Napa, Sonoma, Bordeaux, Tuscany…yeah, yeah, you’ve heard them all. But with a blossoming number of people interested in alternative vino across the globe and the recession encouraging consumers to try cheaper, less notable brands, many boutique wine regions are sprouting up…some in very unexpected places. While a few of these regions are growing wine grapes for a the first time, many others already have a rich history of traditional wine making that is only now gaining the respect of international winos.
Although you can buy these wines at specialty shops and online, going wine tasting on your next adventure is a great way to enjoy emerging wine regions first hand. You’ll be able to experience gorgeous scenery without the crowds of other photo-opp-worthy tourist spots and get a real (ahem), taste, of the local culture!
The production of wine in Slovenia dates back to the 4th century BCE (vastly predating Roman wine production!) when Celtic and Illyrian tribes settled there. Given the region’s deep cultural wine-making roots, it’s no wonder Slovenia has become one of the most well developed wine producers of the former-Yugoslavia countries.
Image: harpers slovenia/ Flickr
The Istria region joins Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy, and produces some of the country’s best wine…although outside of Slovenia many don’t know it. Only 10% of Slovenia’s 26.4 million gallons of wine a year get exported out of the country, which means a lot of the wine produced here goes almost completely unnoticed by the international wine community.
And if white wine isn’t you’re thing, don’t worry. Although Slovenia is known for it’s whites (75% of its wine production is white) the Istria region has more to offer. The region is also known for it’s Refosco grapes that produce a tannic, slightly bitter but fruity reds.
Where to go: The Vinakoper winery is a great place to try Refosco, one of its bottles won a local silver medal in 2008.
Northern California may be known for its kick-ass wine regions…but Southern California? Although the Temecula region may be relatively new (the first winery was planted less than 40 years ago), Temecula is now home to 24 wineries. Located about an hour north of San Diego and a few hours south of Los Angeles, Temecula has become a “stay-cation” spot for the SoCal crowd.
Although there is a history of wine-making nearby by the Mission padres in San Juan Capistrano, deciding recently to grow wine in Temecula was a geographically strategic choice, not a cultural one. Temecula is located on a platue 20 miles from the ocean. And although the weather can get pretty warm, cool Pacific Ocean breezes travel through “Rainbow Gap” (a break in the mountains) keeping the grapes cool. In addition, since Temecula has warm temperatures and little rainfall year-round, high-tech underground “aquafiers” irrigate the plants regularly.
Image: Laszlo/ Flickr
Where to go: The Maurice Ca’arie Winery uses the oldest vines in the region to make a tasty Sauvignon Blanc. Its 2007 vintage won six medals in 2008.
Serra Gaucha, Brazil
Located in the southern tip of the country, the Serra Gaucha region of Brazil is responsible for around 90% of the country’s wine production. Wine has been produced in this region since the 18th century when Italian immigrants brought wine making to the area, although traditionally wine in Brazil was made for local consumption, not for exporting. But since the 60′s Brazil has slowly become more established on the international wine scene. And after Ibravin (the Brazilian Wine Institute) was established in 1997 to regulate growing and promote wine, Brasil has emerged as one of the premiere wine making countries in South America.
Image: Casa Valduga
Where to go: Casa Valduga specializes in sparkling wines and has the largest sparkling wine cellar in Latin America
Niagara Peninsula, Canada
Ontario’s intense climate may seem like the antithesis of what grapes need to be happy, but using an ancient German method of frozen-grape harvesting, the winemakers in the Niagara Peninsula use the frigid temps to their advantage. Many wineries in the region make “icewine”, an intensely sweet and acidic dessert wine that is made from harvesting completely frozen grapes and processing them before they have a chance to thaw. Because most of the water in this process remains frozen, only a few drops of concentrated liquid can be harvested from each grape, hugely intensifying its flavor.
Image: wino-fred/ Flickr
Where to do: Check out Inniskillin, who recommends paring icewine with cheese, rather than dessert, to truly be able to enjoy the flavor of their wine. They even provide a pairing list of more than 100 cheeses and appropriate wine pairings made by cheese expert Laura Werlin on site.
