old-world ambiance of cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses. It’s also great for drinking quality wine and beer. Historically, Bacharach was a transfer point in the local wine trade. However, the Steeg Valley, which sits above the town in the sun and faces the Rhine River, offers exceptional grape-growing. The three classified wine regions in Bacharach include Wolfshöhle, Posten and Hahn. No matter what area your wine comes from, however, you should definitely try the Riesling. This can be enjoyed at a local “weinstube” (wine room), like Altes Haus and Weingut Zum Rebstock, or on a “Planwagenfahrt” where you will explore the vineyards via a wagon pulled by a tractor. You can even get Riesling gelato at Eis Cafe Italia.
And for those times when your craving beer – it is still Germany, you know! – head over to Posthof Bacharach. It has a beer garden atmosphere and you can sit outside while enjoying a beer and a bratwurst. I liked sipping Kirner Beer, which is made in a small brewery in Kirn, about 25 minutes southwest of Bacharach.
Often referred to as the “cocktail capital of the world,” Tokyo is a great place to visit if you want a delicious, strong drink. Mixology in this city is perfected to an art form, the way it really should be all over the world but unfortunately is not. I’ve actually been told that many bartenders from cities like New York, London and Sydney often go over to Tokyo to perfect their craft. Their secret? While America was forgetting about their classic cocktail roots, Tokyo was learning about them and perfecting, essentially safeguarding the cocktail culture. I recommend going to Hisashi Kishi and ordering a sidecar before you’re sent on a one-way trip to Heaven. Want to know where else to get a good cocktail? Check out this fun interactive map.
When most people think of Uruguay, they probably don’t think of wine; however, they should. Here you’ll find hundreds of boutique wineries serving quality vino in an inviting atmosphere. From Montevideo, it’s easy to explore the major wine producing departments of Canelones, San Jose and Montevideo itself. Here, the humid, wet climate and limestone soils make for great wine growing, while the short growing season forces the wineries to focus on short cycle reds. Additionally, because there isn’t a drastic temperature change from day to night, the grapes continue to ripen even after the sun has gone down. And because many people don’t go to Uruguay to wine taste, visitors will be able to beat the crowds and explore a wine region that is raw and real and isn’t putting on a show. Their major grape is the Tannat grape, which originated in southwest France and produces a rich, deep colored wine with a lot of tannins. Other wines to try in this area include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Denver, Breckenridge and Grand Junction, Colorado
Depending on what you’re looking for, these three cities in Colorado will be able to satisfy your desire to get tipsy. Denver is home to some of the nation’s most award-winning breweries. To fully experience them, I would recommend a beer tour with Denver Microbrew Tour, where you’ll get to taste more than 10 craft brews while also learning about the history of Denver’s beer scene. My personal favorite is the Falling Rock Tap House, a boutique brewery with 88 taps and extremely honest bartenders who will tell you which of their beers are nasty and which are worth tasting. Moreover, you can check out the wall of over 2,000 beer bottles lined up, most of which owner Chris Black drank himself.
While Breckenridge also has a good beer scene, what really makes it unique is it is home to the Breckenridge Distillery, the world’s highest distillery. Their hooch is made at 9,600 feet, using snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains. If you visit their distillery, which is located at 1925 Airport Road, you’ll be able to take a complimentary tour, and watch as the spirits are mashed, fermented and distilled.
If you’re a wine-lover, head over to Grand Junction, part of Grand Valley AVA. This area makes up 70% to 80% of Colorado’s grapes. Moreover, they have the longest growing season in the state, due to the cooling effect from nearby canyons and the milding effect from the surrounding Grand Valley. While there are many wineries to be experienced, my top picks include:
- Carlson Wines– Open since 1988, they offer free tastings in a fun, laid-back environment. Make sure to try their cherry wine, which tastes like cherry pie without the crust and is served in a cup with a melted chocolate rim.
- Colorado Cellars Winery– This is Colorado’s oldest winery, open since 1978. What’s great about this place is it’s self-serve, meaning you’ll receive a miniature plastic wine glass and can help yourself to the many wines on display. Make sure to try the meads, a type of sweet honey wine.
- Grande River Vineyards– This winery was the most charming of all that I visited on my trip, with a focus on French-style wines created with grapes grown from western Colorado. Their wines comes in quirky labeled bottles, my favorite being “Havin’ A Cow,” which features a clothed cow sipping wine and jumping on a pogo stick.
Long Island, New York
Okay, so I may be a bit biased being that I’m from Long Island; however, I’ve never taken people wine tasting out east in wine country and not had out-of-town friends be impressed. Long Island has over 3,000 acres of vineyards and 50+ wine producers. For a list of Long Island wineries, click here. Although a bit commercial, I highly recommend visiting Pindar, as it’s got a lively, inviting atmosphere and usually features live music out back in the vineyards. If you drive down Route 25A, you’ll easily be able to vineyard hop, while at the same time stopping at the many farmers markets and farm stands. If you’d like a tour, I love the North Fork Trolley Company. They’ll bring you to 3+ wineries, while telling you about the history of eastern Long Island and bringing you to some of the best boutique food shops on the island.
Craving something stronger? Long Island is home to a craft vodka distillery called Long Island Vodka. It is housed in a beautiful restored barn and serves delicious fruit-flavored vodkas.