Best Wine Regions in the World That Every Traveler Should Know in 2020

by Global Viewpoint

Why you should learn about the best wine regions in the world

Time Wine flies when you’re having fun. As travelers, we can all appreciate the history, culture, languages, and tradition that wine brings to the table. It’s a subject matter that takes a lifetime to fully grasp, yet only an article to join the conversation. There are so many incredible wine regions in the world to learn about, but which are the best? Read on to find out…

Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or visiting the hillside vineyards of Northern California, wine is an important part of the equation. In your quest to become a travel pro, here are the best wine regions in the world that you should know about and visit in 2020.

Best wine regions in the world pinterest image.

The global wine industry

Before I jump into wine tourism and the best wine countries in the world, here’s an overview of the industry as a whole:

Wine was first developed over 8,000 years ago in a small village in Georgia (the country, not the US state). Since then, the art of winemaking has permeated nearly every civilization. From the hills of Tuscany to the “land down under” in Australia, wine is deeply ingrained in our global society.

According to Zion Market Research’s Global Wine Report, the global wine market was valued at $302.02 billion in 2017. The industry is expected to grow more than $120 billion to $423.59 billion by 2023.

For most of human history, the wine industry and trade was dominated by Europe. However, in recent years, there has been a huge surge in production and consumption in the Americas, particularly in the United States, Argentina, and Chile.  Below are the top wine producers and consumers in the world, in millions of hectoliters (mhl):

Top wine-producing countries in the world (range from 2014-2018)

(Source: International Organisation of Vine and Wine OIV):

  1. Italy (44.2 – 48.5 mhl)
  2. France (45.2 – 46.5 mhl)
  3. Spain (32.5 – 40.9 mhl)
  4. USA (23.1 – 23.9 mhl)
  5. Argentina (9.4 – 15.2 mhl)
  6. Australia (11.9 – 13.7 mhl)
  7. Chile (9.5 – 12.9 mhl)
  8. China (10.8 – 11.6 mhl)
  9. South Africa (9.5 – 11.5 mhl)
  10. Germany (8.8 – 9.8 mhl)

Among these top wine producers, Spain is the world’s biggest exporter of wine by volume. France is the biggest exporter by dollar amount.

Top wine-consuming countries in the world (range from 2013-2017)

(Source: International Organisation of Vine and Wine OIV):

  1. USA (30.8 – 32.6 mhl)
  2. France (27.0 – 27.5 mhl)
  3. Italy (19.5 – 22.6 mhl)
  4. Germany (19.6 – 20.4 mhl)
  5. China (15.5 – 17.9 mhl)
  6. UK (12.6 – 12.9 mhl)
  7. Spain (9.8 – 10.3 mhl)
  8. Argentina (8.9 – 10.3 mhl)
  9. Russia (8.9 – 10.3 mhl)
  10. Australia (5.4 – 5.8 mhl)

Among these top wine-consuming countries, Germany is the top importer by volume while the United States is the biggest importer by dollar amount. On a per-capita basis, France consumes the most wine.

If you’d like to learn more about the top wine-producing countries in the world, I recommend watching this brief video below:

Now that you have a good grasp of the global wine market, let’s find your next dream destination that serves top-notch wine.

Best wine regions in the “Old World”

Which country has the best wine in the old world? The answer really depends on personal preferences.

If you enjoy visiting Europe, you’re going to love the wine regions on this list. Across this incredible continent, you’ll find some of the best and oldest wine regions in the world. Within each, I’ve also included the best wine by country. Here are some of the top ones you definitely need to know about:

Burgundy, France

It’s no secret that France is one of the best countries in the world for wine. It’s been an important part of French society going back centuries, and even millennia. Though pretty much all regions of this country deserve a spot on this list, Burgundy especially stands out.

Just a 3-hour drive southeast of Paris, Burgundy is one of the most popular wine regions in the world. It’s also one of the most expensive, and for good reason. Burgundy is made up of tiny villages and microclimates that yield ultra-premium red and white wines.

