Six Regions for Wine-Inspired Romance

by  Karen Loftus | Oct 28, 2011
Côtes du Rhône Vineyard
Côtes du Rhône Vineyard / / BZH22

Wine regions have long provided the perfect backdrop for romantic endeavors. Visiting is an inspiring way to get a lay of the land, the grapes, and the locals. Plus, these regions typically have a wealth of romantic accommodations - think chic boutiques, luxury castle accommodations, and wine-inspired bungalows. Herewith, six of the world’s most stirring vino-producing areas:


Morocco is a provocative spot and a tip-top choice among honeymooners, yet few travelers think of wine when they think of this Muslim country. It’s time to reconsider: Morocco produces more than 40 million bottles of wine a year and employs 10,000 Moroccans in this booming business.

Locals claim the business is geared for tourists, but they’re consuming an average of one liter per year. Hit a seaside café in Casablanca and you’ll see locals indulging in the wine and the lush and eno-inspired lifestyle midday. One glass in and you’ll swear you’re in the sexy epicenter of the South of France.

The exorbitant import tax on wines makes it cost-prohibitive to stock international wines. So, you’re hard-pressed to see foreign vintages anywhere in Morocco. It makes good business sense to sell and produce locally – so get used to the local tipple.

Traditionally, the bulk of the wine business has been produced in the region around Fes and Meknès, which remains the hub today. The cool climate from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean breezes keep the grapes’ acidity viable. Celliers de Meknès, owned by one of the wealthiest men in the country, is, by far, the largest wine producer in Morocco, creating 85 percent of the country’s wine. Neighboring Castel de Meknes is another powerhouse.

Romans planted vines as early as the second century for Castel. By the early ’90s, production decreased to 5 percent of its previous volume. With the king’s blessing, Castel and other wineries brought the vibrant business back to its splendor. Success!

Look for red Moroccan varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Knar, Guerrouane, and Siraoua; popular whites include Gris de Boulaoune, Chardonnay, and Syrah. Guerrouane Gris wine is a wonderful alternative or cousin to rosé.

When in Morocco: After a stunning start in sexy Marrakech and a trek through The Atlas Mountains, head towards Fes. Stay at Hotel Sofitel Palais Jamais in Fes, U2’s favorite spot in Morocco. Park it in this central location, where day trips to wineries are completely doable.Bring a bottle back to enjoy on your private terrace overlooking The Medina, a traveler’s must-see and a photographer’s dream. Visit the Hotel Sofitel Palais Jamais website, call 212-535-634331, or email to book.

Israeli wine / Karen Loftus


The modern state of Israel is relatively young, but the art of winemaking dates back to ancient times. In Biblical times, wine was referred to as the fruit of the vine, enjoyed by Jesus and a few followers. It was ruled out during the Islamic conquest, brought back with Christian crusaders, out again, in again – you get the idea.

Indigenous grape varieties were wiped out under Islamic rule, but leave it to the French to bring it back in fashion. French Baron Edmond de Rothschild of the Bordeaux estate, Château Lafite-Rothschild brought over French varietals in the late 19th century and planted them in the Carmel Mountains.

The ancient art was resurrected, but it was years before it was refined. Kosher wines were known for quantity not quality. One did not sip for the love of it; it was all about keeping kosher. That has since changed – a lot.

One modern accomplishment: Tishbi winery in Carmel’s Mountains is producing French-style kosher wines under Golan Tishbi, a fifth-generation winemaker. Golan learned a thing or two about wine in New Zealand at Hawkes Bay University. He mixed the French influence with his Kiwi sensibility, which makes his wines refined but keeps him from being too precious about the process.

There are several wine regions in Israel: Galilee, which is most suitable due to its high elevation; The Judean Hills, which surround Jerusalem; Samson; Negev; and Sharon plain, near the Mediterranean coast.

When in Israel: Grab Tishbi’s award-winning Sde Boker, Reserve Chardonnay, Late Harvest Reilsling, Cabernet, Merlot, or Muscat, and sit on your beautiful balcony at Mizpe Hayamim, a tucked away Relais & Chateaux property with panoramic views of The Hermon Mountains, Golan Heights, and The Sea of Galilee. Or simply soak in the tub for two with your Tishbi bottle nearby. Visit the Mizpe Hayamin website, call 011-972-4-699-4555, or email to book.

