There’s nothing quite like a bold Chianti, a complex Bordeaux, or a fruity Merlot. And while the thought of sampling them in Italy, France or Chile might be the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, it’s also a bit impractical to just jet off to another country for a weekend tasting. That said, oenophiles take note: You don’t have to live in California to go wine tasting in the US.There are surprising wine-tasting regions all over the good ol’ USA to get your sniff, sip and spit on. We promise you’ll enjoy yourself and maybe even get a little patriotic along the way.
1. Northern Illinois Wine Trail
Who would have thought that a gentle breeze away from the Windy City would be a long and winding wine trail worthy of a wander? Using Chicago as your home base, you could fill your goblet for days visiting the varied wineries in the state’s northern reaches. Wet your whistle on a dry red Ginocchio at August Hill Winery or a semisweet Riesling at Illinois River Winery as you start on down the Illinois path to wine discovery. Lynfred Winery was the state’s first, established in 1979; it now has expanded to include several tasting rooms and a B&B. In the historic town of Galena, IL (at the far western reaches of the trail, about a three-hour drive from Chicago), you can join an “All Day Vineyards, Distillery and Lunch Package” from Amelia’s Galena Ghost Tours, which true to its name also offers paranormal outings. Back in Chicago, don’t forget to check out the city’s coolest art, architecture, and design.
2. Bucks County Wine Trail, Pennsylvania
Stemming with Chardonnay grapes, the Bucks County Wine Trail outside of Philly offers several options for sipping. Voted Bucks’ best winery four years running, Crossing Vineyards and Winery also boasts some colonial history: The original farm was part of William Penn’s land grant from the King of England in the 1600s. There’s also Rose Bank Winery, which has a sweet-vanilla Merlot and a memorable summer sangria. New kid on the block Unami Ridge Winery offers a variety of classics, including an impeccable oaked Chardonnay. If you want to hit up them all, you can take a wine tour for groups of up to 14 people, for $145 per person. Back in Philly, keep the wine times going with dinner at one of these great al fresco restaurants or at a class at the Philadelphia Wine School, where you can learn the basics or go more advanced with intensive courses from master sommeliers. Plus, get more ideas for fun group activities in Philly!
3. Massachusetts Wine and Cheese Trail
While Boston might be more commonly known for tea than for wine, the Massachusetts Wine and Cheese Trail puts this revolutionary city on the wine-destination map. At Boston Winery you can even make your own custom wine, selecting from a variety of grapes imported from vineyards each fall. Those looking to expand their wine adventures beyond Boston can drive 45 minutes due north to Mill River Wines where you can expose yourself to the award winning “Naked Chardonnay.” Back in the city, explore the city beyond the typical tourist attractions, with these off the beaten path picks, explore the North End, or go for brunch in Cambridge.
4. Virginia Wine Country
Historic battlefields and viticulture smatter the landscape of Virginia’s rolling hills just outside our nation’s capital. The battered down Appalachians create the perfect synthesis of ingredients for wine grapes: an airy atmosphere and superior drainage. With so many wineries and wine trails right next door to DC, it’s a wonder any laws get made! Start at Creek’s Edge Winery where bounties of Chardonnay and hardy Vidal blanc grapes are grown. Further along, try Maggie Malick Wine Caves, which is known for its Bordeaux blends, hand-crafted wine, and scenic beauty. And at Adventure Farm, an honest-to-goodness family farm that raises livestock and numerous crops, you can get some estate-grown Chardonnay as well as some grass-fed, organic beef. If you want to explore Washington, DC while you’re in the area, the best activities vary by season: there are fun family-friendly fall activities, tons of holiday magic in the winter, cool outdoor activities and new exhibits in the summer, and, of course, the famous Cherry Blossom Festival in the spring.
Where to Stay: Lorien Hotel & Spa
5. Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California
The picturesque Valle de Guadalupe is actually Mexico’s most important winemaking region, but it’s only a stone’s throw away from San Diego. Located in Baja California, just east of the port city of Ensenada, Mexico, the Valle de Guadalupe has a distinct Mediterranean climate and charm. And we can’t get enough of it. Grape “Harvest Fiestas” are an annual August event, but the wine-ing goes on all year long. Try out the tasting rooms at Alximia, lovely Viñas de Garza, and Hacienda la Lomita. For those who don’t like to DIY, Baja Vino Tours will pick you up in Old Town San Diego so you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride (but don’t forget your passport).
Where to Stay: Hotel Palomar San Diego