Four Wine Vacations That Fit Every Budget | Wine Enthusiast
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Four Wine Vacations That Fit Every Budget

When an iconic region like Napa serves as an aspirational benchmark, it’s easy to be discouraged by the potential cost of a wine-tasting vacation. But in reality, the world is rich with affordable destinations. The saying “good wine doesn’t come from ugly places” happens to prove largely true, so saving money doesn’t mean you necessarily have to compromise on beautiful scenery.

Value also doesn’t always mean cheap, and expensive doesn’t always mean good. Underappreciated places often surprise and can even yield the greatest return. The following locations offer exceptional value when it comes to fine wine, food and accommodation, which means you can use the savings to check a second suitcase for vinous souvenirs.

Cantina del Notaio
Cantina del Notaio / Photo by Francesca Pagliai

Basilicata, Italy

The flagship wine of Basilicata, Aglianico del Vulture, is known for its power and structure. This rural, isolated area near the arch of Italy’s boot has remained relatively untouched by modern tourism and inflated prices; as such, empty beaches, fabulous food and the ancient city of Matera reward those who make the trek.

Wineries to Visit

Basilicata has a small yet mighty wine region that surrounds an extinct volcano, Monte Vulture. Ancient lava flows sculpted the landscape, while geological shifts amplified elevation. And today, Aglianico, the region’s top variety, grows on and around its slopes. You can learn more about the terroir during a vineyard tour and tasting of Titolo at Azienda Agricola Elena Fucci in Barile. Another great stop nearby is Paternoster, owned by Veneto’s Tommasi Family Estates. Though its Aglianicos range in price, Synthesi is both affordable and delicious. Tour volcanic grottoes used by Franciscan monks at Cantine del Notaio. Near Venosa, in the heart of the appellation, you’ll also find superb Aglianico at Regio Cantina, an estate owned by the Tuscany-based Piccini firm. At Grifalco, snag the wallet-friendly Gricos bottling for weeknight pizza and pasta.

Where to Stay

Matera’s cave houses, or sassi, are among the first human dwellings in Italy. The sassi and the park of the Rupestrian churches of Matera, which is comprised of a complex of houses, churches, monasteries and hermitages built into the natural caves of the Murgia, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Locals who recognized their touristic potential have renovated them into small hotels. Le Dodici Lune offers simple and pretty cave rooms for around $55 per night. The owners also offer a food tour that visits an ancient mill and bakery, and includes a pasta-making class. Another good value is Locanda di San Martino, based around an old Roman thermae, or thermal bath. Agriturismi offer budget accommodations on rustic farms, and rural Basilicata boasts many of them. Try Stellato, in Potenza, and sample cave-ripened cheese with breakfast. For modest prices in old-town Venosa, book Albergo Hotel Orazio, a palace turned hotel.

Where to Drink

Stick to osterias and trattorias to save money, since every eatery serves local wine. In Matera, explore Aglianico’s range with the humble regional dishes of La Fedde Rosse. Italian wine bars always have nibbles, too, and one of Matera’s best is Enoteca dai Tosi. An elegant and striking setting inside a cave belies its reasonable prices. The couple behind wine restaurant L’Arturo Enogastronomia also runs a cute B&B with attractive rates. Enjoy certified Neapolitan pizza and carafes of wine on the patio or in the impressively designed cave-inspired interior at Oi Marì. In Venosa, sample gnocchi, fusilli and ravioli with wines of nearby Vulture at Al Baliaggio.

Château de Lancyre
Château de Lancyre / Photo by Regis Domergue

Languedoc, France

Languedoc equals slow travel and boasts natural beauty without the crowds or prices of neighboring Provence and Côte d’Azur. The Lamborghini brigade in Cannes couldn’t feel farther away. Expect hilly terrain with hairpin turns past medieval villages and rural wineries that make earthy, rustic red blends. Rent a tiny car, and enjoy the ride.

Wineries to Visit

It’s best to avoid winery visits during the hallowed lunch hours of noon–2 pm. Otherwise, enjoy inexpensive rosé and Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre blends from 15th-century Château de Lancyre in Pic-St-Loup. Domaine de la Réserve d’O makes delicious wines for less than $20 from organic vineyards in Terrasses du Larzac. For wine tasting in a fancy castle that won’t blow your budget, sip Picpoul de Pinet at Saint Martin de la Garrigue. Fifth-generation farmers run organic winery Domaine Ollier-Taillefer. Rent a stone cottage and explore its vineyards on free mountain bikes. In July, catch the jazz festival at Gerard Bertrand’s Château l’Hospitalet estate for guaranteed good wine at a great show.

Where to Stay

Narrow roads lengthen drives that may look quick on a map, so be sure to choose lodging near regions or wineries you’ll visit. In the north, Pic-St-Loup is accessible from Montpellier. Superior level rooms in restored 18th-century townhouse Baudon de Mauny start around $185. At the foot of Pic-St-Loup, vine-covered B&B Mas des Violettes offers rates at $100 or less for two. On the coast, Le Domaine Tarbouriech, a hotel devoted to oysters, often has last-minute deals that can include spa treatments. Stop by the tasting counter to pair its signature shellfish with local Picpoul. Farther inland, explore the distinct reds of Minervois at La Bergerie, a small hotel with tidy, modern accommodations and vineyard views.