Okanagan wine / Karen Loftus

Canada’s Okanagan Valley

If you’re heading west, there’s more than Napa on the map. The Canadians have been producing wines for more than 200 years, but it wasn’t until the early ’90s that they saw a boom in production. Canadian vintners successfully demonstrated that fine grape varietals in cooler growing conditions could possess complex flavors. Currently Canadian vintners still hold less than a 50 percent share of the domestic market, but with award-winning wines holding their own on the global stage, that soon will change.

Vino explorers should head straight to Kelowna, an easy one-hour flight north of Vancouver, for a romantic wine-soaked weekend in the gorgeous Okanagan. The two largest wine-producing regions in Canada are the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario by Niagara Falls and outside of Toronto and the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, with more than 300 wineries.

The other valley has its share of eno stars. Cable Bay, Quails Gate, and Mission Hill are three of the biggest contenders in town. You and your designated driver can easily hit them while taking in the stunning aesthetics. Hit those in a day, with a final swirl at Mission Hill, the crème de la crème of Canadian wineries.

Missions Hill’s sexy sommelier gives private or group tours and tastings rich in detail about Canadian wines, The Okanagan, and the winery’s culinary program, garden, and portfolio of wines.

Continue your tasting with Mission Hill’s award-winning wines while dining on The Terrace. Pair chef Matt Batey’s meats and succulent cheeses with Mission Hill’s Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, or a wine from the Legacy series, a Quatrain with Merlot, Syrah, Cab Franc, and Cab Sauvignon, or a Perpetua, with three chardonnay clones.

The landscape and vistas alone are worth a trip. The winery is an architectural wonder, very Romanesque, complete with an amphitheater, a bell tower that rings, and a barrel cellar that will have you clicking your wine-soaked heels saying, “There’s no place like Mission Hill.” This is a sophisticated slice of Disneyland for vino-savvy adults.

When in Canada: Stay at Predator Ridge Resort, a one-hour drive from the heart of the wineries. It’s a perfect spot to bookend a day of tastings with a round of golf and a late night slip in to the spa for a couple’s treatment; keep a Mission Hill bottle nearby, the perfect nightcap on your romantic terrace. Visit the Predator Ridge Resort website, call 888-578-6688, or email to book.

If you want to tip the romance and the luxury to yet another level, stay at the new Swarovski crystal-infused Sparkling Hill Resort, containing 3.5 million crystals within the property. If that’s not enticing enough, perhaps the 40,000-square-foot KurSpa or the Cold Sauna will succeed in luring you. It has endless packages of wellness to keep you in top form between vintner visits. Visit the Sparking Hill website, call 877-275-1556, or email to book.

Croatia wine / Karen Loftus


Croatia is an old-world wine region that dates back to Greek times. We're even told that Croatian vines were on the Titanic en route to California. They didn’t survive that trip, but apparently their vines have been planted in South Africa, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, and in several prominent wine regions around the world.

Well-known Napa vintner Miljenko Grgich is a Croatian native and has long argued that Zinfandel descended from Croatia’s Plavac Mali grape, the foundation for many Dalmatian reds. DNA testing has since proved him right.

There are two distinct wine-producing regions in Croatia, continental and coastal, each containing several sub-regions, for a total of 300 distinct wine-making areas.

The Dingac region in the southern part of the Peljesac area is one of the smallest and most distinct regions in Croatia – and produces some of the best reds in Europe. The dark, full-bodied red has been made for close to 500 years from Plavac Mali grapes on steep slopes overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Dingac is a definitive part of the Croatian viniculture and is widely recognized by oenophiles.

After a ride from Zagreb to Dubrovnik – do stop along the way in Mediterranean coastal towns of Sibernik, Split, and Trogir, and an overnight in Kortula, Marco Polo’s home - you will find The Peljesac region in Southern Dalmatia and just an hour north of Dubrovnik. There’s a string of small wineries along the road in the region, perfect for tastings and tours.

