It’s easy to wax poetic about Burgundies and Beaujolais, Chardonnays and Chablis. While classic wine-growing regions and varietals will never fail to make into our glass, there is a host of grapes and grape-growing regions around the world that sit in the shadow of their traditional counterparts.
Much like finding a four-leaf clover, many of these esoteric regions hold a host of treasures to be discovered. There are the complex reds of Corsica and the vividly acidic whites in Canada’s British Columbia. Uruguay’s modern climate is churning out bold Tannats and Switzerland, crunchy crisp whites from the mountains. All make an equally unique vacation locale.
So set-down your same-old bottle and stray from your comfort zone: these are the most underrated wine markets in the world.
British Columbia, Canada
Nature lovers flock to Canada’s west coast to explore the rolling Rocky Mountains, surf the shores, or hike through the province’s hundreds of miles of forests. But the area is also attracting a different kind of tourist: oenophiles. British Columbia is home to over 250 wineries, and 8,600 planted acres in the Okanagan Valley alone. There, you’ll find funky wines, beautiful boutique hotels, and stunning mountain scenery. The area is a big destination for Canadians looking to kick loose for the weekend, so expect hiking, biking, and swimming in the region’s glacier-fed lakes to fill the time between wine tours.
In the Southernmost part of the province (cuddling Washington), sandy soils produce hot-climate whites and richer, tannic reds like Syrah and Merlot, though many producers are flirting with a host of Bordeaux reds. As you move north in the province, the mountains mother cooler-climate varieties—think Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris. Northwards still, Riesling and Ice Wines rule. A trip in fall means sipping on any of those varietals with the view of sunset-hued autumn leaves.
Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico
Sure, people head to Mexico for tequila. But the destination is thriving as a popular wine region. Many wine lovers drawing parallels to Napa, but skip the wine trains, celebrity winemakers, and California pretension, and keep the stellar restaurant scene and spate of chic boutique hotels. Throw in an array of seaside Mexican cuisine, and you have the recipe for a weekend in wine county.
Valle de Guadalupe is just 75 miles south of the US border (the San Diego crossing) in Baja California, a rocky region birthing lemony Chenin Blancs and fruit-packed Syrah. Look for Monte Xanic, the region’s oldest vineyard, for Bordeaux-style reds, or the perpetually hip Vena Cava, an organic-leaning vineyard built from recycled materials, where locals come to kick back and sip late into the night.
Though grapes have grown in the country since Roman rule, it’s not often you see Swiss wines gracing the shelves of US wine shops—the country produces over 100 million litres of wine each year, but 89 million litres are consumed in the country. Only 1% of wines are ever exported, making it tough to find Swiss wines outside the country if a trip isn’t in the books.
If it is, head to Geneva: the charming capital where local Alpine-tinged wines are proudly displayed on the area’s menus. The local government frequently promotes cellar days, or caves ouvertes, where vineyards across all six of the country’s microclimates open to the public for tastings and tours. (Fun fact: helicopters and monorails are used to harvest grapes on the steep terraced vineyards.)
Or, start in Zurich and drive up to Geneva on a self-guided tour. Hop from vineyard to vineyard, ducking into tasting rooms (carzonet) laid out with overflowing glasses of Chasselas, Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Merlot and plates of local cheese (though be sure to call ahead – while most winemakers speak English, tasting rooms are often appointment only). No visit is complete without a trip to Chateau d’Aigle, a storybook medieval castle that now serves as an oenological museum.
Uruguay often sits in the shadows to the nearby stalwart wine regions of Argentina and Chile, but the South American country houses knock-out wine region that wine lovers are dubbing the new Jura. Rather than Malbec, Tannat, a complex red grape with notes of cardamom and red plum, reigns, though Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc are also poured.
Canelones is the beating heart of the wine scene here – the sprawling city is circled in vineyards and the downtown, packed with notable restaurants and chic wine bars. Farther on the coast is Maldonado, a thriving new wine region. Here, proximity to the ocean creates crisp, aromatic whites—Albarino, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. The oceanside locale also means visitors can enjoy long strips of pristine beaches flanked by buzzing beach bars and toes-in-the-sand restaurants.
While Corsica is the beach escape du jour for Europeans in the know, the island also boasts a captivating wine scene. Around seemingly every craggy mountain corner on this sleepy, sun-drenched French island—located equidistance between Marseille and Rome—is a picture-perfect terraced vineyard, framed by a blue view of the Mediterranean. Expect aromatic whites from Ajaccio and shimmering roses from Patrimonio. Reds are elegant and blossom as they age.
The island doesn’t boast the grand infrastructure of an established French region—most vineyards are down a winding, off-grid road and tasting rooms are often manned by the winemakers themselves. Visits to Domaine Saparale, a Southern hilltop vineyard, or organic winemaker Enclos des Anges are a must. Or, dig into coastal French cuisine at any of the island’s charming wine bars (the hip Auberge du CouCou in Calenzana or La Ferme de Campo di Monte, a restored farmhouse restaurant on a mountain, are stand-outs). The island is free of throngs of tourists, meaning that vineyard tours or days spent by the sea are serenely secluded.