For Balloons and Bubbly
Yarra Valley, Australia
You flew a long way to get Down Under; why not spend a little more time aloft to really see one of Australia’s best wine regions? Visitors to Melbourne can take in the nearby Yarra Valley’s vineyards from above, thanks to Global Ballooning Australia’s Yarra Valley Flight + Wine Tour. The day starts with a predawn pickup at your hotel in the city, but the early call time is worth it when your hot-air balloon ascends in concert with the sun and spends the next hour sailing over one of the prettiest regions under the Southern Cross. After landing and breakfast, join an Australian Wine Tour Co. circuit of four Yarra Valley wineries, during which you can sample estate-grown wines at Steels Gate, enjoy a paired lunch at Balgownie Estate, inspect the antique copper winemaking equipment at Yering Farm, and pop bubbly at Domaine Chandon.
Wine to try: Pick up a bottle of Domaine Chandon’s sparkling Brut Nature 2015 (a blend of pinot noir, chardonnay, and unexpected pinot meunier, $40) to help you celebrate your Australian adventure at one of Melbourne’s many highly rated, BYO-friendly restaurants.
$400 for adults, $300 for children 6-12; globalballooning.com.au
For Wine on the Wild Side
Stellenbosch, South Africa
Most visitors to South Africa have two bucket-list items: seeing wildlife (lions, rhinos, and elephants, oh my!) and sipping Stellenbosch Valley wine. Efficient travelers can combine those missions with the two-night, three-day Wine + Wildlife Safari from Cape Town–based Hotspots2c. Exact itineraries vary, but a typical small group tour starts with a transfer from the city to the nearby wine region for experiences that include pairings of wine and biltong (dried beef or game meat) at the boutique Marianne Wine Estate, a stroll among the gardens at Babylonstoren farm, and artisanal ice cream pairings at Clos Malverne. The journey continues along the verdant Garden Route to the Botlierskop Private Game Reserve for 4×4 safaris, followed by a night in Oudtshoorn (home to the world’s largest ostrich population). The final day features a visit to the Buffelsdrift Game Lodge for another 4×4 safari (and an optional elephant walk) and a return drive through the seemingly infinite semi-desert landscape of Route 62.
Wine to try: The 2016 Reserve Chenin Blanc ($26) from DeMorgenzon Estate
(a stop on the tour) earned the International Chenin Blanc Trophy and a gold medal at the 2017 International Wine Challenge.
From $307, including transportation, game drives, a ranger-led bush walk, winery visits and tastings, a wine-and-ice-cream pairing, and two nights’ accommodation (meals are additional); hotspots2c.co.za
For Red-Loving Runners
The region of Val d’Orcia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the town of Montalcino are home to one of Italy’s signature reds, Brunello di Montalcino. They’re also the scene of a new trail race, the Brunello Crossing, (February 15–16). More than 1,500 competitive runners are expected to sign up for timed 45 km, 24 km, and 14 km events, and hundreds more will enroll in a, shall we say, more indulgent 13 km walk, which traverses a section of the Via Francigena, passing four wineries (Col di Lamo, Siro Pacenti, Canalicchio di Sopra, and Franco Pacenti–Canalicchio) that will be open for tastings. The stunningly scenic route—think ancient churches, time-forgotten villages, vast plains, rolling hills covered in vineyards and olive orchards—concludes with a steep climb to the medieval tower of Montalcino’s iconic Palazzo dei Priori, but don’t worry if you spend more time on tasting than training: A sag wagon is available to carry partied-out participants the final two miles. No matter how you cross the finish line, book a celebratory stay at the charming 121-year-old Albergo il Giglio hotel, in the historic town center.
Wine to try: According to Italian DOCG standards, Brunello di Montalcino must be made from 100 percent sangiovese grapes and aged for a minimum of four years. Pick up a bottle of the highly rated 2013 vintage from Franco Pacenti–Canalicchio ($55) as you walk, slowly, to the finish line.
Registration from $11 for the noncompetitive event to $45 for the longest timed run; brunellocrossing.it
For Detectives with Discerning Palates
Napa Valley, California
The Napa Valley Wine Train has been carrying tourists to America’s most celebrated wineries in vintage Pullman rail cars since 1989, but over the past three years the company’s owners, Noble House Hotels & Resorts and Brooks Street, have expanded tour offerings. A popular choice is the six-hour Legacy Tour ($330), featuring stops at three of the region’s most venerable estates (Robert Mondavi, Charles Krug, and V. Sattui) and a four-course meal in the dining car. But perhaps the most fitting tour for this Agatha Christie–esque setting is the three-hour Murder Mystery and Dinner ($250, pictured below). Dress in your finest Roaring ’20s regalia and descend into a speakeasy–turned–crime scene, courtesy of the Murder Mystery Company, topped off with a three-course meal. Did we just see Professor Plum … in the kitchen … with a corkscrew?
Wine to try: Charles Krug is Napa Valley’s oldest existing winery (established 1861) and has California’s oldest public tasting room (1882), making it the perfect place to sample Napa’s signature grape, cabernet sauvignon, at a reasonable price ($39 for the 2016 vintage).
Tours from $80; some family-friendly trips are available; winetrain.com
For Chardonnay-Sipping Cowboys
Yakima Valley, Washington
Saddle up to do your sipping and swirling in central Washington’s Yakima Valley. On the wine tour operated by Cherry Wood Bed Breakfast and Barn, you can visit two of the many surrounding wineries (such as Silver Lake, Cultura, Sheridan, and Two Mountain), enjoy a gourmet picnic lunch, and do some gentle horseback riding. Cherry Wood has saved more than 100 abused and abandoned horses over the past 20 years and has an average of 30 horses on its working farm at any given time. The mounts are so easygoing that first-time riders can handle them (even after a couple of tastings). The countryside, too, is gentle, with rolling contours and smooth trails that pass by orchards and vineyards. If you’re more into cabernet than cantering, book the farm’s “cowboy limo” tour, on which you’ll be towed to four different wineries in a surprisingly comfortable hay wagon. Whether you’re saddle-sore or tasting–tipsy at the end of the day, find your home on the range in one of farm’s 22-foot-tall glamping teepees.
Wine to try: If your pony moseys over to Silver Lake Winery, you’d do well to pick up a bottle of stainless steel vat–fermented chardonnay ($11) to get what the winemaker calls a “pure expression of the varietal.”
Horseback tour, two wineries, including lunch, $245 (Saturdays only); Hay Wagon Winery Tour, up to four wineries, $145 (tasting fees not included in tours); double-occupancy teepees from $285, including breakfast; cherrywoodbbandb.com