Welcome to Fantasy Travel Week, when traveling the world for food and adventure is squarely on our minds. At Food Republic, we’re always on the hunt for the next great wine destination. Recently we spoke with these six sommeliers and wine directors from New York and Los Angeles restaurants about their last great wine trip, as well as their fantasy travel wish list. Predictably, their answers were as diverse as they were ambitious.

Thomas Carter of Estela.

Thomas Carter

Co-owner and Director of Beverage and Service, Estela (New York)

What would your fantasy wine-travel destination be, and why? No time or budgetary constraints.
I would sail a 1931 Fife Altair schooner around the French and Italian coastline with six of my closest friends. Much of the food and wine from these regions are of great interest. Estela embodies many influences from these areas as well. Many of our future concepts also draw influences from the European coastline as well.

Which winemakers would you want to visit?
At Estela, we feature many producers from Corsica and Sicily for their purity of fruit, fine texture and bright acidity. They are very versatile wines. That said, I would definitely visit Abbatucci and Antoine Arena in Corsica. In Sicily, I would love to visit the I Vigneri, a grower group established in 1435 that is headed up by Salvo Foti today.

What was the last great wine trip you’ve taken in the past couple of years? Why was it so great?
The best wine trip I’ve taken in a while didn’t involve a wine region. On a recent trip to Japan, my wife and I had a great experience at Ahiru Store in Shibuya. The culture has such a reverence for food and wine that it brings the dining experience to a different level.


Mandy Oser of Ardesia and The Camlin.

Mandy Oser

Owner, Ardesia and The Camlin (New York and Brooklyn)

What would your fantasy wine-travel destination be, and why? (No time or budgetary constraints.)
This is the best kind of question because it is basically what I spend most of my daydreaming time thinking about. While there is literally no wine region in the world I would not be interested in visiting, one region that is high on my list is the Balkans: places like Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, and perhaps adding in a side trip to Hungary and Turkey. There is such a deep history of winemaking in this part of the world, and yet it’s still generally quite unfamiliar to most Americans, so I think it would be a great adventure to go there and learn, taste new wines and hopefully discover some gems.

Which winemakers would you want to visit?
I would start by making a point to visit the wineries that are represented on our list at the Camlin. It’s one thing to taste a wine sitting in the middle of NYC, but to get to go to the source always sheds a new kind of light and understanding about a wine. I’d begin by visiting Bruno Trapan in coastal Croatia or Vino Budimir in Serbia.

During my side trip over to Hungary, I’d visit Apátsági in Pannonhalma, which is a small wine region located equidistant between Budapest and Vienna. Benedictine monks first cultivated this vineyard after founding a monastery here in 996, finally reclaiming it from the Communists in 2000. I’ve always been charmed by the wines they make, and I’d love to see the place firsthand.

What was the last great wine trip you’ve taken in the past couple years? Why was it so great?
I was lucky to have gotten to visit Argentina this past summer. It was a really easy place to fall in love with: a friendly and warm culture, the spectacular Andes Mountains off in the distance and endless empanadas — each version better than the last. Of course Malbec is probably what most readily comes to mind when thinking about wines from Argentina, but what was exciting for me was getting to see what else is happening there. For example, Alejandro Vigil [the winemaker from Catena] is experimenting with making Cabernet Franc, the results of which I loved. And the Catenas are showing how very distinctive Malbecs and other grapes can be when grown at high elevation and in single vineyard plots around Mendoza. I would return in a heartbeat to explore more.


Ben Aviram of Maude.

Ben Aviram

Wine Director, Maude (Los Angeles)

What would your fantasy wine-travel destination be, and why? (No time or budgetary constraints.)
I think my number-one wine-travel destination would be Germany. I absolutely love dry, well-aged Riesling. The wines are brilliant in their youth but take on a whole new fascinating character as the best examples are allowed to age.

