The best part of being a wine lover, besides the drinking of course, is traveling for it and discovering wineries near and far. While there’s no shortage of well-known destinations worth checking out—many worth a repeat visit (hello, Willamette Valley)—there are still parts of the world that are relatively undiscovered (or at least under the radar). These are eight slightly more esoteric destinations with burgeoning wine scenes. Now’s the time to add these vinous locales (some closer than you think) to your travel wish list.
Umbria? Check. Trento? Check. Piedmont? Check. Italian wine and its variety of grapes, plus Italy’s many climates, make for endless travel possibilities, and the southern region of Puglia should not be overlooked as the next to consider. Drive through coastal Italian towns like Ostuni, Lecce and Monopoli, and explore Bari, Brindisi and Trani. It’s not all about seaside views and wine-tasting either. The old towns, palazzos and cathedrals may have Old World feels, but there’s a lot of new culture breaking out here too: Music, art and photography exhibits have found a home in Puglia in recent years—a departure from showcasing in cities like Rome and Milan.
Wine: The third-largest producer in Italy (and producing for more than 3,000 years), Puglia is still relatively obscure. Still, the Adriatic seaside coastline, volcanic soils and abundant sun yield deep red (and a handful of white) standout wines. Look for native varietals of aglianico, negroamaro and primitivo, but wineries like Tormaresca is also growing grapes like merlot, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay.
Check out: Tormaresca’s estates, Tenuta Bocca di Luppo in Castel del Monte and Masserie Maime in Salento—visit the casual wine bar and restaurant Tormaresca Vino & Cucina in Lecce that serves simple, seasonal Italian fare alongside its portfolio, as well as a handful of other wines from Italian winemaker Marchesi Antinori.
It seems while no one was looking, Virginia crept up on the major wine regions and emerged as the fifth largest in the United States. (Only California, New York, Oregon and Washington have more wineries than the Southern state.) Make no mistake—Virginia has been producing wine for more than 400 years. (The Jamestown settlers had high hopes for the region.) It may have taken a while, but the Commonwealth now boasts more than 260 wineries, and Virginia's winemaking expands from the suburbs of Washington, D.C., to vineyards tucked below the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Wine: Grapes varietals include Virginia’s signature grape, viognier, and local natives petit verdot and norton. Look for styles that lie between that of Europe and California, with reds (cabernet franc, merlot and Norton), whites (sauvignon blanc, riesling and viognier), plus rose, fruit wines and meads, and sparkling varietals.
Check out: RdV Vineyards in Delaplane, Va., a boutique vineyard and winery set on 100 acres where it produces Bordeaux-style blends to much acclaim from wine experts. The team—viticulturist Jean-Philippe Roby, enologist Eric Boissenot and winemaker Joshua Grainer—let the terroir dictate their work and allow nature to do the work for them. Their hands-off approach means that all the fruit grown on-site goes into the wine and there’s little interference in the growing process.
Pico Island, with its varied Mediterranean climate, not to mention Ponta do Pico, the highest mountain in the Azores and Portugal, has been producing wine since the 15th century, with houses and walls protecting more than 2,400 acres from the ocean. Volcanos and lava landslides never stopped vinters from growing grapes, adapting their process to the environmental conditions, and vines have been growing from lava soil for hundreds of years.
Wine: Recently, the Azorean island has seen a boom in new vineyard openings the Criação Velha wine region, in the municipality of Madalena. Look for traditional varietals including terrantez (mainly found in sweet fortified wines), verdelho (a nod to the Flemish settlers who introduced it to the island) and arinto (found in blends and sparkling wine).
Check out: Before an afternoon of tastings—Adega a Buraca and Cooperativa Vitivinicola are go-to sources for sampling Pico wine—start with a hike. Climb the 7,700 feet to the summit of Mount Pico (about a three-hour trek). The island is also known for scuba diving and whale watching.
Chile peppers, not grapes, are typically associated with Albuquerque, but some of its lesser-known vineyards are older than those in Napa Valley. The hot and dry climate and high altitude make New Mexico a unique place to grow grapes, and typical varieties include zinfandel, sangiovese, tempranillo, viognier and malvasia. While the number of wineries to visit may be less, it’s certainly a more affordable alternative to California.
Wine: Finding French-style wine way out west isn't as difficult as it seems. Two French expats found their way to New Mexico, founded Gruet Winery and have been making the sparkling stuff for more than 30 years. Today, its one of the best Champagne-style wines to come out of the States.
