Sommelier Roundtable: What’s Your Bucket List Wine Region?

10 wine pros dish on the destinations they’re dreaming of visiting

Sommelier Roundtable: What’s Your Bucket List Wine Region?
Have your passports ready! Wine pros want to wander the globe, from Slovenia to South Africa, to explore its breadth of grape varieties and wine styles. (Alexander Spatari/Getty Images)
May 25, 2023

To enophiles, nothing beats a vacation to wine country—stunning vineyard vistas, enticing local cuisine and no end of opportunities to taste wines, sometimes right where they were grown. For those looking for travel inspiration, Wine Spectator asked 10 leading sommeliers which wine regions they haven’t visited yet but are itching to go to. They shared dreams of island adventures in Sicily and Sardinia, exploring the fresh scenes in South Africa and New Zealand and immersing themselves in classics like Champagne and Piedmont. It’s never too early to start planning your next trip!

Wine Spectator: Which wine region is on your bucket list?

Ali Yakich, wine director of Grand Award winner Flagstaff House, Boulder, Co.

South Africa is on my current bucket list. Preferably the Coastal Region. The combination of history and new trends is fascinating to me. The younger winemakers are doing crazy experiments and are open to so many new ideas. There is also some history that is not as well known. It is a fascinating region to me.

Leigh Ervine, wine director of Award of Excellence winner Rose Mary in Chicago

A bucket-list wine region for me would probably be Piedmont, Italy. It’s at the foot of the Italian Alps and produces powerhouse wines that I can’t get enough of. Give me all the truffles and Barolo forever, please!

 A portrait of Lindsey Fern looking through the bottles in the cellar at the Inn at Little Washington.
Lindsey Fern is set on getting to New Zealand soon to explore some of its prime Pinot Noir regions. (Courtesy of Inn at Little Washington)

Lindsey Fern, director of wine at the Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Va.

I have a hard time narrowing down my wine-region bucket list. I have been fortunate and have been able to visit some extraordinary wine regions and producers throughout Europe, South America and South Africa, but I think New Zealand is at the top of my list today. I would love to see as many of the regions as possible, but particularly the cooler-climate regions like Canterbury and Central Otago. I was on my way there 20 years ago and was waylaid in California. I have yet to make it there and fear that, if I go, I may never want to come home!

Rémy Lutfy, co-owner and wine director of Best of Award of Excellence winner Vertical in Detroit

When I think of a wine region that excites me and I haven’t traveled to, Sicily is running through my mind. I’m enchanted with the whites and reds coming from Etna, and I dream of seeing the island, meeting the people and drinking the wine! Every time we introduce guests to Sicilian wines, they fall in love. The wines are so fresh and bright and taste like the land and sea; I cannot wait to see this region I love, eat tons of seafood and savor some fabulous wine!

Maddy Jimerson, wine director of Casa Tua, Denver

Sardinia. I can’t help it, I’m an Italophile! I’ve been all over Italy, but I’ve never been to the Isola dei Nuraghi. I love going to the lesser-known wine regions because I feel like a (wine) pioneer, always discovering something new. Not that Sardinia is completely off the beaten path, but it’s definitely not on the typical wine trail.

I’ve developed a love for Italy’s many winemaking islands, which is one of the reasons why Sardinia is on the bucket list. There tends to be less of an international influence, so these islands have been able to preserve their ancient winemaking heritage. I spent a week last May on the island of Salina [one of the Aeolian Islands, off of Sicily] in pursuit of the “old-school,” traditional wine of the region. I went around asking locals if they knew any contadini [farmers] who were still making the wine of years past. In doing so, what I came across was truly magical—barrels in hidden cellars, a forgotten wine culture, and islanders who were eager to share their love for their land and their traditions.

Tiana Estremera, sommelier at Xiquet in Washington D.C.

I would love to visit Champagne! I’m a big bubbles gal and increasingly interested in learning about little-known grower Champagne producers. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to resist checking out the big Champagne houses. I’d really just want to see it all.

Tonya Pitts, wine director of Best of Award of Excellence winner One Market Restaurant in San Francisco

There are so many: Australia, Israel, Argentina, Lebanon, Spain, Uruguay and New Zealand. I know that’s a big bucket list!

 Portrait of Chriss Lara in the wine cellar at the Metropolitan Grill.
Chris Lara has already made a long list of winemakers he can't miss when he gets to Friuli. (Andrew Valantine)

Chris Lara, wine director of Grand Award winner Metropolitan Grill, Seattle

I love white wine. As a sommelier it’s in our DNA to love high-acid whites like Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley or a phenomenally made Riesling from anywhere. With that, my heart always sings for Friulian whites. Give me a Ribolla Gialla from i Clivi, or Radikon’s Oslavje. This area abounds with gifted producers: Gravner, Schiopetto, Venica & Venica, Vie de Romans, Borgio del Tiglio, and the list goes on. Not only ridiculously good wine but, from what I’ve read, a natural beauty abounds in this Northeastern Italian region: the Alps, the Adriatic sea and Gulf of Trieste, rolling hills. Every picture I’ve seen screams, “Come here now and frolic in the hillsides, while singing something from Julie Andrews.” Throw in the ability to hop over the border, play in Slovenia, and have fun with Rebula [Ribolla Gialla], Sivi Pinot [Pinot Gris] and producers like Movia and Edi Simčič. I’m dying to go.

Molly Austad, wine director of Award of Excellence winner Bludorn and sister restaurant Navy Blue in Houston

Kakheti, Georgia, is a wine region on my bucket list. I’m sure many sommeliers and wine experts have this on their list as it is considered the birthplace of wine! What’s neat is that many of the winemakers there still use ancient techniques passed down through generations. They have many native varieties that are hard to find here in the U.S., and my curiosity will surely (hopefully) take me there one day.

Daniel Bishop, head sommelier and beverage director of Best of Award of Excellence winner Fiola in Coral Gables, Fla.

I fell in love with Italian wines, food and culture on my trips to the many parts of Italy, but sadly I haven’t been to the Piedmont region, home to the famed wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. We have hosted many dinners with the Gaja family at Fiola Miami, and it only made my need to visit even greater. I have always wanted to have white truffles and Nebbiolo in Alba during the fall. It’s a bucket-list destination that will absolutely happen.

Heidi Turzyn, wine consultant for Gotham Bar and Grill in New York City

I have been to some stunning wine regions in the world such as Barolo in Italy, the Mosel in Germany, and Central Otago in New Zealand (Rippon winery is absolutely beautiful). But I would say next on my bucket list of regions to visit would be the Douro Valley in Portugal, Santorini in Greece, or the Canary Islands in Spain! These would all be at the top of my list!

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