When it comes to wine, choosing a locally produced bottle isn’t just a way to reduce its carbon footprint. It turns out that some of the world’s most dynamic wines don’t stray far from the vine. In fact, roadside bodegas and local restaurants are sometimes the only places to track down some of these eclectic varietals.
Americans get the best of everyone’s wine, but in other countries, more traditional wine-producing regions have developed their own local taste. And it makes the experience of traveling to a destination all the more worthwhile. “People who travel typically want to immerse themselves in as many different aspects of that area as possible, and wine is one way to do that,” says Travel + Leisure wine editor, Bruce Schoenfeld. “Some of these local varieties are really quirky and cool.”
Another benefit of sampling regional wines? They often come at bargain prices—if you know what you’re looking for.
One example is Spain’s aromatic white wine Verdejos, a local alternative to the country’s better-known export wine, Albariño. Albariño can be a pricey option, but locals—and travelers in the know—seek out Verdejo, a light-bodied varietal affordable enough for everyday consumption.
Finding great local wines doesn’t necessarily mean bringing your passport. Travelers to Seattle and Portland should keep an eye out for well-priced Merlot from Washington’s eastern wine regions. Boutique producers like Hightower and Januik don’t produce enough cases to place their bottles on big-city restaurant wine lists, but the locals are happy to keep it to themselves.
“California Merlots, which are the American reference point, are sort of dense and thick,” says Schoenfeld. “With Washington Merlots, the fruit is just bright.” They can even save you some money: while equivalent California Merlots are often priced well above $30, Januik’s Columbia Valley Merlot sells for $25 a bottle.
So whether you’re looking to discover some trattoria wines for your next Italian sojourn or searching for vintage steals for an upcoming cellar purchase, here are the can’t-miss bottles to try when traveling. —Nina Fedrizzi