When you hear the phrase “Red Burgundy”, you’re referring to red wines made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes. White Burgundy, on the other hand, is made entirely from Chardonnay. Among Burgundy’s 44 villages, there are four tiers that you will find labeled on Burgundy bottles:

  • Grand Cru: The highest classification that only relates to around 2% of the vineyards in Burgundy. Grand Cru is essentially the Ivy League of Burgundy.
  • Premier Cru: The next highest tier, comprising roughly 12% of Burgundy’s vineyards.
  • Village Wines (Appellations Villages): These tend to be the best-valued wines. Their vineyards could be just steps away from those classified as Grand Cru and Premier Cru, but do not have the hefty price tag associated with them.
  • Regional Wines (Appellations Régionales): This is the lowest classification of Burgundy wines, meaning that it’s still special because, well…it’s Burgundy. Regional wines tend to be sourced from a combination of vineyards across different villages in Burgundy.

Aside from its stellar wine, Burgundy is also a beautiful vacation destination. Brimming with scenic vineyards and medieval monuments at every turn, Burgundy embodies France’s Old World charm. Some popular villages include Irancy, Vezelay, and Cluny. Each village has its own unique personality, offering a scenic backdrop while you enjoy a sip of your precious wine.

Now that you know a thing about Burgundy, you can understand why wine lovers consider it the crème de la crème (even for France standards). French wine is truly (one of) the best!

Irancy is a small village in Burgundy. This is one of the best wine regions in the world that you should visit in 2020.
Irancy is a quaint village in Burgundy known for its Pinot Noir wines.

Tuscany, Italy

Ahh Tuscany. Cherished for its world-class wines, majestic hills, and Renaissance art, this region in Central Italy is a must-visit for wine lovers (and just about everyone else).

Tuscany is the birthplace of dry Chianti, made predominantly from Sangiovese grapes. The Chianti Classico viticultural area— the world’s first established wine zone— is situated between the scenic cities of Florence and Siena. The Tuscan region is also known for several other red wines, including Carmignano and Elba Aleatico Passito. Tuscany’s elevated vineyards and gently rolling hills are a feast for the eyes. And then there’s the food.

Tuscan cuisine is diverse and hyper-local, meaning that it totally changes based on the village or city you’re in. At a high level, this region is savored for its fresh and simple ingredients, which you’ll find in its breads, pasta, cheeses, and Steak Florentine. As you’d expect, each of these foods complements Tuscan red wines.

Before, during, and after exploring Tuscany’s picturesque vineyards, you’ll want to pay a visit to Florence (Tuscany’s capital), Siena, and San Gimignano. Each place offers a unique flavor of Tuscany’s rich history, diverse culture, and amazing architecture. There’s so much to see in this region, and wine is at the center of it all.

Tuscany is one of the best wine regions in the world that you should visit in 2020.
Tuscany’s romantic hillside towns embody the quintessential Italian experience.

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Rioja, Spain

If you’re a wine lover, you’ll really enjoy this region of Spain.

Located in northern Spain, Rioja is the leading wine region in the country and probably the most recognizable for foreigners. Rioja’s bottles are simple and easy to understand, incorporating three tiers: Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva (ordered by price, lowest to highest). The primary grapes used in Rioja wines are Tempranillo and Garnacha.

This red wine haven is protected by the Cantabrian Mountains to the north, giving it a moderate, continental climate. Northern Spain is known for its fierce winds, so these lofty snow-capped mountains act as a shield for Rioja’s bodegas (“vineyards” in Spanish).

Some beautiful villages in Rioja include San Millán de la Cogolla and Nájera. In addition to their proximity to top-quality wineries, they are both nestled along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. As such, it’s definitely one of the best wine regions in the world that you should visit in 2020.

Having lived in Spain and visited many times, I’ve got to say…Spanish wine is pretty amazing.

Douro Valley, Portugal

Portugal is widely recognized for being one of the best countries for wine. And Douro Valley has been leading the way.

Douro Valley is an idyllic region in northern Portugal that is best known for its Port wines. These sweet, red wines are often served with chocolate and caramel desserts, though Port comes in dry varieties as well.

With its stunning scenery and magnificent architecture, Douro Valley is a UNESCO Site. This region has produced wine for over 2,000 years, and has been a top producer of Port since the 18th century.

