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The Grape Escape: South Africa’s Vineyards

Experts are journeying father south for bottles worth trying. Here, our recommended wine getaways

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Any wine connoisseur worth her grapes has already trekked to Napa, Tuscany and probably even La Rioja to raise a glass. But now, with U.S. wine consumption at an all-time-high—we’re officially the largest wine market in the world, surpassing both France and Italy—adventurous enotourists are trading in Sonoma for South Africa and Alsace for Argentina. That’s because below the equator, select vineyards are producing some of the planet’s most interesting wines.

Take South Africa’s Cape Winelands. The region’s subtropical climate, high-altitude vineyards and fertile soil allow it to create phenomenal reds and whites, including what one expert says is the finest Chenin Blanc outside France’s Loire Valley. “It usually sees little to no oak aging, and it’s prized for its rich texture and mouth-puckering freshness,” says Brian Smith, a sommelier and winemaker based in New York City. Among the best destinations for those wanting to sample the wines—and enjoy the scenery—is Delaire Graff Estate in Stellenbosch. After jeweler Laurence Graff acquired the property in 2003, he added two restaurants, a world-class spa, a winery and a state-of-the-art cellar. Its 10 Cape Dutch–style lodges come with private butlers and sweeping views of the Simonsberg Mountain Range. Delaire Graff joins the ranks of other well-established estates in the Winelands, like the Steenberg Hotel and Vineyards in Constantia Valley. With elegant 17th-century manor houses and a wine farm dating back to 1682, Steenberg offers travelers a luxurious experience with a historical twist.

Southern Hemisphere wine getaways extend beyond the unique terroir of South Africa. Like Stellenbosch, the Mendoza Province in Argentina is known for its distinct fruit and stunning mountainous backdrops. “Both regions have incredible white wine with some less-than-mainstream grapes,” says Smith. “The local Torrontés grape produces beautifully vibrant and aromatic whites that are a wonderful aperitif.” One ideal place to sip a crisp Torrontés is at Cavas Wine Lodge in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. The hotel is nestled between two of the most notable wineries in the region—Ruca Malén and Viña Cobos—and contains 17 Spanish colonial-style villas.

With more than 800 wineries, the province is South America’s largest winemaking area, yet before Cavas Wine Lodge opened in 2005, it didn’t have a single high-end boutique hotel. A young couple from Buenos Aires seized the opportunity. “We have 320 days of sun a year,” says Cecilia Díaz Chuit, who owns the lodge with husband Martín Rigal. “The nature inspired us. You walk beneath the vines to go to your room.” Chuit says the local standout—a buttery chardonnay—leaves wine lovers with a lingering memory of the charming setting. Fittingly enough, the label reads “Bramare”—which means “to yearn for” in Italian.

Click through the gallery to check out photos from Graff and our other recommended South African vineyards.