For many, a relaxing vacation does not need to include sun, sand and Mai Tais. Wine aficionados should consider sacrificing exotic resorts in favor of something more unique and fulfilling: a visit to an internationally known vineyard. In fact, you don't have to know a Bordeaux from a Chardonnay to appreciate these destinations -- they offer as much peace and scenery as they do great wines. Here's a look at 10 of the world's best wine regions.
Wines coming out of the Baden region are unique among the German product as they are recognized for their strong flavor and low acidity. Dominant among the numerous grapes grown here is the Pinot Noir, which produces a red wine known as "the aristocrat of red wines." Baden, however, which is the country's third largest wine region, is also known as a haven for white wine lovers, since Pinot Gris and Muller Thurgau grapes thrive in the earth as well.
The wine estates and cooperatives here accept visitors with the utmost hospitality and are often associated with small restaurants in the area that offer food best suited to these fine German wines. If you like to explore on your own and are a fan of the German landscape, Baden is a wise choice.
Must-see: The Carl Schmidt-Wagner winery, which sells dry, half-dry and classic Riesling wine.
La Rioja, Spain
Encompassing some of Spain's most beautiful territory in the north, the Rioja region has always been an important player in the wine industry, selling its product to over 100 countries. From the tourist-friendly cities of San Sebastian or Bilbao, you can venture out and visit dozens of small and large wineries.
Rioja offers tourists an array of red, ros and white wines to please the senses. Check out the Crianza, Reserva and premium Gran Reserva, which differ in age and fermentation but are all of the highest quality. Each small winery, or bodega , has its own set of commercial and local wines that are ready to be sampled.
Must-see: The Labastida is a family-run winery that offers guided tours throughout its facilities and glasses of its newest creations at the end.
With its rolling hills and famous wine route, the large region of Alsace has been a tourist favorite for decades. Picturesque villages and small, local wineries dot the 151-mile long area, which draws more than eight million thirsty visitors a year. The attractions are tantalizing: 67 villages and hamlets open their winemaking facilities and cellars to the public, offering great food on top of it all.
On these trips, you'll be able to taste Alsace's wide range of wines, made from seven varieties of grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Tokay Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sylvaner, and Muscat d'Alsace. Every few days, you can bounce from one town to another, sampling each locale's creations and staying in quaint inns.
Must-see: Visit Gustav Lorentz for endless glasses of a variety of Alsatian wine.
Amazing wine regions down under and South America's best...
Thanks to several affordable dinner and dessert wines, winemakers in Southeast Australia have taken the American market by storm. Here's your chance to pay a visit to the place where the magic begins, and there a lot of wineries to choose from in this vast region. At the award-winning Penfolds Grange (which owns about 1,200 acres of vineyards), for instance, you can go on a tasting frenzy as over two dozen Chardonnays, Sauvignons, Shirazes, and fortified wines are poured out for you.
Near Sydney, you'll find amazing Pinot Noirs, while vineyards in the Yarra Valley (Victoria's oldest vineyard region) offer numerous sparkling wines. In fact, wherever you go in this fertile land, you'll stumble on over 50 great wineries to sample from. Some even stray from the traditional and produce concoctions like kiwifruit wine, which is definitely worth a try.
Must-do: Start the day off with a sunrise balloon ride and complete breakfast, followed by a complete tour of the wineries in Port Phillip, Victoria.
Maipo Valley, Chile
Known for its quality and inexpensive red wines, Chile is worthy of a visit for its wineries alone. The most common grapes found here are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Depending on where they are grown in the Maipo Valley, these bottles can be full-bodied, light or fruity.
Visit wineries like Santa Rita and you'll see why Chileean product is world-renowned; each part of the winemaking process is meticulous, producing an excellent drink year round (the Santa Rita vineyard currently exports about 340,000 cases a year to the U.S.).
Must-see: The Concha y Toro facility in Puente Alto, where it is believed that South America's best red wines are produced.
Tuscany may hold the prestige of Italian winemaking, but Veneto does all the legwork as the country's leader in classified wine production. With incredible Venice as the major city in the area, there is no drawback to visiting Veneto. You'll find only the best fruity and dry wines here -- Soave, Recioto and Valpolicella are typical of what is made in the area.
More familiar tastes lie northeast of Venice, where Merlot and Cabernet grapes generate some great reds, and the Chardonnay products are gaining ground as a popular white wine. The most attractive aspect to the Veneto region is that there are always treasures to discover, be it the bubbly Prosecco white or the sweet Torcolato.
Must-see: The Provolo Winery, with a selection of full-bodied red wines and fruity dessert wines.
The best bottles from Portugal to California...
You can't go wrong by visiting this famous region of Portugal, where the origins of Port wine can be traced. Though the terrain is rather rough and the summers are scorching hot (kind of like the local women), you'll find enough sweet, sweet Porto to put you at ease. Stroll through the wineries and, instead of an assortment of traditional red and white wines, vintage Ports will be there for you to enjoy. At Quinta do Vesuvio, for instance, there are the rewards 15 years of great Port production to choose from.
Must-see: The Quinta de La Rosa winery and bed and breakfast.
Napa Valley, California
Though it produces only 4% of California's wine production, Napa Valley is recognized as America's greatest collection of wineries. Bound by mountains on both sides, the 30-mile long region is literally blanketed with grapes. There are at least 220 wine producers present here, from family-owned businesses to big companies with an annual output of a million cases or more.
Sample Napa's famous Cabernet Sauvignons, Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, and Merlots while on winetasting tours, and then retire to one of a dozen quaint inns. Other highlights of the Napa Valley include an assortment of day spas, fine restaurants and public parks and beaches.
Must-see: The Fife Vineyard, which offers a great Zinfandel wine.
Toscana , like Bordeaux, is one of Europe's most famous wine producers, bringing both upscale and everyday reds and whites to the rest of the world. It is here that you will find the Chianti, which is often considered the epitome of Italian wine and a favorite of many (including one Hannibal Lecter, as you'll recall). Another wine to seek out during your tours of Tuscany's small farms is the Brunello di Montalcino, a more scarce and expensive red wine.
The great thing about visiting Tuscany is that you'll get the opportunity to taste "no name" creations that you'd never find in a liquor store. From your hotel in Florence, for example, you can take buses to many of the rural wineries and sample original wines made from local grapes.
Must-see: Scale the hills up to the Enoteca La Fortezza, where you'll find tasty numbers named Caparzo, Fuligni and Barbi.
By most accounts, France's Bordeaux region harbors the finest collection of vineyards in the entire world. Boasting 284,320 acres of A.O.C. (which translates to "controlled name of origin") vines, the red wines produced here are synonymous with high quality and orgasmic flavors. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes produce incredible Pomerol, Graves and Malbec wines that must be tasted on a number of inexpensive tours.
The best way to literally taste the fruit of Bordeaux's labor is not by taste-testing, but with fresh foods found at one of the area's famous markets. Bring a bottle -- or two -- of your favorite wine, and sample gourmet offerings outdoors.
Must-see: The vineyards of Saint-Emilion, a scenic medieval town that boasts an amazing wine by the same name.
Taste the world's best
Whether you decide to jet off to the legendary vineyards of Italy, California or another wine haven, you won't be disappointed. After relaxing at a bed and breakfast, you can tour some wineries and, best of all, sample world-class red, white and Port wines.
Top 10: Famous Wine Regions