Check out: A winery of note, besides Gruet Winery for bubbly, is Casa Rondeña Winery (try its Meritage, a blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon ). Albuquerque’s stellar breweries are worth touring as well. The influence of American, Native American, Mexican and Spanish settlers is evident in the entire culinary landscape, making all of New Mexico a must-visit for food lovers.
Unlike their French, Italian and German neighbors, the Swiss may not be recognized for their wine, but it could be because they keep most of it to themselves. Switzerland exports only about 2 percent of its wine, so there’s a lot to discover, and the Valais region on the shores of Lake Geneva is no exception. Here, they produce more than the other regions of the country, most notably Chasselas, while the sunnier Lavaux region along Lake Geneva produces beautiful whites but only in small batches.
Wine: The Geneva wine region is mainly in the hills surrounding the lake, and Swiss vineyards are usually a family affair with both upscale and independent wineries producing some very light and easy-to-drink wines. Both reds (gamay, pinot noir and gamaret—indigenous to the region and rarely cultivated outside of Switzerland) and whites (chasselas, chardonnay and pinot blanc) have been well-received critically.
Check out: Blaise Duboux has been making some of the best wine in Lavaux for centuries, and at Domaine des Curiades, in the lesser-known nearby village of Lully, the winemakers are experimenting with blends and trying new things with more common varietals. Also worth checking out is the Beau Rivage, a stunning luxury hotel boasting one of the largest cellars of vintage wines.
Tequila may get most of Mexico’s shine, but just 14 miles north of Ensenada in Baja California lies Mexico’s wine route: Baja's Ruta del Vino, filled with more than 100 wineries—double what was there in 2012. Despite the huge growth, the vibe is laid-back, reminding tourists that this is indeed Baja, not Napa. Plus, it’s an easy drive from San Diego (two hours), Los Angeles (five hours) and Phoenix (six hours).
Wine: Valle de Guadalupe’s regional climate is drier than, but similar to, that of Rioja and Bordeaux, and grape varietals include nebbiolo, shiraz and sauvignon blanc. Wine experts and locals alike recognize Adobe Guadalupe for its excellent reds, Monte Xanic for its sauvignon blanc and Las Nubes and L.A. Cetto for their Nebbiolo.
Check out: Tijuana chef Javier Plascencia is at the helm at one of the valley’s most popular restaurants, Finca Altozano, known for its open kitchen and locally sourced ingredients. Nearby is one of Mexico’s oldest and most well-respected wineries, L.A. Cetto, credited for introducing a variety of grapes to the area, shaping today’s wine region and still being the largest wine producer in the country, producing nearly a million cases per year.
As most of state’s wine grapes grow within 25 miles of Lake Michigan, it’s no surprise Michigan has a reputation for producing great ice wines. While it’s not quite unknown, Michigan isn't the first place that comes to mind for domestic wine travel. But the wine industry dates back to the 1930s and today, there are more than 100 commercial wineries, and the Great Lake State is 10th in wine production nationwide.
Wine: Just over half of the wine grapes grow in the Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula in the northwest region of the state, including Bordeaux, Burgundy and Alsace. Riesling is the most widely planted white wine grape, and pinot noir for reds, but chardonnay and cabernet franc are also abundant.
Check out: The three mini wine trails of the Leelanau Peninsula: Sleeping Bear Loop (don't miss Longview Winery), the Northern Loop (Verterra Winery) and the Grand Traverse Bay Loop (Black Star Farms winery, inn and tasting room). Also worth exploring is Suttons Bay, the charming seaside village upon entering the Leelanau Peninsula with lots of B&Bs and historic inns.
Under an hour outside of Cape Town is Franschhoek (“French corner”), named after the French Huguenot refugees who settled there in 1688 and established farms named after their homeland. Their influence is still strong today, seen in the food, drink and winemaking styles, and Franschhoek is gaining notoriety for South Africa's sparkling wine, MCC (Méthode Cap Classique), and wine tourists come to explore the region’s Cap Classique route.
Wine: While there’s a range of grapes grown here (sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah, Bordeaux and chenin blanc), MCC is having a moment. Grown in a climate vastly different from France’s Champagne, South Africa was the first New World country to adopt an official term for the wine, and it’s one of the fastest-growing categories in the U.S. market.
Check out: Besides serving as wineries, many properties in Franschhoek function as luxury hotels, too, complete with restaurants, private game reserves, fruit orchards, hiking, golfing, biking and horseback riding. Some of the standouts in the valley include Chamonix, La Residence and Richard Branson’s Mont Rochelle. Or take a break from grapes with a visit to Tuk Tuk, a microbrewery on the main street of Franschhoek village.
Mixing your cocktail