A trip to Douro Valley would not be complete without visiting Porto. This colorful city is known for its medieval flair and coastal charm. It’s also considered one of the cheapest cities in Europe for budget-travelers. Porto is the gateway to the Douro Valley, providing the perfect ambiance while you enjoy your glass of Port.

Porto is the second largest city in Portugal
Porto is Portugal’s second largest city after Lisbon. It’s the gateway to one of the best wine regions in the world.

Bordeaux, France

If you’re a wine enthusiast and a traveler, you won’t want to miss Bordeaux.

The French region of Bordeaux is teeming with rich history and fine wine. Located in southwestern France, Bordeaux is best known for its red wines, though it also has some white wines worth mentioning. It’s one of the best wine regions in the world that definitely deserves a visit in 2020.

The three popular red wine grapes in Bordeaux are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Unlike Burgundy which uses 100% Pinot Noir in its red wines, most of Bordeaux’s red wines are a combination of different grapes. For white wines, Bordeaux is praised for its Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

Aside from its range of delicate wines, Bordeaux is also a tourist hot spot. The port city of Bordeaux has many intriguing attractions, including the Bordeaux Cathedral (11th century Romanesque church) and the Place de la Bourse (picturesque reflection pool).

Whether you’re a seasoned wine expert or someone simply looking for a scenic getaway, you’ll be mesmerized by Bordeaux’s timeless intrigue and delicate wines. This is definitely a top wine destination you won’t want to miss.

Saint-Émilion is a charming town just northeast of Bordeaux. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Saint-Émilion is a charming town just northeast of Bordeaux. Known for its Romanesque architecture,
Saint-Émilion is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mosel, Germany

Ice wine, anyone?

Though Germany is known for its beer (Oktoberfest anyone?), it is also one of the best countries in the world for wine. It’s home to several wine regions of global importance. Chief among them is Mosel, a region in the western part of the country that straddles France and Luxembourg. Though not Germany’s largest wine region, Mosel is definitely the most internationally recognized. As such, it’s among the top wine regions in the world that you should visit in 2020.

Mosel’s claim to fame is its Riesling. The locals tend to prefer trocken (“dry”) Rieslings, while most of us abroad are more familiar with the sweeter kind.

Mosel is also known for its steep vineyards. Calmont Klettersteig, located in the village of Bremm, is the steepest vineyard in the world with a 65 degree incline.

If you enjoy sweet wines with scenic views, you’ll find that German wine in Mosel has got you covered.

Mosel is the top wine region in Germany, and one of the best wine regions in all of Europe.
Mosel is the top wine region in Germany, and one of the best wine regions in all of Europe.

Veneto, Italy

Italy is the ultimate wine country, and Veneto is one of the top wine regions within it.

Extending from the Adriatic Sea to the Dolomite Mountains in northeastern Italy, Veneto is the country’s largest wine producing region. Veneto is home to several major cities and tourist hot spots, including Venice and Verona. Veneto is also home to Amarone, a dry red wine that comes from Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes.

In addition to having high-quality red wines, Veneto is a sparkling wine haven, thanks to its Prosecco. Derived from white grapes, Prosecco embodies the lighthearted spirit and bubbly nature of classic Italian life.

Wine in Verona at the Piazza delle Erbe.
Nothing beats having a glass of Amarone in the Piazza delle Erbe in Verona.

Wachau Valley, Austria

Austria is one of those under-the-radar countries with some of the best wine in the world. This one is a top wine producer in Austria, which is why I included it among the best wine regions in the world.

Situated along the Danube River in northeastern Austria, Wachau is a top-notch region in the realm of white wines. In this small fertile valley, the two mightiest wines are Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. The Riesling thrives in the highest and steepest slopes along the Danube, while the Grüner Veltliner flourishes on the lower slopes.

One town that you need to check out during your tour of Wachau is Melk. The town’s 11th-century monastery provides a breathtaking backdrop as you enjoy your white summer wine.

With its pristine natural landscape and quaint towns dating back to the Middle Ages, Wachau is a UNESCO Site. It’s also one of the best wine regions in the world that you should visit in 2020.

