Well-known wine regions like Bordeaux, Tuscany, and the Napa Valley often steal the spotlight when it comes to world-class grape growing and fine wine production. But there are a number of high-quality, full-bodied wines worth tasting in more unexpected regions across the globe.
To find out which wine regions should be topping travelers’ lists right now, we tapped the knowledge of four experts: Rachel Signer, editor and publisher of Pipette Magazine (a print publication about natural wines), Neil Harris, creator of True Wino (a still “forthcoming” independent wine magazine), Basile Al Mileik, wine director at Wythe Hotel (one of Brooklyn’s buzziest spots), and Sarah Bray, DipWSET-certified European winery director at VinConnect (an online direct-to-consumer platform for European wineries).
According to these wine industry insiders, the following are some of the more surprising wine regions—both emerging and established—worth sampling before the secret spreads.
Tenerife, Canary Islands
On this Spanish archipelago off the coast of northwestern Africa, wine grapes grow from mineral-heavy volcanic soils. Tenerife, one of the archipelago’s seven islands, is the largest wine producer of the bunch. “Tenerife is one of my favorite wine regions in the world,” Al Mileik says. “I’m obsessed with island wines—but on this particular island, the varietals are even more interesting because most vineyards sit on pure volcanic soils.”
“Tenerife is home to Envínate, one of the hottest wine producers right now,” Bray adds. But wineries across the archipelago are producing mouthwatering fruity reds and whites, and to all four wine experts, the entire archipelago is worth traveling to just for tastings alone.
“Across the Canary Islands, the climate is very warm, but you have these crazy wind tunnels that help bring salt water, acidity, and a lot of balance to the wines,” Al Mileik says. It’s this hyper-local combination of indigenous vines, volcanic soil, and varying climates that make for the Canary Islands’s unusual wines.
Beyond Tenerife, he notes, don’t miss Los Bermejos, a Lanzarote estate that follows a biodynamic philosophy focused on organic farming and distinct vine-growing principles.
Beqaa Valley, Lebanon
Lebanon has one of the oldest traceable winemaking traditions on the planet, the origins of which date back to 7000 B.C.E. “The country has a viticultural history that stretches through Biblical times, the Roman Empire, and even into the Middle Ages—which is about when historical records began chronicling the practice of winemaking in Burgundy,” Bray notes. Even though it might seem like this Middle Eastern wine destination has been largely overlooked until recently, according to Bray, the region’s wineries “have been making waves for a long time, especially at iconic estates like Chateau Musar.” While many local vintners in the fertile region use European grapes, such as cabernet sauvignon, carignan, merlot, and syrah, wines made with native white grapes like obeideh and merwah have made an impression on wine critics worldwide.
Wine has been produced in the monastery-studded countryside of Georgia’s Kakheti region for thousands of years. (Archaeological findings have traced the country’s signature qvevri—clay vessels used to ferment wine underground—back to 6000 B.C.E.) The traditional method of winemaking in this mountainous region east of Tbilisi is inscribed in UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Today, however, Kakheti winemakers use both traditional Georgian and contemporary European approaches.
“Georgia has re-asserted itself as a prime winemaking producer and destination,” Harris says. “The country has backed up its claim to fame as the birthplace of winemaking with some amazing natural and low-intervention wines that proudly display their own identity.”
“There’s really nothing out there quite like Georgian wines; they have entirely unique flavor profiles,” Signer adds. “The whites are typically made with skin contact, lending them tannic structure and texture—and the reds can be powerful, especially the saperavi variety. It’s important to note that these wines are best when experienced with the country’s incredible cuisines, which generally feature lots of sautéed vegetables, the flaky warm cheese bread khachapuri, rich roasted meat dishes, lamb stews, and fresh fish—all served family-style.”
Those interested in Italian wine have likely made trips to world-famous wine regions like Piedmont and Tuscany. But travelers looking to go beyond Italy’s well-tasted wine trail should head east toward the country’s Adriatic coast. “Right now, some of the most interesting wines are coming from the region of Abruzzo,” Bray says. “Long known for more mediocre table wine, Abruzzo producers are now owning their craft and elevating their local varieties. Established collectors may know names like Emidio Pepe, but other new winemakers like the family-owned Tiberio are putting this region on the map.”
