The World's Most Spectacular Tasting Rooms
When it comes to tasting rooms, what’s outside your glass is often as important as what’s inside it. “The taste of wine is largely contextual,” says Ray Isle, wine editor for Travel + Leisure’s sister publication Food & Wine. “If you’re on your honeymoon, sipping rosé from a paper cup on the French Mediterranean, it will taste fantastic. Later, if you drink an identical rosé from a crystal glass while getting divorced, it will taste like crap.”
This idea may rile purist winemakers, brewers, and distillers, but dazzling tasting rooms—often with views of stunning scenery—are increasingly crucial when it comes to wooing thirsty travelers.
Rather than the old-world wine country of France and Italy, it’s lesser-known regions like Argentina, Chile, Austria, and New Zealand (countries eager to build a reputation), along with the U.S., that are leading the wine-tourism innovations. In these countries, grape-loving travelers can visit an array of light-filled tasting rooms with unparalleled views and award-winning architecture—an experience to appeal to all the senses.
France and Italy, meanwhile, are a little behind the times. In regions like Bordeaux, wines are sold by middlemen, leaving most château owners with little incentive to build remarkable tasting rooms for consumers they’re never likely to meet. But the situation is starting to change. France finally has a national wine tourism association, and according to Isle, progressive French wineries are looking to new-world producers like Opus One, whose state-of-the-art tasting room is a big draw for Napa Valley travelers, for inspiration.
And not every classic wine region is missing the boat. “If you’re into architecture you should immediately go to Rioja in Spain,” Isle says. Architects Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Santiago Calatrava, Richard Rogers and Norman Foster have all designed wineries there in recent years, with some projects costing upward of $30 million. “While Rioja is a perfectly pretty place, it’s not spectacular,” claims Isle. “It doesn’t have craggy peaks and snow-covered mountains. But they’ve made up for that with extraordinary architecture.”
The creation of destination wineries is also turning previously unknown regions into tourism hot spots. “Before the new millennium hardly anyone visited Mendoza,” says Mark Wheeler, Abercrombie & Kent’s regional managing director for South America. “Argentina saw a massive influx of wine tourism after the 2001 currency crash, and many winegrowers went from being simply agricultural producers to seeing tourism as an integral part of their role.” The result is a region where practically every glass is served with a generous view of the Andes.
These tasting rooms, the world’s most scenic and inviting, provide an excellent opportunity to take in an area’s natural beauty—while sampling the best bounty of the land. Cheers!
López de Heredia, Spain
The latest starchitect to turn her hand to designing a winery in Rioja is Zaha Hadid. Her tasting room at López de Heredia envelopes an old hand-carved kiosk—used to display wares at the 1910 World’s Fair—in a gold-tinted steel. The cutting-edge design couldn’t be more different from the company’s wine-making methodology. “López de Heredia is an extremely traditional producer, to the point that the caves are filled with spiderwebs and mold,” says Food & Wine’s Ray Isle.
A relative newcomer to wine tourism, Austria is looking for boldface names to add allure to the country’s famously bucolic landscape. New York architect Steven Holl designed the Loisium Wine Resort as a temple to all things vine-related. The brushed-aluminum structure houses an Aveda wine spa, hotel, and production facilities in a town, Langenlois, whose soil is honeycombed with wine caves.
Opus One, California
Opus One’s limestone colonnades pay homage to old-world architecture, but the eclectic modern interior of this famed Napa winery (18th-century opera chairs share the floor with suede and chenille sofas) has made it an icon for wine tourism worldwide. The semi-submerged space gives the appearance that a fissure in the earth’s crust has opened, revealing row upon row of barrels. Glass in hand, make your way to the terrace for panoramic views.
Viña Pérez Cruz, Chile
Chilean architect José Cruz Ovalle (a former sculptor) has created an elegantly sinuous pavilion of curved laminated wood to house the tasting room and production facilities of Viña Pérez Cruz, in the Malpo Alto Valley southeast of Santiago. Visitors sample Chilean reds in a space that, depending on the angle, resembles vines, barrels, or the interior of a giant musical instrument.
Château Haut-Brion, France
According to Pascale Bernasse, president of French Wine Explorers, a boutique tour operator specializing in luxury wine vacations in France, the pick of tasting rooms among the myriad châteaux in France is Haut-Brion, in Bordeaux. She describes it as “classic without being stuffy” and particularly likes the grand rooms decorated with vintage portraits of previous owners. The château looks over a manicured park and flower garden guarded by large stone lions. Tastings are often held in the turret.
Glengoyne Distillery, Scotland
For 200 years, Glengoyne has been using the water flowing from Dumgoyne Hill and the output of the surrounding barley fields to create a charismatic single malt whisky. Commonly considered Scotland’s most beautiful distillery, its whitewashed buildings and wooded glen blooming with bluebells and daffodils make for the perfect place to have a wee dram—or even to take a class on the fine art of master blending.
Craggy Range Giants Winery, New Zealand
The eclectic assortment of buildings at Giants, in the Hawke’s Bay wine-producing region, achieves a disarming farmhouse feel without sacrificing a sophisticated design ethos. Designed by New Zealand architect John Blair, this winery is in the only part of the country warm and dry enough for Bordeaux-style blends of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. Visitors sample the vintages in the Cellar Door tasting center, in the shadow of the Te Mata peaks, or bunk down in the Cellar Master’s Cottage.
Bodegas Ysios, Spain
Sheltered from the elements by the Sierra de Cantabria mountains, the small (185-acre) Rioja-region Bodegas Ysios, one of Domecq Bodegas’ 11 wineries, is the work of celebrated Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. He took inspiration from an image of rows of barrels, creating a wood-and-aluminum roof that reflects the undulating geometry of the surrounding hills.
Heron Hill Winery, New York
Overlooking Keuka Lake in upstate New York’s Finger Lakes region, Heron Hill Winery references Greek Revival and traditional farm architecture (both of which can be found in abundance throughout the area). The cobblestoned floors of the airy, vaulted-ceiling Tasting Hall, where Rieslings and Chardonnays along with a selection of reds are poured, came from the nearby Hammondsport quarry.
Carlos Pulenta, Argentina
The native criollo architecture of the Carlos Pulenta winery in Argentina (an elegant mix of lofty ceilings and natural stone) is upstaged by the spectacular location. Nestled at the base of the Cordon del Plata range of the Andes, the winery, built in 2002, was one of the first to establish Mendoza as a prime wine tourism area. The French restaurant La Bourgogne is widely considered one of the region’s best—with mountain views to match. Don’t want to leave? Book a room at La Posada, the winery’s lodge.