Sit back at an Austrian tavern or winery, known as a Heuriger, and you’ll see why this is one of the top wine regions in the world.

Dürnstein is one of the many beautiful towns you'll encounter along the Danube River in the Wachau Region.
Dürnstein is one of the many beautiful towns you’ll encounter along the Danube River in the Wachau Region. This region and destination is among the best for wine in the world.

Other wine regions in Europe that you should know by name

In addition to the popular wine regions above, you should also look out for these European regions and countries with the best wine:

  • Catalunya, Spain – Known for its Cava (Spanish sparkling wine).
  • Champagne, France – The capital of sparkling wine, known as champagne. The Champagne region of France is among the best in this category.
  • Côtes du Rhône, France – Popular for its Grenache (red and rosé) and Grenache Blanc (white).
  • Istria, Croatia – Home to a diverse mix of Cabernet SauvignonChardonnaySauvignon Blanc, and Merlot. There’s a grape variety for everyone here.
  • Loire Valley, France – Produces excellent white wines, as well as sparkling wine, dessert wine, and rosé.
  • Piemonte, Italy (Piedmont in English) – known for its red wines, including Barbaresco and Barolo.
  • Emilia-Romagna, Italy: Not as prestigious as other Italian wine regions, but it’s acclaimed for its Lambrusco.

Best wine regions in theNew World”

What are the top wine regions in the new world? Like that of the old world, the answer is that it depends. The regions below don’t have the same historic appeal as the Old World wines of Europe, but they are still immensely popular.

Here are the best wine regions in the new world that you should know about as a global-minded traveler.

Napa Valley, California, USA

  • Location: Northern California; just 1.5 hours north of San Francisco.
  • Popular wines:
    • Reds – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel
    • Whites – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc
  • Fun fact: Though Napa Valley is the best-known wine region in the US, it only comprises 4% of California’s total wine produced.
Robert Mondavi winery in Napa Valley.
Robert Mondavi is one of the most-visited wineries in Napa Valley.

Mendoza, Argentina

  • Location: North-Central Argentina along the Andes Mountains; just east of the Chile-Argentina border.
  • Popular wines:
    • Reds – Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah
    • Whites – Torrontes, Sauvignon Blanc
  • Fun fact: The province of Mendoza is home to the tallest mountain in the Western and Southern Hemispheres, Aconcagua (22,837 feet. or 6,960 meters).

Colchagua Valley, Chile

  • Location: Central Chile; 80 miles south of Chile’s capital, Santiago.
  • Popular wines:
    • Reds – Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Syrah, Malbec
    • Whites – Chardonnay
  • Fun fact: Did you know that Chile’s Pacific coastline extends over 2,500 miles (4,000 km)? From north to south, you’ll find otherworldly deserts and glaciers. Colchagua Valley, which sits in the middle of the country, has a Mediterranean climate that is ideal for growing red grapes.
Colchagua Valley in Chile.
Colchagua Valley is one of Chile’s most prominent wine regions. Its Mediterranean climate makes it one of the best wine regions in the world on this ranking.

Sonoma County, California

  • Location: Northern California; just 1 hour north of San Francisco and directly next to Napa Valley.
  • Popular wines:
    • Reds – Pinot Noir, Zinfandel
    • Whites – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc
  • Fun fact: Sonoma is significantly cheaper than its next-door neighbor Napa Valley, both in terms of the price of wines and accommodations. This is partly due to the acreage of vineyards within these regions (60,000 acres in Sonoma County 43,000 acres in Napa Valley).
Sonoma Valley is one of the best wine regions and destinations in the world.
After Napa Valley, Sonoma is one of the best-known wine regions in the United States and the world.

Maipo Valley, Chile

  • Location: Central Chile; just south of Santiago and north of Colchagua Valley.
  • Popular wines:
    • Reds – Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux Blend, Carménère, Merlot
    • Whites – Chardonnay
  • Fun fact: Maipo Valley is widely hailed as the “Bordeaux of South America.”

