It used to be that a winery was a place wine aficionados would go to examine and sip wine directly from oak barrels in dark cellars; not a place discerning diners would visit for an extraordinary tasting menu.
There certainly was no sign of a restaurant or even a formal tasting room at the first known winery, a sprawling cave system in southern Armenia that produced a red wine varietal similar to merlot more than 6,000 years ago, the ruins of which were discovered by archaeologists in 2011, according to CNN.
But as wineries evolved in the modern era, they began opening their doors to the public. And as vineyard visits became more popular in the mid-20th century, many vintners moved their wine tastings from the cellars to tasting rooms, where visitors could sample wines, typically for free, and make direct wine purchases.
"We considered all 67 wine-producing countries, but the fact is that the majority of winery restaurants that made the cut are located in prominent wine-producing regions like Napa Valley, Calif., Rioja, Spain, and Tuscany, Italy." Today, many tasting rooms serve as winery visitors centers, often offering wine flights along with cheese, chocolates, and light bites; some for free and others for a nominal fee. While some wineries still afford wine lovers the chance to drink over cellar casks, dozens have expanded the winery visit to include vineyard tours, overnight stays, and restaurant dining.
The concept of dining at wineries started changing in the late 20th century when many began recognizing the potential for winery tourism and realized that a restaurant could be an asset, encouraging oenophiles to make a trip to the countryside not just to sip wine but to dine as well.
Germany's Schloss Vollrads, the oldest operating commercial winery in the world (it first sold wine in 1211, according to The Huffington Post) is one example of an establishment that joined the winery restaurant trend. While its Gutsrestaurant hasn’t been open quite as long as the winery, the Mediterranean spot was considered for The Daily Meal’s inaugural list of 20 Best Wineries Around the World.
Our first list of the 20 Best Winery Restaurants Around the World seeks to pay homage to the world’s most exemplary winery feasts. This is our comprehensive look at winery restaurants that have consistently set the benchmark for wining and dining.
Our list was carefully curated through a three-month-long nomination process; we consulted the Michelin Guide and other trusted sources and gathered recommendations from The Daily Meal’s editors and contributors, who have traveled and dined extensively around the world.
With dozens of innovative winery restaurants to choose from, it was a challenge to whittle the list down to a select 20. To be in contention, a winery had to have a full-service restaurant; small cafés and tasting rooms were not considered. Likewise, notable restaurants that are near but not in wineries were also excluded.
For the purposes of compiling the list, location was not a determining factor. Of the 67 countries that produce wine around the world, all were considered.
To choose our 20 best, we called upon more than 100 experts who write about wine and food and visit wineries frequently — food and wine writers, wine experts, sommeliers not affiliated with particular wineries, and bloggers with extensive winery-going experience — supplemented by The Daily Meal’s well-traveled editorial staff, and asked them to help nominate a short list of 45 winery restaurants (see page 2 for panelists). Some of our panelists requested anonymity.
We asked our panelists to evaluate the selections and vote for their favorites, by continent, in four categories: Cuisine, Wine, Winery Experience, and Style/Décor/Service. From innovative menu options to plating and presentation to freshness, quality, and taste, panelists evaluated each winery restaurant’s cuisine and voted only for the restaurants which they believed to be extraordinary, whether showplaces for avant-garde culinary techniques or simple venues specializing in traditional local dishes. In the Wine category, panelists evaluated the wines on offer in the restaurant and evaluated the taste, looking for wines that are balanced, harmonious, complex, and complete and paired effectively with the meals on offer. They also rated the Winery Experience, including the options available beyond sampling wine and food. Finally, in the Style/Décor/Service category, panelists evaluated the overall dining experience, from the restaurant’s interior design and dining room ambiance to the skill and efficiency of the service.
Every winery restaurant had the chance to be voted on up to four times in the survey. The percentage scores from each category were weighted equally.
The 20 Best Winery Restaurants List
We considered all 67 wine-producing countries, but the fact is that the majority of winery restaurants that made the cut are located in prominent wine-producing regions like Napa Valley, Calif., Rioja, Spain, and Tuscany, Italy. However, the list does include some surprising gems, like the Restaurant at Weingut Nigl in Senftenberg, Austria.
Our list includes winery restaurants in 11 countries — Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and the U.S — and 18 cities.
Some notable restaurants that made the cut include La Taverna at Castello Banfi in Montalcino, Italy; The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards in Livermore, Calif.; and Terrôir at Craggy Range in Havelock North, New Zealand.
With six entries, the U.S. has the most restaurants on our list, with four in California and two in New York. It’s not surprising that U.S. winery restaurants topped the list, given that it is the fourth-largest producer of wine in the world (France is the top, producing 4.6 million liters of wine in 2010, followed by Italy, Spain, the U.S., and Argentina, according to the Wine Institute) and Americans consume the most wine in the world. It’s also not unexpected that California claimed the most spots on the list, as the state produces an average of 90 percent of the total wine produced in the U.S. each year. The U.S. wine market is the largest in the world, with an estimated $34.6 billion in sales in 2012, according to the Wine Institute.
Any list like this one is bound to stir up disagreements among discerning diners and wine aficionados; even our own staff was divided on which winery restaurants should make the final cut.
After checking out The Daily Meal’s 20 Best Wineries Around the World, share your compliments and critiques in the comments section below — or on Twitter using the hashtag #bestwineries — and let us know what places you think should have been included, or should have been left out.
If you have dined at any of these winery restaurants, pin your favorite photos on The Daily Meal’s Eating & Dining Pinterest board.
Which winery restaurant made it to the top of the list? Its identity and location might just surprise you.
20 Best Winery Restaurants Around the World
Lauren Mack is a freelance travel and food writer. Follow her on Twitter @lmack.
Editorial director Colman Andrews (@Colmanandrews) contributed to this article.
20 Best Winery Restaurants Panelists
♦ Amanda Barnes, wine, food, and travel writer
♦ Jeffrey Benson, author of six books about wine
♦ Gerry Dawes, founder-president of Spanish Artisan Wine Group; wine, food, and travel writer
♦ Timo Jokinen, wine consultant
♦ Tracy Ellen Kamens, Ed.D. DWS, CWE, founder, Grand Cru Classes
♦ Harriet Lembeck, CWE, CSS, director, Wine & Spirits Education
♦ Roger Morris, wine, food, and travel writer; Been There Tasted That blog
♦ Steve Wallace, West Coast Wine Merchant