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10+ Of The Best (Lesser-Known) Wine Regions To Visit
It’s no secret that I looooove me a winery visit. It’s a travel itinerary staple, blending beautiful scenery, delicious wine, often great food, and a behind-the-scenes experience that’s catnip for me.
And so I wanted to share what I consider some of the best wine regions to visit—specifically, the “hidden gems” that fly under the radar.
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When many people think of wine tourism, they probably think about Napa first…Napa has a great PR agent. And beyond that, France (the Loire Valley, Champagne, etc.) and Italy (Tuscany in particular) are super well-known.
So let’s forget about them for now. They’re great, but honestly a bit crowded and overpriced for my tastes. So instead let’s talk about other parts of the world with amazing wine, where you can have a more immersive, authentic, less crowded, and often chaper experience.
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The best wine regions to visit (that fly under the radar)
So here are 10+ spots around the globe that I think are underrated (or just under-visited) destinations for wine tourism. And all of them have SO much more to offer than just wine. From amazing history to mind-blowing scenery to foodie heaven, these need to be on your next itinerary.
One note before we dive in…you’ll notice variance in the quality of my photos. These winery visits were done over the past 10 years, so camera technology has been on quite a journey!
The rise of Argentina’s wine industry (considered garbage wine even a few decades ago) is kind of amazing. The country massively modernized its wineries and realized how well the Malbec grape (originally from France) thrived there—and today Malbec is practically synonymous with the country.
But it’s not the only grape here. There are several other awesome reds, from Bonarda to Tempranillo to Cabernet Sauvignon. And I particularly love their primary white, the Torrontes.
We spent two full days on winery tours exploring the region, and only scratched the surface. After quite a bit of research, I booked with Trout & Wine…I liked that they keep their tour groups quite small, so the group dynamic feels nice and intimate (side note, they have a great wine club that ships to the U.S. too).
And our guide, Ivan, told us a ton about the history of the area and the wineries we’d be visiting.
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On our first day, we visited four wineries in the Lujan de Cuyo region, and the second day we visited three wineries in the Valle de Uco region. Mendoza has five sub-regions within it, with varying geographical and climate distinctions, but overall is semi-arid, with considerable variances in altitude (including the majestic Andes).
I really loved how the wineries on the tour were selected thoughtfully to provide different types of experiences and also different sizes and winemaker backgrounds. For instance, at one we might do a tour of the winemaking process, at another taste with sweet/salt/fatty/etc. to see the differences, and at another spend time in the vineyard.
And of course, we did tastings at all of them. But at one of the wineries each day, we had an amazing full meal with wine pairings…these were, hands down, two of the best meals I’ve had in my entire life.
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Portugal’s Douro Valley & Vinho Verde regions (+ Porto)
I’ve been a huge port fan for years (in keeping with my “I’m actually 80 years old” schtick), but the Douro Valley is a must-visit even if you don’t think you like port. If you love amazing food, wine, and gorgeous scenery, you need to book a trip here, STAT.
Home of the River Douro, the Douro Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest demarcated (DOC) wine region in the world (boundaries were set in 1756). But wine has been being made in the valley since the 3rd or 4th century AD.
While it’s known primarily for the port wine that’s been made here for 2,000 years, there are plenty of regular whites and reds made here as well.
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I stayed at an amazing 250-year-old winery, which made the experience even more immersive, and then my driver and tour guide, Fernando, was incredibly knowledgeable. As we drove between wineries, he told me about Portugal’s history, the local culture, the port wine industry, different types of port and how they’re made, grapes, wine-making families, and more!
I visited three different wineries during my one-day tour, as well as getting to drive along the N-222, which curves along the river is considered one of the most scenic drives in the world. I also had an amazing lunch with wine pairings at Castas e Pratos in Regua (highly recommend!!).
I wished I’d had another day or two in the Douro Valley, to visit more wineries and also maybe experience the iconic train or boat trips you can take.
