Tired of the same old wine destinations, like Napa Valley, Bordeaux, and Tuscany? Fear not. There are plenty of incredible wine regions around the world that aren’t in California, France, or Italy. The following locales are a bit unexpected (and much more affordable) — but still offer great wines and unique experiences for wine lovers.
Idaho, a state already known for its potato production, is one of the fastest-growing wine regions in the U.S. Composed of farmland tucked away from the Rocky Mountains in the north, southwestern Idaho has an ideal climate for growing grapes. With warm days, cool nights, and well-drained volcanic soil, slow-ripening grapes thrive in this region of the West.
Thanks to an abundance of vineyards in the area, especially near the capital of Boise, Idaho produces many well-known varieties such as chardonnay and zinfandel. An award-winning riesling can be found at Sawtooth Tasting Room, which also hosts Vino Camp, a high-end glamping experience for guests who want to stay overnight in a vineyard.
Rift Valley, Ethiopia
Ethiopia’s food traditions have remained largely unchanged over the years, with many locals consuming tej, a sweet honey wine that can be made at home. But the country's wine industry was given a boost in 2007, when Prime Minister Meles Zenawi mentioned to businessman Pierre Castel that he had a fondness for red wine. The conversation led to the establishment of Castel Winery in Ethiopia’s Rift Valley — chosen for the region’s warm weather and dry, sandy soil.
With grapes imported from Bordeaux, the winery produces syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and chardonnay for both national consumption and international export. Before Castel opened its doors, Awash Winery was the first vineyard to commercially produce wine in Ethiopia, serving the popular gouder, a dry red that pairs well with meat.
Texas Hill Country
Known for its finger-licking barbecue and heart-thumping rodeos, the great state of Texas doesn’t exactly scream “sommelier.” Which is why it’s so surprising that the Lone Star State is home to a thriving wine scene in the Texas Hill Country. The centralized region has limestone soil that produces highly aromatic grapes; it’s also located at the correct latitude and has an ideal climate for viticulture.
To sample all of the region’s finest varieties, including malbec, viognier, and sauvignon blanc, obtain a wine passport from Texas Hill Country Wineries, which allows you to sample from more than 50 wineries. Or plan your weekend around the region’s countless activities, including grape stomps, live music, instructional workshops, and food and wine pairings.
Walla Walla Valley, Washington
With 120 wineries and 2,800 acres of grapes, the Walla Walla Valley is an excellent destination for wine lovers, with 40 tasting rooms in downtown Walla Walla. Located in eastern Washington, Walla Walla has a long growing season, making it easy to produce wine all year long. It also boasts a warm climate, with dry, sunny days that grapes love.
The region’s well-drained soil is a mixture of sand and silt, which is perfect for producing deep, fruity reds, like cabernet sauvignon and merlot. However, the region is best known for its syrah, with many vintners claiming it produces the best bottles of the variety in the country. The city also hosts wine-related events all year long, from the Spring Kick-Off in April, to Walla Walla Wine Fest in July, to the Fall Release Weekend in November.
Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico
Just 65 miles south of the U.S-Mexico border on the Baja Peninsula, the Valle de Guadalupe is a haven for wine connoisseurs in search of their next favorite vintage. Relatively unknown to wine aficionados, the area has long been suitable for growing grapes — Russian immigrants planted and cultivated grapevines in Baja in the early 1800s. This is because Valle de Guadalupe’s terroir is perfect for grapes, with saline soil, hot and dry summers, moderate winters, and sea breezes that provide cool evenings and foggy mornings.
With 150 wineries to choose from within the relatively small region, visitors should plan at least two to three days to explore. To get a taste of all the best varietals in a short amount of time, the Valle Food and Wine Fest presents fine dining culinary offerings combined with the region’s best wine, including petite syrah and malbec. If you can’t travel to Mexico, Vena Cava offers members of the Wine Club monthly home deliveries of their finest local bottles.
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
Winemaking in Virginia dates as far back as the 1700s, but the state wasn't nationally recognized for its wine production until recently. In fact, Shenandoah Valley is in the midst of a wine renaissance, mostly because it contains microclimates that are ideal for growing grapes. With a climate that emits the right amount of rainfall and has hot days followed by cool nights, the region produces grapes that are higher in acidity, which is great news for winemakers.
Many wine drinkers love acidic wines — from steakhouse reds like cabernet sauvignon to crisp whites such as riesling — because they pair well with food. For a scenic tasting room, Chester Gap Cellars allows you to sip on your petit manseng at a 1,000-foot elevation, while Naked Mountain Winery has gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and live music on the weekends.
Tenerife, The Canary Islands
As a Spanish archipelago off the northwestern coast of Africa, the Canary Islands aren’t located in a conventional climate for growing grapes. Not only is the region hot and humid, but it’s also just shy of the correct latitude preferred by viticulturists. However, the Canary Islands have one distinct advantage when it comes to winemaking. Since phylloxera, an insect pest of commercial grapevines, never crossed these shorelines, the islands’ grapevines are hundreds of years old, resulting in complex varietals.
Most viticulturists on the island prefer indigenous grapes that grow well in the mineral-rich soil and can handle the high altitude. Above all other varietals, Listán (including Listán Negro, Listán Blanco, and Listán Prieto) is prevalent on Tenerife, the island that produces the most wine. When you visit, don’t miss checking out the wine cellar at Monje Winery, which reveals the vineyard’s century-old history.
Beqaa Valley, Lebanon
About 90% of Lebanon’s wine is produced in the Beqaa Valley, an eastern region known for its fertile farmland. Although viticulturists produce several varieties, including cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and chardonnay, Cinsaut has historically been the most predominant grape grown in the region. Referred to as “the backbone of the Lebanese industry,” Cinsaut was first brought to the Beqaa Valley by Jesuit priests who arrived from France in the 1800s.
As more international varieties were introduced to Lebanon, Cinsaut lessened in popularity, becoming unfashionable with local wine drinkers. Fortunately, it has made a recent comeback with vintners who recognize its value, especially since the grape is suited for Lebanon’s arid climate and high altitude. To try Cinsaut for yourself, Domaine des Tourelles grows a variety that has been established on vines for over a century.
If you’re in search of Old-World wines, archaeological finds indicate that winemaking in Kakheti has been going on for 8,000 years. With millennia of experience, this eastern region in Georgia is renowned for its vine cultivation. The key to Kakheti’s success in viticulture is its cinnamonic soil; silty and filled with clay, the rich, red soil is high in iron.
Grapes grown in this iron-rich soil are flavorful, earthy, and rustic, which means bold and deep reds like cabernet sauvignon and saperavi are easy to make. Khareba Winery is home to a tunnel carved into the side of the Caucasus Mountains, extending for nearly five miles. The winery offers tours and tastings of the bottles stored in the sizable tunnel, which houses and preserves the vineyard’s best wines.
Tucked between the Adriatic coast and the soaring Alps, Brda is the smallest wine region in Slovenia. Despite its compact size, the municipality is home to award-winning vineyards and the largest wine cellar in the nation. It’s also incredibly picturesque, often referred to as “Slovenia’s Tuscany,” with rolling hills and terraced vineyards.
Slovenia is also one of the oldest cultures to produce wine in the world, with its viticultural history dating back to the Celt and Illyrian settlements during the fourth and fifth centuries. Brda’s most prevalent varietal is Rebula (known as Ribolla in Italy), a grape that flourishes on hot sunny days and can grow in rocky soil. Klet Brda is where you can find the aforementioned wine cellar; the vineyard offers tours of both the large vineyard and the impressive wine cellar.