Most of the exciting wine production happens in the southwest of the country. The Mosel, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Nahe and Pfalz, to name a few, all sit along Germany’s border with France. Germany and its Rieslings have long been associated with sweet wines in the general consciousness of the American public. While some of the sweet wines can be stunning, it’s the dry Rieslings that hold the most appeal to me. More and more consumers are opening up to Riesling and seeing it as a viable dry table wine.

Which winemakers would you want to visit?
Keller would probably be at the top of my list to visit in the Rheinhessen. For years I have been a huge fan of Keller. His Rieslings and Spätburgunders are among the best in Germany. Truly next-level stuff!

What was the last great wine trip you’ve taken in the past couple years? Why was it so great?
Champagne was the last great wine trip I took. It was amazing to be able to see the maze of cellars below Reims and visit some of the great grower-producers of Champagne. Of course I had to go see the legendary Krug. It was amazing to go see their facility in Reims. It has so much history and it is such an amazing house! In recent years I have certainly dedicated more of my time, and space on my list, to grower producers, but who doesn’t love a glass of Grande Cuvée? Egly-Ouriet is one of my favorite Champagnes. Jacques Selosse has become a cult favorite. His wines are fabulous, but his rosé holds a special place in my heart. Hebrart and Aubry are another two houses that often knock me out. Their regular wines are delicious, but their smaller cuvées are thrilling. Hebrart Rive Gauche Rive Droit and Aubry Dualis are two such stunners: unique and absolutely amazing wines.


Jessica Brown of the John Dory Oyster Bar and the Breslin Bar & Dining Room.

Jessica Brown

Wine Director, the John Dory Oyster Bar and the Breslin Bar & Dining Room (New York)

What would your fantasy wine-travel destination be, and why? (No time or budgetary constraints.)
Italy. Its wine is the first I fell in love with, and Nebbiolo is probably my favorite grape. I also feel a strong connection and affinity not only for Italian cuisine, but for the culture that surrounds its food and wine. It is all connected, and there is such an emphasis on the shared experience of sitting down to a meal with family and friends, and enjoying not just the food and wine but the company as well. Italy is a big place, so if I had to narrow it down a bit more I would most want to visit Piedmont, where Barolo and Barbaresco wines are made, and then to Mount Etna in Sicily to see how the volcano really influences the terroir of the wines grown there.

Which winemakers would you want to visit? 
There are so many. In Piedmont, Giacomo Conterno would be at the top of my list. I think he makes the best Barolo in the world, and my husband and I share a sentimental attachment to it. Vietti would be another estate I would love to see, as they are some of the first wines I fell in love with. In Sicily, I would want to visit Tenuta delle Terrenere and Benanti. Those are two of my favorites.

What was the last great wine trip you’ve taken in the past couple years? Why was it so great? 
Two summers ago, I had the opportunity to go to Burgundy in France with my husband and several other wine professionals. I had never been to France, and it was amazing to see how small and remote the towns were. Here the reputations of many of these famous wines feel larger than life, but to be there and see how truly agricultural and hands-on the process is was humbling. We also decided to rent bicycles and ride throughout the vineyards from one town to the next, which was an incredible way to see the terroir and the landscape and really be in the heart of it all.


Heidi Turzyn of Gotham Bar and Grill.

Heidi Turzyn

Wine Director, Gotham Bar and Grill (New York)

What would your fantasy wine-travel destination be, and why? (No time or budgetary constraints.)
I would like to go to Spain and check out Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Montsant and Priorat. After Spain I would make my way back to France and check out some areas that I haven’t been to, such as Loire, Jura, Provence and Corsica.

Which winemakers would you want to visit?
If I were in Spain I would want to visit with winemaker Mercedes Lopez de Heredia of Lopez de Heredia. If I were to meet an owner, it would be Lalou Bize-Leroy from Burgundy. She owns one of the greatest domaines in Burgundy, Domaine Leroy, and helped DRC achieve their reputation. Most of all, she is a great businesswoman, and I think I could learn a lot from her.

What was the last great wine trip you’ve taken in the past couple years? Why was it so great?
My last great wine trip was a couple of years ago, when I went to Burgundy. I was there with a small group — four of us, all great people. We toured all over Burgundy from Chablis to Beaujolais. I learned a lot on that trip. Every sommelier needs to visit Burgundy at some point, and I am very grateful that I was able to do so.