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But wait, there’s more! Located about 90 minutes away, Porto (and specifically the town across the river, Vila Nova de Gaia) plays a unique historic and cultural role in Portugal’s most famous wine region. It was the transportation hub of the industry, where the boats rolled into from the Douro Valley, and then were shipped out to the world.
As such, the wineries established port houses here (there are still more than 60!), and to me it’s a must-visit if you’re also doing the Douro Valley.
Some have lots of tasting options, some have great patios or rooftops, and some need reserved ahead of time. Do a bit of research ahead of time to see what you’d most enjoy, but then be flexible once you’re there.
I’d definitely suggest booking one or two more in-depth tours and tastings at the port wine houses here. I also had an amazing multi-course meal with wine pairings at Vinum, the restaurant at Graham’s.
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And then I want to give a special shout-out to Portugal’s other famous wine—vinho verde. Well, it SHOULD be more famous, but it’s getting there. The name literally means “green wine”, or young wine. It’s light and slightly tart, with the tiniest bit of effervescence. It’s a perfect afternoon patio sipper.
I haven’t been able to visit the region it’s made in (though it’s close to the Douro Valley, so you could easily pair the two). It is definitely an under-the-radar wine region, nestled in some majorly historic cultural areas as well, and is worth a visit!
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New Zealand has been a well-known international wine producer for decades, but since it’s so difficult and expensive to visit the island country, most wine lovers haven’t had a chance to explore its wineries. There are wine regions dotted up and down the country, but mostly clustered on the eastern coastlines of the North and South Islands.
We spent several idyillic days just driving around and exploring the nooks and crannies of the Nelson and Marlborough areas. It’s also got hiking, beautiful beaches, and the stunning Abel Tasman National Park, among other reasons to visit.
It was a bit off-season when we visited, but we did spend one day driving between some of the many wineries in the Nelson area. We didn’t have particular destinations in mind (this was also 2014, so before we could just pull everything up on our phones with international roaming).
Marlborough is maybe the best-known New Zealand wine region for international audiences, and would have been a great day trip from Nelson, but we ran out of time (here are examples of wineries in the area, including names you may recognize).
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The Nelson region is also major hops country, producing all of New Zealand’s commercial hops. As such, they have a thriving craft brewery scene, which we sampled whenever possible. So you get a “two-fer” for wine and beer lovers in the Nelson and Marlborough region.
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By a strange turn of fate, Slovenia was my O.G. winery visit (in early 2014), and what spurred my longstanding love affair with wine tourism. And some of you are like…um, where now??
On this particular day, we spent the morning at the seaside in Piran, then drove up into the hills for an afternoon of Slovenian wine. Our friends had scheduled a private afternoon at Rojac, a family-owned winery run by Sonja and Uroš.
In addition to touring their winemaking faiclities, we spent a couple hours with the couple tasting their wines, learning about their lives, nibbling on some snacks, and hearing about how Slovenian daily life has changed over the past 20 years.
This is exactly the kind of intimate, unscripted locals experience you can find in these under-the-radar best wine regions. Now, this was in 2014, so I’m certain the tourism industry here has been developed a bit more, but it still isn’t well-known.
What’s amazing is that it was only a short drive from Piran, Slovenia’s stunning coastline (and where we spent the middle of the day), and also easily reachable to the capital of Ljubljana, the famous Lake Bled, and the beautiful, rugged Julian Alps.
If you haven’t considered Slovenia as an overall destination, it absolutely needs to be on your list! It’s like the best parts of Austria and Italy had a baby. (Which…well, is kind of what happened.)
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While Santorini’s whitewashed buildings, blue domes, and rocky cliffs are majorly Insta-famous, the wineries still fly under the radar. In fact, Greek wine does overall—I’m guessing because we don’t get much imported here in the U.S.
What I was fascinated to find out was how much wine history there is on this tiny volcanic island. Santorini’s vineyards are the oldest in Greece, and its wines were respected and desired for centuries, particularly by the Ottomans and Russians.
