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?

1. Yakima Valley, WA: Light out for the Wild West

Mix wine and equine at Cherry Wood Bed, Breakfast, and Barn, where horseback tours take you through Washington’s sunny Rattlesnake Hills AVA. As you taste your way through smaller producers like Agate Field Vineyard, Sheridan Vineyard, and Wineglass Cellars, you’ll learn that Yakima’s wine region isn’t just up-and-coming―it’s here. Info: Horseback tours $150; cherrywoodbbandb.com or 509/829-3500. Thanksgiving wine to take home: Wineglass Cellars’ Les Vignes de Marcoux Syrah ($35). Bonus tip: For a true taste of winter in the chilly Wild West, bundle up and stay the night in one of Cherry Wood’s well-appointed but unheated tipis ($145, including breakfast). Don’t pass up the apple or cherry turnovers if they’re served for breakfast. And bring plenty of extra fleece. –JESS THOMSON

2. Willamette Valley, OR: Join the party

Music, food, otherwise unavailable wines, and a convivial (but crowded) atmosphere are what you’ll find at the Willamette Valley’s Wine Country Thanksgiving open houses, when wineries welcome the masses. Info: Nov 28–30; visit willamettewines.com for a list of participating wineries and fees. Thanksgiving wine to take home: Chehalem Reserve Dry Riesling ($21). Bonus tip: Hate crowds? Go earlier in the month and hit Winderlea Vineyard & Winery (call for hours; $10 tasting fee; winderlea.com or 503/554-5900), which floats over some of the valley’s oldest vines; cozy Lange Estate Winery ($10 tasting fee; langewinery.com or 503/538-6476), where you can sip singer-songwriter Don Lange and son Jesse’s wines in a new tasting building; and Penner-Ash Wine Cellars (call for hours; $5 tasting fee; pennerash.com or 503/554-5545), which has views to Mt. Hood on clear days. –SARA SCHNEIDER

3. Whistler, British Columbia: Be merry in the mountains

Heady mountain air and interesting wines from around the world are an intoxicating pairing at Cornucopia, Whistler’s annual celebration of wine and food. Choose from more than 50 events, from a chef-guided tour of a farm to an unforgettable meal at well-cellared Araxi restaurant. Bring your boots: Whistler Village is pedestrian-friendly and everything’s within walking distance, whether you’re headed to one of the fest’s sparkling parties or for a stroll around tranquil Lost Lake to drink in views of frosted mountain peaks. Info: Nov 6–10; event prices vary; whistlercornucopia.com Thanksgiving wine to take home: Sumac Ridge Private Reserve Gewürztraminer ($14 U.S.). –DEANA LANCASTER

 

 

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; santafeschoolofcooking.com 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 discoverbajacalifornia.com 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 (oldeportfish.com or 805/595-9456); Tangent Winery ($5 tasting fee; baileyana-tangent.com 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; abeja.net 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

 

 

8. Calistoga, CA: Taste on two wheels

With 14 appellations and close to 400 wineries, the Napa Valley is our version of France or Italy―and best explored by bike. So pack a picnic and pedal a Bianchi on the self-guided Calistoga Cool Wine Tour through northern Napa. Calistoga Bike Shop will set you up on a customized tour that combines the most beautiful roads with six boutique wineries. They’ll even send a sag wagon to fetch any wines you want to bring home. Info: $80 per person, including bike rental and tasting fees; calistogabikeshop.com or 707/942-9687. Thanksgiving wine to take home: Envy Wines’ crisp and citrusy Sauvignon Blanc ($26). –AMY MARR

 

9. Boulder, CO: Meet locavores

Since Boulder’s been at the forefront of the eat-local movement, it’s no surprise that there’s more and more interest in drinking Colorado wines. And there’s no shortage of experts to lead you to the good ones―six Master Sommeliers are in residence here. To get in on the action, start at BookCliff Vineyards’ tasting room, which makes 100 percent Western Slope–grown wines; play winemaker at the Blending Cellar, a classy new tasting room that hosts mix-your-own-wine blend-ing sessions; and pick the perfect bottle with input from, yes, a Master Sommelier at the Boulder Wine Merchant. Info: BookCliff Vineyards (closed Tue; $5 tasting fee; bookcliffvineyards.com or 303/449-9463); the Blending Cellar (closed Mon; $12 tasting fee, $15 per blending class plus bottle fee; blendingcellar.com or 303/447-0475); the Boulder Wine Mer-chant (boulderwine.com or 303/443-6761). Thanksgiving wine to take home: BookCliff Vineyards Viognier ($16). –ELISA BOSLEY

 

10. Sonoma, CA: Take a vineyard walk

Amble up hillsides past salmon and trout streams to views of a wine valley, and you’ll come away with a new appreciation of what goes into your glass. The guided walks from Zephyr Wine Adventures are a couple of hours each day, interspersed with tastings and meals. Info: Take the five-day, four-night tour next fall (Oct 25–29, 2009; $1,900, including lodging, tasting fees, and meals). Or opt for a three-day DIY wine tour ($695, including lodging, tasting fees, guided walks, and some meals). You pick the weekend, choose three walks from a list of eight, and Zephyr arranges the rest. sonomavineyardwalks.com or 888/758-8687. Thanksgiving wine to take home: Rodney Strong Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Noir ($22). –CHRISTINE RICHARD

 

Top 10 Mini Wine Vacations