Where to Drink

For a reasonably priced wine list and prix fixe of approximately $25, book l’Artichaut in Montpellier’s old town. Check the chalkboard at convivial Le Vinarium for the latest organic and natural local producers, with a selection of around 30 wines offered by the glass. In Béziers, visit casual wine bar and bottle shop Le Chameau Ivre (The Drunk Camel) for more than 3,500 labels and locally made charcuterie. Stock up on affordable artisan provisions like wildflower honey and unexpected wines at Damejane in Faugères. DJs spin and musicians perform in the garden of Le Bar à Vins in Carcassonne. Célestin in Narbonne is a fun, low-key natural wine bar.

The Hatch
The Hatch

Okanagan Valley, Canada

British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley offers superb value all around. Producers turn out world-class red and white wines you can taste in both relaxed and sophisticated spaces. Add in awe inspiring nature, and you’ll leave with renewed optimism toward the world. Plan to bring wine home, as these bottles can be hard to find in the U.S.

Wineries to Visit

Most wineries offer similar price points for bottles (mid-$20s and up) and tasting fees around five Canadian dollars, often waived with purchase. In southeast Kelowna, Tantalus Vineyards makes taut Riesling in a sleek, modern facility. Mission Hill Family Estate, evocative of a modern Tuscan farmhouse, functions like an adult Disney Land. Among other activities, you can have lunch, walk the grounds, take in a concert or try a culinary workshop. The Hatch bests competitors by a buck, as it offers tastes of five wines for four Canadian dollars. Bottle labels adorned with playful art make for great souvenirs. Drive south to festive Okanagan Crush Pad for three different lines of wine and seasonal live music. In the hotter, drier south around Oliver/Osoyoos, Moon Curser Vineyards nails Portuguese grape Touriga Nacional. And don’t pass up a pizza lunch with Tinhorn Creek wines at on-site Miradoro Restaurant.

Where to Stay

Base yourself in the heart of the action in Kelowna. Hotel Zed Kelowna brings zany colors and graphics to rooms downtown. You’ll also have access to complimentary bikes or roller skates and a downloaded map to help you explore on the cheap. The Delta Hotels by Marriott Grand Okanagan Resort features a stunning locale on Okanagan Lake that’s near to downtown. Burrowing Owl Estate Winery is the rare venue with upscale guest rooms. While rooms here can be pricey in summer, rates plunge come November. The best value option close to vineyards is camping or booking a yurt at Nk’Mip RV Park & Campground. On the shore of Osoyoos lake, the site features a private beach, seasonal pool and proximity to Nk’Mip Cellars.

Where to Drink

In Kelowna, check out Vice & Virtue Brewing Co. The good food, craft beers and wine list are all priced right. Waterfront Wines Restaurant looks impressive and potentially pricey, but the bistro food and artisan cheeses actually offer terrific value. Many wineries also run excellent restaurants, you just have to know where to look. Penticton finally got the bar it needed in Mile Zero Wine Bar, replete with tap lines of local wines, ping pong and DJ nights. Newcomer Time Winery, an urban winery, offers flights of five wines for five Canadian dollars. Nearby, Brodo Kitchen limits its menu to keep prices low. Try a playful dish to pair with an affordable glass pour.

Stellenbosch and the Simonsberg Mountain
Stellenbosch and the Simonsberg Mountain / Photo by Dom Wills

Stellenbosch, South Africa

South Africa’s wines get better each year, yet their prices haven’t seen upward movement to match. The exchange rate is also incredibly favorable, as $1 is worth nearly 15 South African rand. For this reason, the historic college town of Stellenbosch makes an especially perfect vacation base, as a student population lends price-sensitive eats, while proximity to wineries provides convenience.

Wineries to Visit

Head’s up: You will be spoiled here. Tasting fees are low, quality is high and every winery is beautiful. De Trafford, perched over a dramatic valley, makes sensual Syrah. The $7 tasting fee on Saturdays is waived with purchase. For little more than the cost of an artisan coffee drink in the States, stock your cottage with bottles of juicy DMZ Chenin Blanc from DeMorgenzon. Set within a natural amphitheater, Keermont pours structured reds without appointment on Friday and Saturday. Kleinood makes a fragrant, summer-ready rosé, and allows you to wander its epic gardens with a glass in hand. Others to catch include Thelema Mountain Vineyards for Cabernet Sauvignon, Simonsig Wine Estate for sparkling Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) and Beyerskloof for Pinotage.

Where to Stay

The exchange rate provides a cushion to book nicer places, though you’ll find the best rates in winter (June–August) regardless. Oude Werf Hotel has beautiful rooms and a great wine list, or try Sugarbird Manor guesthouse for a pool, views and vibrant Chenin Blanc from adjacent winery Botanica Wines. Stellenbosch is rife with self-catering options if you prefer to stock your refrigerator with wine or farm eggs for mornings. The cute, bright cottages at 401 Rozendal come with a kitchenette, outdoor braai area and Wi-Fi. Fifteen minutes from town, Mont Angelis Country Retreat cottages are pricier, but they’re also loftier with full-size kitchens, terraces and an open floor plan.

Where to Drink

Markets are great places to snack and drink on a dime. Check out the artisan vendors of Slow Market Stellenbosch, which is open seasonally. Surrounded by vineyards, you’ll enjoy shopping for jewelry, olive oil and crafts while you sip Chardonnay at Root 44 Market on Saturdays and Sundays. Botanical murals and velvet décor set the tone at Montegray & Independents wine bar, where you can explore boutique wines from “young-gun” producers during happy hour, while the Bartinney Wine & Champagne Bar serves inexpensive second-label Noble Savage. At Jordan Winery’s exceptional restaurant, you can score a deal with the lunch menu. Check out Brampton Wine Studio urban winery for daytime tastings before it morphs into a bar. Get a glass of red and a budget bite at Chef Bertus Basson’s De Vrije Burger.