One really unique aspect is the shape of their vines…to protect them from the island’s fierce winds, the Santorinians (Santorinites??) prune the grapevine very close to the ground in the shape of a coil or basket (kouloura, see below), giving it a safe nest and also helping it retain moisture.
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I was also surprised by how good the wines were! I visited three different wineries on a half-day tour, and tasted several different types of wines.
The most prominent you’ll see if Assyrtiko, a delicious, complex white. Santorini is also famous for its DELISH Vinsanto wine, a dessert wine made from late-harvest sun-dried white grapes.
Whether you take a formal tour or just drive around the island and stop wherever you feel like it, the wineries of Santorini need to be on your island itinerary.
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California winery regions that *aren’t* Napa
I realize that to many “in the know”, calling anything in California an “under-the-radar wine region” is stretching the bounds of credulity. But honestly, I stand by it. So many people I talk to are just all about Napa, and don’t realize what a wealth of other (less insane) areas there are.
I’ll talk about two here, starting with Sonoma County. It stretches from just north of San Francisco to the edge of Napa to the Pacific Ocean, encompassing smaller areas like Point Reyes/Bodega Bay, the Sonoma Coast, the actual Sonoma Valley, the Russian River Valley (also famous for wine), and more.
Plus, the area itself really packs a punch…it’s an easy drive from San Francisco, has amazing local food (and craft beer) along with the 400+ wineries, cute little towns, some of the best coastal views and hiking, and allows you to explore towering redwoods. Like, what’s not to love??
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Next, we head to an idyllic little pocket of the Central California coast, near San Luis Obispo. Here, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, you have the Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande, and Paso Robles areas clustered together—around 250 wineries to explore!
The area is packed with tiny microclimates, making for a wide variety of vineyards and wine styles. And while locals know how great it is, it’s not a winery tourism destination and so you get an amazing wine country experience that feels super intimate and authentic (and one that’s far less expensive).
The area also offers scenic beach views, hiking and surfing, sweeping coastal drives, cute towns, awesome food, and some of the best vineyards in California.
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Willamette Valley, Oregon
I’ve always been a fan of Pinot Noirs from Oregon. So when some girlfriends and I decided to do a trip several years ago, I proposed the Willamette Valley as our destination.
We paired it with the food, beer, and charms of Portland and some gorgeous waterfall hikes, it was an amazing visit! (Also, the stunning Oregon coast isn’t far, and is a great itinerary add-on.)
The area is very agricultural and has a bucolic, rural feel. The rolling fields were a lush green, and there were fields of wildflowers dotting the countryside. While Oregon *wines* aren’t hidden gems, this area as a winery destination still flies under the radar.
While some wineries can get crowded on holiday weekends, there are so many to choose from and they’re spread over a fairly large area, so you still get that small, intimate feel (and many of the wineries are TINY).
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A few that I haven’t experienced yet:
I have a short list of the “hidden gem” best wine regions to visit that I *haven’t* had a chance to visit yet. Here are my current top four:
- South Africa: Hands down, the top of my list! Well, for lots of reasons, but wine is definitely among them. Some of the best wines in the world come from South Africa, and you also get absolutely mind-blowing landscapes as you visit different wineries.
- Georgia & Moldova: Winemaking was born in Georgia, with evidence of it from about 4000 BCE. Today, the wineries of both these countries still fly under the radar, but they offer delicious, historic, and complex wines along with a fascinating cultural experience.
- British Columbia (Canada): The B.C. region isn’t well-known outside of Canada, partly because their liquor regulations mean that very little exported. The wine region on the west side of the country is absolutely beautiful, and a great add to any Vancouver itinerary. While they make many varietals, the area is perhaps most famous for its icewine—where the grapes are left on the vine until they freeze solid, then are pressed that way for a very concentrated dessert-style wine.
Other more famous wine areas to visit as well:
- A Weekend Of Wine In Oregon’s Willamette Valley
- Rosé All Day: Sampling the Wineries of Aix-en-Provence
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