The Experts’ List of Underrated Wine Regions

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

Photo credit: dailyhive.com

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.

Szekszárd, Hungary

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

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Sláinte mhaith

Hungarian Wines

Twelve months ago if someone had asked me my opinion on Hungarian wines, I would have responded with a blank stare.  However, having since visited Hungary on vacation last summer, I have become smitten, not just with the wines, but with the country itself.

A century ago Hungary was one of the most important wine producers in Europe.  However since then, Hungary grape vines were attacked by the phylloxera aphid which resulted in devastating losses. After that, Hungary itself was attacked during the two world wars, followed by a Communist occupation that lasted until 1991.

The g0od news is Hungary is making a comeback.  There are now a multitude of small estates producing tasty wines, using a combination of traditional practices and modern sensibility.

With Hungary being situated between the 46th and 49th parallel, it is in the same latitude range as many of France’s top wine regions from Northern Rhône to Champagne. Hungary’s rolling hills are rich in volcanic soils and limestone–idyllic soil types for fine winemaking.

There are 22 wine regions in Hungary which has been highly criticised given the size of the country.  However, this has not deterred the Hungarians as they feel the regions are well known and understood by their people.  Each region is unique based on the climate, soil composition, and the grape varietals grown.

The climate ranges from having a small amount of rain, dry, extreme summer, cold winter to moderate, sub Mediterranean to  cool, small amount of rain, long winter;  to cool, rainy, windy and warm winter, dry summer, extreme amount of sunshine.  As a result there is a large range in grape varietals grown from one region to the next.

Grape varietals being grown in Hungary include,

White Grapes

  • Arany Sárfehér
  • Budai Zöld
  • Chardonnay
  • Cserszegi Fűszeres
  • Ezerjó
  • Furmint
  • Hárslevelű
  • Irsai Olivér
  • Juhfark
  • Kabar
  • Kéknyelű
  • Királyleányka
  • Kövidinka
  • Leányka
  • Muscat Ottonel
  • Olaszrizling
  • Rhine Riesling
  • Rizlingszilváni,
  • Sárfehér
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Szürkebarát
  • Tramini (Gewürztraminer)
  • Vulcanus
  • Zeusz
  • Zöld Veltelini (Grüner Veltliner)

Red Grapes

  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Kadarka
  • Kékfrankos
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir
  • Portugieser
  • Rózsakő
  • Syrah
  • Turán
  • Zweigelt

Hungary produces not only red and white wine, but Rosé, Sparkling, and Sweet wine as well.

Here is an interesting fact.  Hungarian wine producers use Hungarian oak to temper their intense wines. Hungarian oak barrels can also be found in many wineries in Europe and North America. Expect more delicate effects from Hungarian oak than from its French and American counterparts, and soft, creamy, toasted flavors and aromas.

Hungarian wine regions and local styles are as alluring as they are diverse. If a wine shop were organized by flavor profile, Hungarian wines would all belong in different corners of the store. Yet all the wines reflect something of their shared history.

There is one wine that is unique to Hungary – Tokaji, which is pronounced as “Toe-Kye”.  To receive the Tokaji denotation, dry or sweet, a wine can only contain the 6 native varieties of Furmint (“foor-meent”), Hárslevelü (“harsh-level-ooo”), Kabar (“kah-bar”), Kövérszölö (“kuh-vaer-sue-lou”), Zéta (“zay-tuh”), and Sárgamuskotály (“shar-guh-moose-koh-tie”). The wine is made from individually picked botrytized grapes that are then mashed and soaked in dry wine or must. The resulting wine, after aging, is golden, extremely sweet (120-180 grams per liter) and has the potential to age indefinitely when properly stored.

This treasured wine often has the flavour of candied tangerines and apricots, cinnamon and cloves, with sweetness somewhere between honey and nectar. Its bright acidity balances out the extreme sugar content. In Hungary, the classic pairing is foie gras, but you can drink it with creamy cheeses, lemon tarts, or simply on its own. A bottle could easily set you back in excess of $60.

In spite of all of the wonderful Hungarian offerings, there is one to avoid, that being Bikavér. These are mass-produced wines dating back to the communist regime.  Your local wine retailer should be able to assist you in avoiding these wines.

Hungarian wines are one of the wine world’s under publicised and best kept secrets. Unfortunately they are not as prominent in this country as many of their other European cousins. If you come across Hungarian wines in your local wine store, I recommend trying one. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Sláinte mhaith