Nashik Region, India
Traditionally the Nashik region has been India’s biggest producer of grapes for eating, but until recently no one ever used the likely region to grow wine grapes. Not only is Nashik the perfect geographical spot for grape production, but in addition, the region has a well developed infrastructure and a thriving economic community, making it an ideal location for budding wineries.
Image: Saket Selot/ Flickr
In 1997, Standford educated engineer Rajeev Samant foresaw the potential in Nashik and quit his Silicon Valley job to move home to Nashik to build Sula Wineries on his family’s land. Along with a Napa Valley winemaker, Samant continues to expand his business and his initial success is drawing other winemakers to the region.
Where to go: Take a look at where it all started at Sula Wineries. And while you’re there, sample Sula’s Late Harvest Chenin Blanc, India’s first dessert wine.
Snake River Valley, Idaho
When you think of Pacific North West wines, Washington State and Oregon immediately come to mind. But wineries have existed in Snake River Valley, Idaho long before they did in Washington. The first vineyards were planted in the region in the 1860s but were left to rot during prohibition. Although the wine industry has been slow to recover in Snake River Valley, over 40 wineries have sprung up since the 1970s, capitalizing on the regions rich soil and temperate (for Idaho standards) climate.
Where to go: Sawtooth Winery‘s stunning vistas make for great viewing while sipping their Pinot Gris, which was awarded a Double Gold in 2009.
It may seem surprising that a country that is 98% Muslim could sustain an entire wine region, but with such a long history of wine production the Meknes region in Morocco is doing just that. Originally cultivated over 2,500 years ago by the Carthaginians, conquering Romans continued to use the vineyards after their arrival. And when the North African grape variety was wiped out from disease in the 19th century, the French re-planted with their own grapes while in control of the region in the 20th century.
Image: oblaise/ Flickr
Where to go: Since 1964, the winemakers at Les Cellier de Meknes have been able to carve out a little space for themselves (Muslim law only allows for small parcels of land to be used for wine-making) where they bottle Les Coteaux de l’Atlas, a French wine which has been graded 1er Cru.
Located amid Croatia’s stunning Dalmatian Coast, Krk island produces the countries finest Zlahtina grapes…well actually its only Zlahtina grapes, a varietal grown only on this island and no where else in the world. Like most other countries in this part of the world, Croatia’s history of wine-making far predates the Romans, but recently the coastal region has really come into its own as a wine producer, taking full advantage of its unique local varietals.
Zlahtina is a crisp, light white wine with strong lemon and citrus tones. And when it rains it pours! Krk is also famous for its spectacular seafood, which is the most traditional pairing for the local white wine.
Image: oksidor/ Flickr
Where to go: Katunar Winery, located in the town of Vrbnik on the island of Krk, produces one of the best Zlahtina around called Katnur Zlahtina.
Wine production in Israel has changed a lot from biblical times when, according to Genesis, “Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine.” After Noah, Baron Edmund de Rothschild was the next major wine producer in Israel when he sent grapes from France to Israel to help settlers begin making wine at the end of the 19th century. Now Israel has a thriving wine market, especially in the region of Galilee.
Today, wineries in Galilee take advantage of their unique “micro-climate” of volcanic soil and high altitudes. They also utilize advanced wine-making technology instead of relying only on traditional methods of growing. For example the mega-winery Golan Heights has even established a “microwinery” that they use solely for experimentation on new grape varieties and productions methods.
This region is also one of the biggest producers of award-winning Kosher wine that is incredibly popular worldwide since traditionally, delicious Kosher wine is difficult to come by.
Image: amerainey/ Flickr
Where to go: Golan Heights Winery is a great place to sample some of the best wine Israel has to offer. The winery owns a few smaller labels, including Yarden and Gamala.
This is by no means an exhastive list. Where have you tried some great wine in an unexpected part of the world. Let us know!