Jared Hooper of Faith & Flower.

Jared Hooper

Wine Director, Faith & Flower (Los Angeles)

What would your fantasy wine-travel destination be, and why? (No time or budgetary constraints.)
Germany is my next wish-list trip. In particular, I’d really like to get a feel for the Mosel and Nahe. It’s one thing to study maps (and believe me, sommeliers love maps), but to truly hike through a vineyard and see the aspect of the land is to get an understanding of the region that just can’t come from maps. Vineyard walks, barrel tasting, visiting local shops and restaurants and bars: These are the ways that you get to know a region and its culture. Wine is so much more than just a few rows of grapevines; it’s the culmination of a time, a place and its people.

Which winemakers would you want to visit?
It’s a pretty long list, but two wineries that have captivated me lately are Hexamer and Dönnhoff of the Nahe. These are some haunting wines that can help redefine Riesling for people. It’s funny, but at the table, when I mention Riesling to a guest, the usual response is that they don’t like sweet wine. Many people aren’t even aware that Riesling doesn’t have to be sweet, and that some of the best examples of it are dry. I think we’re way overdue in the U.S. for a reintroduction to Riesling.

What was the last great wine trip you’ve taken in the past couple years? Why was it so great?
I’ve taken a few trips lately. Obviously California: Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Sonoma and Napa. Also the Finger Lakes in New York; twice to Portugal, which was fantastic; and a quick run through Champagne.

My favorite, however, was five weeks through France, Italy and Slovenia. I rented a car and proceeded to put 5,000 kilometers on it. It’s a good thing I had GPS or I never would have made it out of Paris! I was fortunate to have friends to meet up with, and lucky enough to make some new ones along the way. I started by meeting my buddy Alex, a Zen Buddhist monk and trumpet player, for the Fête de la Musique in Paris, then off for a week in Burgundy to meet friends old and new for an unforgettable time, which prompted me to change plans and move my original departure from Barcelona back to Paris so that I could wrap up my trip with another few days in Burgundy! But not before heading to Nice to hang out with my chef buddy Jean-Christophe, who took us up into the mountain vineyards of Saint-Jeannet to camp in a stone cottage after a rustic meal and local wine.

From there, it was off to Alto Adige, just below the Austrian border in Italy, down south to Trento, with a few days in Friuli to meet some great local winemakers and drink some Friulano. Then east to Slovenia to stay on a vineyard with Ales from Movia (and to sing karaoke and drink Puro), all the way back to Padova for a stop before continuing back to Piedmont to stay with Summer and Fabrizio on their vineyard in Monferrato, and the subsequent day trips to Barolo and Barbaresco. After a week in Piedmont, the rest of the Indie Wine team arrived and we made our way through Liguria, Tuscany, Sienna, Montalcino, Chianti Colli Senesi and Le Marche, staying in castles, camping on organic farms, swimming in pools and making new friends (like Lauren, who taught me that a Burgundy glass full of wine will float perfectly in a swimming pool if you set it in gently).

We loaded back to Piedmont and the beautiful Cascina Iuli to recover for a few days before an early-morning dash to get the boys to the airport in Milan, then zipped through Switzerland for a shortcut under Mount Blanc to get back to Chassagne Montrachet in time for lunch with a jar full of Piemontese truffles as payment for a few days’ lodging in Beaune. We drove up RN 74 through a deluge of rain and a hailstorm that decimated 70 percent of the crop in Volnay that year and got to know the lay of the land in the gorgeous old walled town of Beaune through all-day and all-night strolls working off meals and searching for hidden wine bars. Finally, it came time to drop off the rental car (met with a lovely drawn out “mon Dieu!” from the sweet woman who checked the mileage) and hop a train back to Paris for the flight home. It’d be hard to imagine a more perfect trip, where everything came together and I got to meet so many lovely people. But who knows? I’d like to see what Germany’s got in store.

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