One characteristic that distinguishes this mountainous section of central Italy from the country’s other wine regions is that it’s recognized primarily for the production of one grape: montepulciano. The resulting red wine, montepulciano d’Abruzzo, is known for being tannic, low in acidity, and extremely easy to drink. Still, a variety of fine wines—including fruity rosés and floral whites—are produced within Abruzzo’s four provinces. Consider this region Italy’s best-kept wine secret.
McLaren Vale, Australia
Just 45 minutes south of Adelaide sits McLaren Vale, a coastal wine region with a Mediterranean climate known for dry red varietals like shiraz, grenache, and cabernet sauvignon. McLaren Vale may be lesser-known than the nearby Barossa Valley, but the Australian wine region is regarded as one of the country’s most environmentally conscious areas, with a large percentage of producers using sustainable irrigation and farming methods.
For the Wythe Hotel’s wine list, Al Mileik taps a South Australia estate by the name of Jauma. “This estate uses McLaren Vale fruits to produce incredible organic wines,” he says. “Everything is hand-harvested, preservative-free, and includes only indigenous yeast.”
When it comes to esteemed wine-growing regions, many casual wine drinkers might be surprised to hear Ontario make the list (or any eastern Canadian province, for that matter). But believe it or not, the area—bordered by Lake Ontario and the Niagara River—is home to plenty of thriving vineyards.
The region’s many differing elevations and variations in soil type, temperature, and rainfall foster the diversity of “terroir” wines produced at local wineries—spanning from light rieslings to powerful cabernet francs.
“Inniskillin might have put the region on the map long ago for its ice wines, but new-wave producers in Niagara-on-the-Lake, like Pearl Morrissette and Norman Hardie, have been staking a claim to some of the best burgundian-style wines in the New World,” Bray says. “And the town, with its quaint cottages, trails, and outstanding entertainment, is a great place to round out your hours when you’re not tasting wines.”
According to Signer, some of the world’s most exciting winemakers are in the Austrian state of Burgenland, not far from Vienna. “This region, which was historically part of Hungary, was once known for bulk wine,” she says. “But that’s changed—many small wineries [from the region] who work with organic vineyards and use very little preservatives in the cellar are now found on wine lists at top restaurants around the world.”
What Burgenland wineries excite Signer the most right now? “Eduard and Stephanie of Gut Oggau have a beautiful and cozy heuriger—a traditional Austrian tavern—where they serve delicious and simple food made by Stephanie herself. Also not to miss is Rennersistas, run by two sisters who are taking over their family winery with more contemporary winemaking and a conversion to biodynamics,” she says. “And Claus Preisinger—one of the most impressive wineries I’ve ever seen—which was designed with influence from Bauhaus and other philosophies.”
Columbia River Gorge, Washington
One of the Pacific Northwest’s most emerging wine regions sits on a 40-mile stretch along the shores of the Columbia River in both Oregon and Washington. “Drive northeast from Portland, instead of south toward the better-known Willamette Valley, and not only will you be impressed by the scenic route, with its steep cliffs and ancient volcanic outcroppings lining the water, but you’ll stumble upon one of the West Coast’s emerging fine wine regions,” says Bray. “White grapes like albariño grow best in this well-ventilated channel. But many Washington producers like COR Cellars bring in red grapes for their wines from AVAs further down the road, too.”
Goriška Brda, Slovenia
Near Slovenia’s western border with Italy, the Goriška Brda region is often referred to as “Slovenia’s Tuscany” for its rolling countryside blanketed with scenic villages and family-owned vineyards where the country’s award-winning wines are produced. In this region, located just over an hour from Ljublijana by car, boutique wineries like Lepa Vida produce white wines such as rebula, chardonnay, sauvignon, pinot blanc, and pinot gris, and red wines, including merlot and cabernet sauvignon.
On the other side of Slovenia—close to the northeastern border with Austria—a cultural festival in Slovenia’s second largest city, Maribor, celebrates the ceremonial harvest of the world’s oldest grape vine. The Old Vine Festival, which takes place from September 29 through November 11, 2018, commemorates this 400-year-old grapevine that contributes to produce grapes and remains a symbol of Slovenia’s deep-rooted winemaking tradition.