McLaren Vale, Australia

  • Location: Southern Australia; just south of the country’s fifth largest city, Adelaide.
  • Popular wines:
    • Reds – Shiraz, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon
    • Whites – Chardonnay, Vermentino
  • Fun fact: McLaren Vale is nestled along the scenic Australian coastline. Some beaches here allow visitors to drive on the sand with 4WD vehicles, though a permit is required.

Willamette Valley, Oregon

  • Location: Northwest Oregon; between the cities of Portland and Eugene.
  • Popular wines:
    • Reds – Pinot Noir
    • Whites – Pinot Gris, Chardonnay
  • Fun fact: Williamette Valley extends 150 miles (240 km), comprising over two-thirds of Oregon’s total wineries and vineyards. Williamette Valley also encompasses many of the state’s major cities—including Portland, Eugene, and Salem. As a result, 70% of Oregon’s population lives in this region.

Marlborough, New Zealand

  • Location: Northeastern part of New Zealand’s South Island.
  • Popular wines:
    • Reds – Pinot Noir
    • Whites – Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay
  • Fun fact: Marlborough is New Zealand’s largest wine-growing region. It’s globally renowned for its Sauvignon Blanc, which complements the region’s fresh seafood.

Other wine regions to consider

China

China is a fast-growing wine market that produces dry red wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style reds. Though it doesn’t export much wine yet, China has been consistently gaining media attention for its great quality wines. If the trend continues, it’ll be a matter of time before the country becomes a major player in the industry.

When visiting China, be sure to visit a winery or two. This estate in Yunnan, China is among the top in the world.

South Africa

South Africa is one of the best countries for wine that gives you a good bang for your buck. The country has been producing wine since the first Dutch settlers arrived in the 17th century. However, it didn’t become a contender on the global stage until much more recently. Today, the country produces many popular white and red wines, including Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Interestingly, South Africa’s Cape Wines are influenced by two oceans—the Indian and Atlantic. Given its geography and terroir, South Africa is one of the world’s top wine regions.

Take a wine tour or do a wine tasting at one of South Africa’s vineyards, and you’ll see why it’s one of the top wine regions in the world.

For further reading: Coolest Airbnbs in the World You Should Add to Your Bucket List

South Africa is one of the top wine regions and destinations in the world that you should visit in 2020.
Stellenbosch is one of the top wine regions in South Africa and the world as a whole.

Worldwide wines (recap)

As you’ve probably noted from reading this article, wine can be pretty complex. Though the learning curve is steep (biochemistry, anyone?), wine can be a manageable subject matter when you learn about the regions as a whole. Here are a few key takeaways:

  • France and Italy are the two dominant countries in the “Old World” wine market.
  • The United States, Argentina, and Chile are producing some of the best wines of the “New World.”
  • The most prominent grape varieties in the world are Cabernet Sauvignon for red wines, and Chardonnay for white wines.
  • There’s no such thing as a bad wine or winery (seriously!). We all have different tastes and preferences. Pay for the view, if not for the wine!

Additionally, here’s a brief (and subjective) recap of the best wine by country:

Best wine in the world by country

  • Argentina: Malbec
  • Australia: Shiraz
  • Chile: Cabernet Sauvignon
  • France: Pinot Noir
  • Germany: Riesling
  • Italy: Chianti
  • New Zealand: Sauvignon Blanc
  • Portugal: Port
  • Spain: Tempranillo
  • United States: Cabernet Sauvignon

I hope this article gave you a few talking points for your next trip to one of the best wine regions around the world. In countries like Italy and France, where wine is a hallmark of their culture and tradition, it’s important to have an understanding of this beguiling beverage.

Lastly, for those of you who want to know how to say “cheers” in a few other languages, here you go:

  • Italian: Salute! Cin cin! (“chin-chin”)
  • French: Santé!
  • Spanish: Salud!
  • German: Prost!

Are you looking to discover more beautiful places in the world? If so, check out my recent blog posts below:

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2 comments

Gordon Sullivan February 16, 2019 - 12:28

Lot of work Jonathan. Very well done

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Global Viewpoint February 26, 2019 - 09:31

Thank you Gordon! I really appreciate your kind feedback!

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