Most wine enthusiasts are familiar with international wine regions such as France’s Bordeaux, California’s Napa Valley or Italy’s Tuscany. However, there are many other, lesser-known regions, each offering its own unique characteristics. These regions offer not only good wine but fewer crowds and opportunities to discover places less travelled. My list is not intended to be all-encompassing; it is merely a list of regions that I have found intriguing for one reason or another. The regions are presented in alphabetical order by country.
Pedernal Valley, Argentina
Located in the shadow of the Andes mountains, Argentina’s wine country is spectacular. Situated north of the famous Mendoza region is the lesser-known Pedernal Valley. It is felt that the Pedernal Valley can stand on its own merits as a premium wine region. The region’s Malbec is considered world-class and distinct and represents a unique style.
Mendocino County, California, United States
Mendocino County grows less than four percent of California’s grape yield but contains an impressive one-third of the state’s certified organic vineyards. The number of old vines, post-WWII plantings makes this region unique. Some of the best wineries in California source their grapes from Mendocino. Dry-farming practices were introduced to the region by Italian families in the early 1900s, which resulted in wines that are concentrated, balanced and distinctly Californian.
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Canada’s own Okanagan Valley is considered breathtaking as it is situated between two mountain ranges and contains glacial lakes and rolling hills of vineyards. The region produces world-class wines that are difficult to find outside of Canada. The high-quality wines combined with the beautiful views of the region have attracted top winemakers from France, New Zealand and South Africa.
Chinon, Bugey and Savoie, France
There are three lesser-known regions in France. Chinon is in the Loire Valley. It is much less popular than its neighbours, Bordeaux and Burgundy. The Loire Valley is famous for its white Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumés. The red variety is Cabernet Franc.
The wine regions of Savoie and nearby Bugey are nestled in the French Alps and are home to great wines and hospitality. Savoie has both a ski and hiking industry and thus there are quality restaurants, wine bars and a wide range of accommodations. The vineyards are spread throughout the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes overlooking both the mountain ranges and fresh bodies of water.
Bugey is situated underneath the alps. There is a group of small producers that have either relocated from other parts of France or are new vintners who are focused on raising the profile of the region.
The Republic of Georgia
Georgia is the world’s oldest continuously producing wine region but it is one of the lesser known. This is due to The Republic formerly being under the control of the former Soviet Union. During that time only four grape varieties of the over 500 available were allowed in production. After gaining independence, Georgia rediscovered its wine culture and began sharing it with the world. Traditional Georgia wine production is unique, resulting in the production of some exceptionally distinctive wines. The wines are produced in underground amphorae called Qvevri.
For additional information about the wines and the region, see my posts The Wines of European Georgia from February 6, 2021 and Traditional Georgian Wine from September 18, 2021.
The Szekszárd wine region is located about 160 kilometres south of Budapest. Not many tourists explore beyond Budapest since the region has not been marketed. However, it is one of the country’s oldest wine regions, dating back around 2000 years. Wine production is small and the wineries are often family-owned, which equates to limited exports and less awareness about the region.
The region has a wide range wine styles. The most popular variety is the Kékfrankos grape (aka Blaufränkisch) which produces a tannic and spicy style of wine. There’s also Kadarka grapes which creates a fresh acid red fruit that is meant to be enjoyed without aging.
Mexico’s wine history dates back to the1600s but the region remains a virtual unknown for many wine enthusiasts. Although wine grapes have been cultivated there for 400 years, it has only been during the past several decades that there has been a renewed focus on premium and terroir-driven expressions.
Valle de Guadalupe’s boutique wineries are experimenting with a mix of European red grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo and Tempranillo. The varietals are often blended to create a Bordeaux style of wine.
Middleburg, Virginia, United States
California, Oregon, Washington and New York dominate the U.S. wine industry but there are other regions worth noting. One of these is Middleburg, Virginia. Virginia was one of the first places in America to produce wine but it is still a relative unknown. The wine industry there is mostly made up of small artisanal producers who are creating world-class wines. Some think of the region as a crossroads between Napa Valley and Bordeaux. The region is situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains an hour outside Washington DC.
There are many lesser-known wine regions to be explored, either by visiting or merely by sampling the wines they produce. By expanding our horizons and creating new experiences, we will ultimately find more wines to enjoy.