When in Croatia: After a breathtaking ride along the world-renowned Dalmatian Coast and a few vintner visits, stay at the nearby Excelsior in Dubrovnik, a regal retreat for iconic royals and cinema stars, the likes of Queen Elizabeth and Liz Taylor. Sipping on a bottle of Dingac on your open terrace while overlooking the impassioned Adriatic Sea below will blow your wine mind. Visit The Excelsior website, call 011-385-20-430-830, or email to book.

New Zealand’s Waiheke Island:

New Zealand wine / Karen Loftus

Locals know Waiheke, once an artist colony, as New Zealand’s wine island. It’s a mere 40-minute ferry ride, yet a world away from Auckland’s busy city center.

In the ’80s Waiheke became the spot for high-quality reds based on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cab Franc. Stephen White of Stonyridge Wineries, a maverick in the industry (one of Waiheke’s first), said the soil was similar to that in the Bordeaux - and so a region was born.

There are so many exceptional wineries on Waiheke; no matter what direction you head in, you can’t go wrong. It has its agro-tourism down, with several award winning-chefs and restaurants and world-class accommodations that are sublime for romance.

Stonyridge is a can’t-miss sip and visit, thanks to its Bordeaux-style ultra-premium and New Zealand's first Rhone Ranger wine, made with the classic varieties of southern France – Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache.

If you’re looking to wine and dine, Te Whau is an evocative spot with a 360-degree view of the water. Scotland’s Bond Connery claims the salmon is the best on the planet; it’s hard to argue.

For evening eats, Mudbrick is a great place to reflect on the day’s tasting and your good fortune. Many even say their I-dos on the site. With or without a marriage, it’s easy to commit to coming back to Waiheke.

When in Waiheke: Stay at Matiatia, the closest spot to the ferry and waterfront on Waiheke. The chic, French-style luxury accommodation is a slice of the idyllic island life. As close as you are to the ferry, it’s a wildly private place with charming trays and baskets of food and wine left outside your door. Bring a bottle back to enjoy on your deck or while soaking in the tub overlooking the water. Visit the Matiatia site, call 011-64-372-6868, or email to book.

If you’re day-tripping from Auckland, slip back in to Mollies, an urban oasis with original art and antiques in the room and live opera nightly in the hallway. Visit the Mollies website, or email to book.

Argentina wine / Karen Loftus


The first thing you see as you drive away from Francisco Gabrielli’s International airport in Mendoza is the vines on their lot. If you didn’t know you were in wine country when you landed, it is crystal clear as you exit and kick start a vine-inspired adventure.

Mendoza is all about the vines. The Napa of South America and the fifth-largest wine region in the world produces 70 percent of Argentina’s wines. There are other regions in the country, but Mendoza is the mightiest at the moment, and Malbec is its superstar.

You’ll find many family-run wineries with fourth- and fifth-generation winemakers at the helm. Zuccardi Winery dates back to the mid-19th century; today winemaker Jose Zuccardi and his ex-wife amicably run the winery with their two sons and daughter.

Take in the vines via balloon or bike or get to work picking or pruning, depending on the season. Whether it’s pain or pleasure, you’ll be wildly rewarded with the traditional asada paired with The Zeta, Reserva Bonarda, or Malbec. It is a heavenly endeavor.

The iconic Uco Valley is the highest of the four regions within Mendoza. It is at the foot of the Andes Mountains, at 800 to 1400 meters above sea level. Salentein Winery, an architectural accomplishment, perfectly offsets the pristine backdrop. The Dutch-owned winery is also an art gallery for prestigious Mendoza and Argentinean artists, and a restaurant, a showcase for the Chardonnay, Pinot, Merlots and the greatest work of art, the Premium Malbec. This region is very sophisticated slice of the Mendoza life. Check it out while it’s still rustic.

When in Mendoza: Stay at The Sheraton Mendoza Hotel and Casino, in the center of the city and within walking distance to all of the shops and top restaurants. It has one of the few five-star restaurants in town, with the best view of the city from the rooftop restaurant. Visit the Sheraton Mendoza website or call 011-54-261-441-5500 to book.

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