Plan a trip to Sonoma wine country

Of all California’s wine regions, Sonoma may be the easiest to fall in love with. Visit this laid-back land of vineyard-rich valleys, from Sonoma to Dry Creek to Alexander, with the Russian River thrown in

10 irresistible mini wine country escapes

10 irresistible mini escapes, from a rugged Washington valley all theway down to the Mexican border. Got a glass?

  • Winderlea Vineyard and Winery

    willamette valley, oregon winderlea vineyards

    Photo by John Clark; written by Sara Schneider

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4. Santa Fe: Be a curious epicurean

At the Santa Fe School of Cooking―the best cooking school in a town where food rules―you could spend a day learning to make sweet anise-seed tamales (Tamales: Nov 14; $98), red chile mole (Cuisines of Mexico I: Nov 8; $74), or blue-corn gnocchi arrowheads with guajillo chile sauce (Native American: Nov 7; $80). Or, leave the cooking for Thanksgiving Day and opt instead for Wines of New Mexico (Nov 1; $42). Where else would you learn that Spanish friars were growing grapes along the Rio Grande nine years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock? Culinary director Rocky Durham, who often teaches the wine class himself, combs wineries from Dixon to Deming in search of wines to highlight in this 90-minute session. You’ll sample a bubbly, two whites, and two reds from wineries ranging from the well known (Gruet) to obscure (La Viña), punctuated with lively commentary and pairings with local foods like duck tamales. Info: $42 per person; or 505/983-4511. Thanksgiving wine to take home: Gruet Blanc de Noirs bubbly ($14). –JANINE SIEJA

5. Baja California, Mexico: Explore south of the border

Think of it as Baja beyond fish tacos. There’s some excellent wine now too, as producers experiment with lesser-known grape varietals such as Tempranillo. Better yet, it’s easy to get here, since 90 percent of Mexican wine comes from Baja’s emerging wine country, only about 70 miles from the California/Mexico border. The self-guided, easy-to-navigate winery route, La Ruta del Vino, includes about 20 wineries. Info: Visit for a map of La Ruta del Vino. Thanksgiving wine to take home: Monte Xanic 2007 Chenin Blanc/Colombard ($9). –JANICE FUHRMAN


6. San Luis Obispo, CA: Eat oysters

You’d go to great lengths to get good oysters―and the right wine to go with them. Which is why we’re sharing our source for the most oyster-friendly wines in the West (hint: it’s on California’s Central Coast) and how best to enjoy them. First, get yourself to Port San Luis Pier, near Avila Beach, and walk halfway down the pier to BJ’s Live Seafood for Fanny Bays or Willapas. Continue to the end of the pier to nab some sesame-ginger calamari salad from Olde Port Fisheries. Finally, head to the tasting room of Baileyana and Tangent Wineries, about 5 miles east in southern San Luis Obispo County’s Edna Valley. Find a table with a view, pry open your shellfish, slurp and sip, debate which of the seven Tangent whites is the ultimate oyster wine, then settle the whole thing over a game of bocce. Info: BJ’s Live Seafood (call ahead for directions―there’s no sign―and to make sure oysters are in stock; 805/680-5143); Olde Port Fisheries ( or 805/595-9456); Tangent Winery ($5 tasting fee; or 805/269-8200). Thanksgiving wine to take home: Baileyana “Grand Firepeak Cuvée” Pinot Noir ($38). –SARA SCHNEIDER


7. Walla Walla, WA: Find your inner farmer

The Inn at Abeja is the ultimate expression of wine “country.” And a weekend here will put you on the inside track to one of Washington’s great reds. Book the Chicken House or Summer Kitchen cottage at this century-old farmstead, and get a taste of Abeja winery’s usually sold-out vintages at check-in. The next morning, you’ll be treated to breakfast in the inn’s gracious barn (the “overnight” French toast is not to be missed). Then spend the day tasting at local wineries. Info: From $235; or 509/522-1234. Thanksgiving wine to take home: Five Star Cellars Syrah ($30). Bonus tip: Book a meal at Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen in downtown Walla Walla ($$$; closed Mon; 509/525-2112), for housemade pasta and cured meats. –SARA SCHNEIDER




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