While Spain, Italy, and France typically enjoy the limelight when it comes to well-known wine regions—think Rioja, Tuscany, and Bordeaux—travelers have long known that what we drink at home is often dictated by what gets exported and imported. Demand for bottle diversity has expanded what we can find on the shelves (thankfully), so it’s easy to find Saugvignon Blanc from New Zealand, Malbec from Argentina, and Pinotage from South Africa. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to get every vintage out there, especially from lesser-known areas. The only option may be to plan a trip and return with a few bottles in your checked luggage. Although the big name regions are famous because they produce excellent wines, winemakers the world over have adapted to fit the environment where they live. Below are five wine regions that may surprise you!
Winemaking in Slovenia predates that in France and Spain, and the country is home to the world’s oldest grapevine (along with 28,000 wineries!). Slovenia has produced award-winning wines, many of which are considered some of the world’s best. Lucky for those who live there, local wines are rarely enjoyed outside of the country because most of it is consumed within its borders and little is exported. Three wine regions grow 52 varieties that are crafted into red and white wines. Slovenian wine is an excellent complement to the superb cuisine on offer there.
In the U.S., most people can name only California as a wine-growing region, but smaller pockets are scattered around the country from Washington and Oregon to New York and as far north as Vermont. While better known for its cider (both alcoholic and not) and craft beer, Vermont’s northern location and cold climate support several uncommon varieties. Of the 15 wineries in the small state (population just over 600,000), many of them also make wines using other fruit such as rhubarb, blueberries, and apple, along with dessert ice wines. There are also a couple of places that produce mead or honey wine, which is thought to be the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage.
Portugal is well-known for its fortified wine, port. While Portugal’s mainland is home to the famed wine region of the Douro Valley, there is another area of the country that produces incredible wine. It just happens to be in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Pico Island in the Azores is known as the “Island of Wine” and produces the majority of wine for the islands. Due to the strong winds that prevail in the location and lack of tree protection in the volcanic landscape, vines are enclosed in a grid of rock wall wind breaks. These also create heat pockets that help the vines thrive. It’s an utterly unique viticulture tradition that has earned a UNESCO World Heritage designation, as well as producing delicious wines.
The foothills of the Himalayas might be the last place you would expect there to be grape vines, but in 2018, the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan got its first vineyards. They were planted with nine varieties, including Merlot and Chardonnay. The first harvest will be in the fall of 2020, so the world will have to wait a bit longer to see how it comes out. While the country is considered the world’s last untapped viable grape wine region, the Bhutanese already have a tradition of making peach wine. Very sweet and refreshing, it’s definitely worth a try!
The first people to produce wine in what is now Croatia were the Ancient Greeks on the Dalmatian Islands. So this region has had plenty of time to perfect the art. Now, Croatia is one of Europe’s most talked about emerging wine destinations with 64 indigenous grape varieties. Like Slovenia, most of it is consumed by Croatians making it somewhat unlikely you’ve had a chance to try some. White wine makes up about 60% of the country’s production. Fun fact: California might not be the wine region it is without a Croatian varietal – the Zinfandel grape.
Matt Holmes is the Founder & President of Boundless Journeys. Boundless Journeys is an award-winning tour operator that goes off the beaten path for immersive and authentic travel experiences.