Go Here, Not There: 3 Alternative Destinations to Popular Wine Regions
Pent-up demand for post-pandemic vacations has sent the travel industry roiling. Airline tickets, car rentals and hotels rooms are now highly elusive or wildly expensive. For a weekend in August, a garden view room at the Belmond Caruso in Ravello, Italy runs $5600, and that’s for one of the cheaper rooms. The Belmond brand, known for its over-the-top luxury may be fabulous, but the average American isn’t an oligarch with exorbitant amounts of money to spend on a trip. But if you’re struggling to find an affordable wine holiday for this summer or fall, consider these three alternate wine regions to fuel your wine wanderlust.
For each region, we compared prices of comparable hotels, restaurants, and winery experiences. You’ll need a car to get around once there.
Champagne versus Styria
Popping Champagne screams aspirational living, celebration and romance. It’s a feat of marketing, to be sure, but the effort is aided by the fact that the taste of Champagne is unlike anything else. And it’s delicious. Easy access to the region, a mere hour by train from Paris, means visitor demand drives tourism prices as high as the wines.
Styria, often called the green heart of Austria, occupies a large swath of the country’s southeast, bordering Slovenia. Offering a big dose of emerald-hued flora across its rumpled volcanic folds, Styria excels at high-acid wines due to its cool, rainy climate and high-elevation vineyards. Given that acid provides the structure needed for ageworthy sparkling wine, logic follows that the region would excel at bottle-fermented bubbles. And it does. Though Styria is better known for flavorful Sauvignon Blanc, its sparkling wines called Sekt, are a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and/or Pinot Noir.
The Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa opened in summer 2018 as the area’s newest luxury contemporary property. On a summer or September weekend, which requires two-night stays and averages $1011 per night for a junior suite (the lowest category currently available). The rate includes taxes, nonalcoholic minibar, WiFi and breakfast.
Loisium Wine & Spa Hotel, located in Ehrenhausen, in southern Styria, is the area’s only design-forward, contemporary property. As such, it’s the most expensive. The hotel requires a two-night stay on weekends. For a classic double, one night averages $379 inclusive of taxes, parking, WiFi and a continental breakfast.
Brasserie Le Jardin, the less expensive dining option at the landmark Les Crayères, offers à la carte menu in a sleek, modern room. The average three-course meal plus a glass of Champagne runs $90.
Styria Restaurant Weinkuchl at Loisium serves up local specialties like trout, beef, and spring pea risotto. A three-course meal plus a glass of local wine runs around $45.
Champagne Ruinart accepts visits by appointment. A two-hour visit to the famous chalk cellars plus two glasses of Champagne costs $71/person.
Harkamp makes terrific vintage Sekt evocative of Champagne. Tours of the biodynamic vineyard and a tasting are $15, booked by appointment, but the fee is waived with a purchase. Two bottles to consider: The Harkamp Brut Reserve for $26 and the Sol Reserve Rose for $50.
Burgundy versus Beaujolais
Most wine drinkers wish they could drink Burgundian wine in perpetuity. The reality is that each year vintages get smaller while demand for the finest wines drive prices higher, tying the hands of vintners from offering consumer tastings. While there’s certainly value to be found in pockets of the region, why not be awash in great, accessible wine in neighboring Beaujolais?
Moulin-à-Vent, one of the ten “crus” or villages known for fine, structured Gamay, boasts a richness in history and singularity in its granitic terroir that makes it a reference point for the grape. Located an hours’ drive south of Beaune and 45 minutes north of Lyon, visitors can sample wines from English language-friendly cellars, visit a 15th century windmill and attend a jazz festival in May.
Maison Lameloise, a four-star hotel in Chagny, occupies a 15th century building a few minutes’ walk from the train station. For a weekend in late September, a small deluxe room runs $361, inclusive of taxes and WiFi.
Les Maritonnes, in the village Romanèche-Thorins, is a charming three-star Georges Blanc hotel themed in red and white. A classic room on a summer or fall weekend runs $170 per night while a larger premium room with balcony runs $263, inclusive of taxes and WiFi.
(The closest four-star is Panorama 360, 25 minutes away in Mâcon)
Maison Lameloise has a legendary three-star Michelin restaurant worth booking, especially if staying at the property. To experience it on a budget, book the three-course lunch for $86. With a glass of wine, expect approximately $100 per person.
Chez Ema, 20 minutes west of Moulin-à-Vent in Avenas, applies gastronomic technique gleaned in Lyon to fresh, seasonal produce grown in Beaujolais. A three-course menu on the weekend runs $29, while dinner costs $33. With a glass of local wine, estimate $40 to $55 per person, respectively.
Maison Joseph Drouhin, one of the major négociants, typically has more wines to taste than small producers. Tastings run at fixed times, require reservations, and cost $45 per person for six wines.
Château du Moulin-à-Vent offers tours and tastings in English, including visits to the historical chapel in the heart of the vineyards. Visitors can opt for in-depth tastings that include terroir comparisons and rare, older vintages. The introductory two-vintage tasting costs $15, booked by appointment.
Napa versus Mendocino
Napa Valley receives nearly four million visitors annually who spend over two billion a year to enjoy wine, scenery, atmosphere and the weather, reports the county’s official tourism booster. However, if you continue heading northwest, you’ll end up in the towns of Boonville, Philo, and finally, the coastal town of Mendocino. Surrounded by towering redwoods, this stretch of highway encompasses the cooler climate wine region of the Anderson Valley. Though Cabernet Sauvignon vines can thrive there, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah shine brighter. Anderson Valley and Mendocino host fewer tourists than Napa, but as smaller locales with limited accommodation, weekend dates book up fast.
Archer Hotel, located in downtown Napa, offers rooms and suites in a boutique setting on lively First Street. A weekend night in September runs $627 plus tax and includes WiFi.
The Madrones gives off serious coastal Mediterranean vibes. On a Thursday night in August, a two-bedroom refurbished logger’s cabin in The Brambles asks $290 per night plus tax and includes WiFi.
PRESS in St. Helena is a perennial favorite for its fresh, luxury ingredients like caviar, Dungeness crab, and truffles. Expect $140 a head for three courses of mid-priced dishes off the à la carte menu plus a glass of wine.
Restaurant at the Boonville Hotel serves five-course, prix-fixe menus on the weekends in the courtyard for $86 per person plus tax and 20% obligatory gratuity. With a glass of wine, expect $105 per person.
Failla offers a refreshing point of difference in Cab-heavy Napa with its range of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah. Book a private outdoor tasting on the Silverado Trail in St. Helena for $65 per person.
Drew, located in The Madrones enclave, offers tastings by appointment for Jason Drew’s outstanding Syrah and Pinot Noir. The $20 per person fee can, and should, be applied towards a purchase.