Recalling the best wine and sites of 2017 with our personal "Best Nine" choices

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Earlier this week we shared our 2017 Best Nine, the nine most liked photos from @wine30flight on Instagram in 2017, but were interested that many of our favorites weren't actually the ones that had attracted the most likes. In fact, only a single photo -- from Vinarna Bokovka wine bar in Prague -- overlapped. No matter. This #ThrowbackThursday we're sharing our picks for Best Nine. They took us to Sweden, Hungary, Czechia, Spain, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC. Each tells a different story. See for yourself.

Further reading: 2017 Best Nine @wine30flight ... stories in wine from Portugal, Spain, Czechia, and across the U.S.

(start at the top-left photo, working right across the row, then down to the next)

Late Night, Sun Up (Grundsund, Sweden)

We crossed the bridge over Grundsund's Harbor at about 10pm this night in late May, a month before the year's longest day, sun still up as it traced the northern latitudes low on the horizon. Cold and dark by winter, on this particular evening it seemed as if we were looking out not just to the sea, but to the summer and all its holiday makers that were about to fall upon this otherwise small village on Sweden's western coast. I'll be back in 2018.

Parliament at Dusk (Budapest, Hungary)

Dripping with regal elegance in its halls and chambers, mythically grand from the river and promenades surrounding it, the seat of Hungary's National Assembly upon the banks of the Danube River in Budapest seems more the home of gods and kings than legislators. The architecturally incredible fruit and proof of the city's place in Hungary and the larger Austro-Hungarian Empire of the late nineteenth century, today it is both a working house of government and a leading tourist attraction. Language-specific tours depart from the visitors center throughout the day, where -- yes -- the cafe serves wine by cup.

Nightfall (Prague, Czech Republic)

Enter through a quietly cloistered courtyard whose cobblestones reflect the light that shines from above through arches and columns both stately yet sooted by time. A soft bronze glow of filament bulbs and candles gently twinkling through the phalanx of glasses and bottles cast merry shadows on the vaulted walls of a place that one might think dilapidated if you didn't know it was a wine cellar. There is community here, the revelry of young and old both crowded around a common table and the high tops wedged in any alcove not otherwise lined floor to ceiling with wine bottles. We're inside of Vinarna Bokovka -- self styled as a decrepit courtyard offering great wines -- an absolutely exquisite wine bar we discovered in the heart of Prague, capital of The Czech Republic.

400 Years of Splendor, and Horror (Madrid, Spain)

Plaza Mayor marks the historic heart of Madrid, Spain, one of the world's truly spectacular cities. Lined with shops and restaurants, overflowing with the near-round-the-clock energy of Madrileños and tourists alike, the site of celebration and horror throughout its history, this infamous city square has been a personal favorite place for what is now most of my life. The Plaza celebrates its 400th anniversary this year, opening up the festivities on February 17 with the most incredible light show spectacle we have ever seen. Though the show itself has passed, the anniversary celebrations are ongoing throughout the year. Whether now or in the future, we recommend that Plaza Mayor and Madrid in general be at the top of your travel list.

Further reading: Madrid's Plaza Mayor just celebrated its 400th anniversary with this incredible light show

Bless the Wines down in Africa (Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain)

Steeply sloping hills blanketed in vineyards meandering towards the sea whose warm breeze intermingles with the smell of food and the taste of wine to which it is perfectly matched. If paradise exists on Earth, you might think it here at Bodegas Monje, perched upon this northwest-facing volcanic hillside on the island of Tenerife in Spain's Canary Islands, just off the coast of southern Morocco. Monje stands out in our minds as home to some of the most phenomenal food and wine pairings we've tried, served on its outdoor terrace offering some of the most incredible views we've seen, all in one of the most unique wine making locales -- this is Africa, after all -- that we've ever visited. Spain's Hawaii, you might say, but with wonderful wine. Go visit.

Sun Setting on Winter (Provincetown, Massachusetts, USA)

Beachfront sunset, though the untrained eye might not realize that it was early January and freezing cold. Dusk comes early these days to Provincetown, at Cape Cod's outermost point, as the sun sinks over the horizon in brilliant orange and blue. We don't write often enough about the place where Meghan and I spend so much of our time, where my family traces back to the 1890s. Though known for the visitors it draws the three high months of summer, we've come to love it in the winter as well, particularly during the week between Christmas and New Years Day when restaurants are havens for bundled revelry makers stepping in from the cold. It's a beautiful, quiet time there just before the dead of winter.

Paris on the Baltic (Stockholm, Sweden)

Situated on Sweden's east coast, Stockholm is a city of islands perforated and interconnected by canals that ultimately flow to the Baltic Sea. Its maritime informs its aesthetic, a city whose urban geography reflects its national flag: brightly colored buildings atop a sea of beautiful blue. It's a gem of a European capital, ever as charming, historic, and regal as those to the south; cool in May, and connected to the sea as few others are. 

Further reading: Weekend guide to Stockholm: Sweden's charming, historic, regal capital on the Baltic Sea

America, Land of Immigrants (Washington, DC)

Like our wine, the American people are imported and blended from the good stuff of other places, tempered and given unique character by our "new" surroundings, the terrain and climate of human experience. Whatever greatness you ascribe to America, the thing that "Makes America Great", doesn't happen in spite of our fractional origins... it happens because of them. America is a great country because those who came before us lived in a nation where they could pass on their traditions so that today, in 2017, I can raise a glass and sing Swedish drinking songs (however poorly) with my big Swedish-Jamaican-English-German-Mexican-Irish-Ukrainian-Portuguese-Jewish-Catholic-Protestant-and-whatever-else family. I wrote this on January 18, 2017, the first of many really difficult weeks for many people, but the thing that holidays, wine, and my travels have taught me about America is this: We're great because of you.

Further reading: What I've learned about America from my recent travels, wine, and the holidays

We took this photo itself inside the Hall of Nations at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Every country with which the U.S. has diplomatic relations is represented there.

Wine Library (Méntrida, Spain)

There's magic in the peace and quiet of a small town where wine is made. Midday sun warms you standing next to an unassuming bodega, smiling mindfully because you know there's a barrel cellar beneath your feet. A puppy leaps merrily out the door to great you. Children play in the otherwise quiet streets. Here we stand in the Spanish town La Torre de Esteban Hambrán, a town of less than 2,000 in the Province of Toledo, walking through the door of Bodegas Alonso Cuesta, one of the DO Méntrida region's finest wineries.