Winemaking as a craft has endured through centuries of wars, plagues, natural disasters, and political upheaval, making it an essential part of history. UNESCO, or the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, fully recognizes the link between wine and history and has, to date, recognized more than a dozen winemaking regions as official heritage sites. From the Loire Valley to the vineyards surrounding Monticello, the terroir of these historic wine regions has a story to tell. Whether you choose to cycle through vineyards that run along an ancient Roman road, or sip wine atop terraces built by Benedictine monks, you’ll find more than just vineyard views in these destinations.
Upper Middle Rhine Valley, Germany
Known as the birthplace of riesling, the magical Upper Middle Rhine Valley weaves its way through steep vineyards that are home to medieval castles, ancient fortresses, and charming towns. The Rhine served as a vital transportation route between southern and northern Europe. And the vineyard terraces, which were essential for cultivating wine grapes on these precipitous hillsides, date back almost a thousand years. Any visit to the Rhine Valley must include a few local riesling tastings. At the hands of modern winemakers, the area’s rieslings tend to be drier—though you can find the sweet, bright rieslings here, too. For a full immersion into the villages, scenery, and wine, consider hiking a portion of the Rheinsteig Trail, which follows the Rhine from Bonn to Wiesbaden.
Loire Valley, France
The Loire Valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. The stunning river valley was all the rage during the time of Caesar. The Loire River served as a vital waterway between Rome and ancient Gaul, a region of bustling commerce and decadent royalty. The Loire Valley has a reputation for crafting wines of impressive quality at civilized prices. Scattered across the region’s 164 towns and villages, you’ll taste everything from chenin blanc and melon de bourgogne to cabernet franc —as well as their delightful sparkling wines. Spend a few days biking through this beautiful valley dotted with magnificent castles, manicured gardens, ancient Roman ruins, and charming wineries.
Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont: Langhe-Roero and Monferrato, Italy
Researchers in Langhe-Roero and Monferrato, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in southern Piedmont, discovered vine pollen dating back to the fifth century B.C. That’s really no surprise given the area’s role as a trade center between the Etruscans and Celts, who were surely delighted to stop and savor the beguiling nebbiolo wines that define this part of Italy. The Langhe-Roero and Monferrato area, designated by UNESCO as the Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont, is composed of five inviting Italian winemaking areas. Tour the town of Barbaresco, which was once a medieval settlement, go truffle hunting, or simply enjoy the serene undulating hillsides that fade away into the distant Alps. Be sure to sample the joys of red grapes like nebbiolo, barbera, and dolcetto, as well as their signature white, moscato, crafted into tantalizing sweet dessert wines (Moscato d’Asti). For an in-depth tasting experience at one of the region’s classic wineries, visit award-winning producers like Elvio Cogno or Vietti.
Monticello and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and the adjacent University of Virginia—where Jefferson built his “academical village”—enjoy UNESCO World Heritage status for their cultural value and neoclassical architecture. But the state is also at the heart of one of Jefferson’s greatest disappointments: the ability to sustain winemaking in his beloved Virginia. Several hundred years later, Monticello sits surrounded by the Monticello Wine Trail, and many vineyards beyond. Defined by miles of rolling grasslands with horses, Civil War markers, and farm stands, this genteel region is remarkably easy to navigate. Be sure to sample the Virginia cabernet francs, as well as wines from producers such as King Family Vineyards, Barboursville, Blenheim, and RdV.
Lavaux Vineyard Terraces, Switzerland
This stunning wine region is a lacy stitchwork of ancient vineyard terraces that run right along the deep marine blue waters of Lake Geneva. There is evidence that vine cultivation dates back to Roman times, but it was the 11th-century winemaking work of Benedictine and Cistercian monks that earned this area a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. Today, each of the nearly 200 wineries are family owned, and the bulk of the wine made here (mostly chasselas, pinot noir, and gamay) is consumed locally. It’s a laidback wine region to visit—most tasting rooms don’t require reservations, and the terraces are quite walkable.
Tokaj Wine Region, Hungary
Once home to more than 400 active volcanoes, Tokaj is now a quiet wine landscape rapidly emerging from the shadow of communist rule. This is the birthplace of Tokaji Aszú, one of the world’s most sought-after, sumptuously decadent dessert wines. Catherine the Great and King Louis XIV were big fans of the wine’s high acidity and concentrated flavor. Indeed, Tokaj’s three centuries of winemaking are what put it on the UNESCO map. The region is about two and a half hours by car from Budapest, and wineries such as Derezsla put the history on display alongside the vino, with tours of their marvelously mold-encrusted cellars that date back to the 17th century.
Mount Etna, Sicily
Eruptions on this active, 10,000-foot high Sicilian volcano can be traced back roughly 500,000 years, but winemakers have long been willing to work in such risky conditions because of the compelling aromatics and flavors achieved by planting in the mountain’s extraordinary terroirs. Indeed, Mount Etna attracts winemakers from across Italy, willing to navigate ancient lava flows and restore her abandoned vineyards. Visit the volcano at your own risk, but be sure to try nerello mascalese, a highly concentrated but delicate red wine. While in the area, visit three of the most notable winemakers on Mount Etna: Tasca d’Almerita, Cusumano, and Vini Franchetti’s Passopisciaro.