There is wine tasting, then there is wine tasting. There is nothing wrong with visiting a vineyard, gazing at the manicured rows of vines and marveling at the large barrels before sitting down at a table to taste the produce. Add to that a superb location, a good restaurant offering wine pairings, or an unusual souvenir shop, and you’ve got a little something extra.
But there are places that go even further to make sure you don’t get bored tasting your wine. Some offer an unusual way of tasting wine; others offer a unique way of making wine or a place that is just as exciting as the wine itself.
Here is a list of some great experiences that even your non-expert travel companions will enjoy. If you are looking for a truly memorable experience, read on.
1. Medoc Castles Marathon, France
Let’s start with probably the weirdest way to drink wine: by running a marathon. Each year the Medoc Castles Marathon takes place in and around the town of Pauillac in the Bordeaux wine region. The runners, often in disguise, set off on the track to cover 26 miles punctuated by 23 stops. At each stop, they sample some of the region’s best cheeses and other snacks and drink a glass of wine. Needless to say, closer to the finish line there are hardly any runners left and people are walking in various states of intoxication, but they are full of joy! For an unusual event with friends and great memories along the way, why not try it?
Pro tip: While you’re in the area, head to Cap Ferret, just west of Bordeaux, for some of the best beaches in France.
2. Franschhoek Wine Tram, South Africa
Much smarter than running is sitting in a double-decker tram as it travels through the South African wine region and stops at regular intervals for you to explore the vineyards. It’s a safe and leisurely way to taste wine, with transfers from Cape Town to the tram stop and back, leaving you hassle-free from drinking and driving. It’s a hop-on hop-off tram, so you can either move on to the next winery or stop for longer at a good restaurant for lunch.
Pro tip: There are many tram lines taking in various vineyards, so it’s worth doing your research before you start sampling.
3. Underwater wine tasting, San Francisco
Yes, it’s a bit of a gimmick, but it’s all about unusual places and ways to taste wines. And the Cave Sottomarino, which hosts tastings at a former US Navy training submarine on Treasure Island near San Francisco, is about as unusual as it gets. Sottomarino Means “submarine” in Italian, and the wines are made from Italian grape varieties in California. Treasure Island, a man-made island built in the 1930s for the Golden Gate International Exhibition, offers beautiful views of the San Francisco skyline and is a great day out.
Pro tip: Learn more about the island at Treasure Island Museum before heading back to town.
4. Royal Wine Cellar, France
Built in the 18th century for the sommelier of King Louis XV, this cellar adjoining the Louvre is a historic, unique setting that is entirely appropriate for wine tasting. It’s a complete sensory experience! Learn more about French wines on a guided tour or self-guided tour, during a private tasting, or during a dinner with food and wine pairings in one of the underground rooms. You will even meet the resident oenologist.
Pro tip: Once you’ve learned and tasted it, why not go in search of some of Paris’ hidden vineyards to complete your experience?
5. Underwater cave, Croatia
Located about an hour north of Dubrovnik on Croatia’s beautiful coast, you’ll find a truly different wine cellar. The basement we’re used to, but submarine? Edivo Vina stores its bottles, sealed in amphorae, deep in the Adriatic, and, if you wish, you can don your scuba gear and dive in to retrieve your bottle. There is even a sunken ship nearby. It seems that the even temperatures and the calm underwater benefit the wine – you can see this for yourself when you are on dry land again.
Pro tip: You can also book a private wine tour on the peninsula and be dropped off safely at your hotel at the end of the day.
6. Icewine, Canada
Originating in Germany and Austria, Icewine is a product of mild riesling or white vidal. It is called ice wine because the grapes are left on the vines until after winter and are allowed to freeze, making them much sweeter. The ice house wine estate in Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of Ontario’s many wineries, but it’s the only one that produces Icewine, even selling Icewine slushies. Sounds perfect for a summer day, doesn’t it?
Pro tip: This winery is a few miles from Niagara Falls – you can decide if the falls or the wine is the main attraction.
7. Wine and chocolate, Australia
Hahndorf, just inland from Adelaide in South Australia, is a quaint former German colony that transports you to Bavaria, with its southern German architecture, restaurants and events. It’s a good place for a day, and you can add to the fun by booking a wine and chocolate pairing at the Hahndorf Hill Winery. At this perfect event for chocolate lovers and wine connoisseurs, you can taste not only local wines, but also Australian and French chocolates made from cocoa beans grown in Australia.
It is great fun to spend the day strolling through little Hahndorf, shopping for local products like their superb honey, then relaxing over a chocolate and wine before heading to a local restaurant for a good german sausage.
Pro tip: Hahndorf is the gateway to the charming Fleurieu Peninsula and just 15 miles from Kangaroo Island, a must visit in the state.
8. Vineyard bike tour, Italy
Umbria, a province in the heart of Italy located roughly halfway between Florence and Rome, is dotted with vineyards and wineries. The region is best explored by bicycle. Umbria by bike offers various cycling routes, but the visit to the vineyards of Montefalco is by far the most cultivated. You’ll travel approximately 60 miles through five main wine regions, stopping at each to sample the produce. Taking place between March and November, the tour is suitable for beginner cyclists, as the trails are mostly paved. Various bicycles are available for hire, even electric, to make your life easier.
Pro tip: This is a round-trip tour starting and ending in Montefalco, so why not book yourself a room at the charming Orto degli Angeli, a palace with a magnificent garden and four-poster beds. It is the ideal place to relax after a day of cycling.
9. Residential wine complex, Portugal
If buying a chateau in France to run your own vineyard is a bit out of reach, you can always buy a holiday home in the Algarve in Portugal to try and run your own vineyard. The vines is a new concept of turnkey properties located in the vineyards. Along with your vacation home, and in preparation for it, you can own or rent your own private vineyard and start producing your personal label. Local experts are on hand to teach you everything you need.
Pro tip: The Vines are located along the Algarve Wine Route at the southern limit of Portugal. It’s a perfect road trip, winding between beaches and coastal towns and selected vineyards.
10. Tasting of the South Pacific, Tahiti
A vineyard on an island in the South Seas? Yes – on Rangiroa Atoll, more than 3000 km from any continent, there is a vineyard. Tahitian wine was launched by a Frenchman in the 1990s and today produces some 3,000 cases of wine from two or three harvests each year. It’s a 55 minute flight from Tahiti itself, so getting to the vineyard takes dedication, but it’s a truly special wine experience. Rangiroa is also a prime location for scuba diving, for beaches and for an idyllic getaway thousands of miles from civilization.
Pro tip: This remote region of the world lends itself perfectly to cruise, which will allow you to discover more than one island while you are there. Choices range from simple cruises and Paul Gaugin-inspired tours to budget boat tours.