Emerging Wine Regions You Need to Visit

February 11, 2020

There’s something especially beautiful about exploring wineries in lesser-known regions. In recent years, extreme weather conditions such as fire and hail have challenged viticultural regions around the world, and turned unlikely locations into hotspots for winemaking. Here we examine four up-and-coming wine regions around the world that merit a visit, not just for the noteworthy wine they produce, but also for their picturesque settings, unique dining scenes, and the stories behind their once-unconventional wine cultures.

Waiheke Island, New Zealand

Car-carrying ferries depart often from Auckland, taking visitors to this breathtaking vineyard-dotted island where boutique wineries and farm-to-table restaurants abound. The island is worthy of an overnight trip, or you may want to stay longer to fully absorb the relaxed culture.

Te Motu Vineyard, focused on low-yielding vines and Bordeaux-style wines, is an emblem of the artisanal nature of winemaking on Waiheke. “There are so many things to love about this island. It’s a short boat ride from our biggest city, but it feels like another country,” said Te Motu’s manager Rory Dunleavy, whose father and uncle planted vines on Waiheke in the 1980s. They had stumbled into the Onetangi Valley’s very special terroir, where lower rainfalls and slightly warmer temperatures combine with rich clay soils, all ideal for producing ripe, healthy grapes.

Waiheke celebrates winemaking as a way of life. “There’s a great sense of community amongst the vineyards and winemakers,” Dunleavy said. “Finishing up a long hot day at the vineyard with a swim five minutes down the road at Onetangi beach makes for a pretty great work-life balance. Even when it’s busy through summer, it’s bloody hard not to relax here.”

Emerging Wine Regions You Need to Visit 2

There’s an award-winning restaurant at Te Motu—don’t miss the local Waiheke oysters. You’ll also want to visit Stonyridge Vineyard, which specializes in organic Cabernet blends made following French traditions, and is nestled in a valley within an olive grove. Stonyridge offers healthy and fresh dining with a view at the relaxed Veranda Café, and their tasting lounge is open for trying wines and nibbling on olives. And don’t miss the recently renovated Tantalus Estate, featuring an impressive cellar where Bordeaux-style, rosé, and sparkling wines are aged. Tantalus also makes beer and has a light-filled restaurant emphasizing seasonality; other wineries are located within walking distance if you’re eager to explore further.

Tokaj, Hungary

Come to this corner of Northeastern Hungary to try dry wines, or regional icons like the sweet wine Aszù, which was lauded by royalty as early as the 16th century, and rare, limited- production Essencia wines. Tokaj wines are made principally with the grape Furmint, almost exclusively grown in this region.

Tokaj is located a pleasant 2.5-hour drive or train ride from Budapest. En route, you’ll want to stop in the historic town of Eger, which was the farthest west that the Turks established rule—you can visit the 16th-century castle where the Hungarian army once defeated the encroaching Turks, and there are Turkish baths as well.

It’s a place so steeped in history—including a very complicated period during the Yugoslav era, when agriculture and winemaking were collectivized—that it was awarded UNESCO Heritage status in 2001, but today’s Tokaj winemakers are definitely staking their claim in the current global wine scene.

Tokaj’s cellars are often quite old, making them fascinating to tour and learn about the different, somewhat complicated, winemaking styles. It’s worth visiting the long-standing estate Dizsnókö, and the newer Royal Tokaji is a benchmark producer. You can try to get a tasting at the quirky boutique enterprise of Samuel Tinon, a Frenchman making award-winning wine in a cave without electricity. Also look to try wines by Zoltán Demeter, a former employee of Napa Valley’s Stags’ Leap who is making single-vineyard wines considered “first growth.”

Visit Tokaj in early September to check out the annual Furmint Festival. For dining in Tokaj town, look to LaBor Bistro, which serves shareable small plates, as well as platters of Hungarian cheeses and the famed local mangalitsa pork. Gusteau offers beautifully composed dishes that reinterpret Hungarian classics and a highly acclaimed wine list in an elegant setting; the restaurant can also organize a bike tour among the Tokaj vineyards. If you fall in love with the (very good) cheeses in Hungary, you can stop by Zempléni Sajt creamery in Tarcal for a tasting.

Rías Baixas, Spain

The lovely and underappreciated white grape Albariño is the focus of this gorgeous coastal region in Galicia, Northern Spain. While you may have tried Albariño in that spritzy summer wine Vinho Verde from neighboring Portugal, the boutique producers of Rías Baixas treat this indigenous variety with much greater seriousness. There are five sub- regions in the Rías Baixas D.O. (designated origin), and they all offer slightly different wine styles and terroirs. Throughout the sprawling region of Rías Baixas, you can find Albariño wine made sparkling, or light and fresh, or matured in oak, and even as a dessert wine made with botrytised grapes.

Emerging Wine Regions You Need to Visit 3

Trying a local white wine alongside freshly caught Atlantic seafood, it’s easy to understand why the region has focused heavily on growing Albariño since the late 1980s—the wine’s aromatic, bright, lemony character pairs delightfully well alongside grilled octopus or steamed clams and scallops. Seafood is truly a way of life here. In the neighborhood of San Tomé, low tides see women known as mariscadoras coming out to the shoals with buckets to dig for shellfish by hand.

Wineries in this region are often family-run and might not have official tasting rooms, so be sure to make an appointment. Some of the oldest wineries are housed in pazos, historic estates going back several centuries—two of note to visit are Pazo San Mauro and Pazo de Señorans. One acclaimed winery worth checking out is Adega Pedralonga, a family-run biodynamically farmed estate founded in 1997. Pedralonga shows how Albariño can be vinified from a terroir- focused approach, resulting in wines that display the mineral and saline depth of the region’s granite soils.

“As a huge fan of Albariño, I loved visiting Rías Baixas,” said Rick Fisher, the education director of the Washington D.C.-based Wine Scholar Guild and a self-professed Spanish wine scholar. “The region has breathtaking scenery, and it’s amazing to see how tradition and modernity work hand in hand to grow and harvest the grapes here.”

The region offers traditional options like tapas and seafood eateries, and avant-garde dining, most notably the Michelin Guide-noted Casa Solla. The famed cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is a short train ride or drive from the northernmost part of Rías Baixas. There’s also a small but interesting Ethnographic Museum of Wine to visit in the charming town of Cambados, which is also the site of the annual Festival of Albariño, held the first week of the steamy month of August.

Verde Valley, Arizona

Tasting rooms nestled into Red Rock countryside leave a remarkable impression in this unlikely spot for vineyards. One of Arizona’s three wine-growing regions, Verde Valley boasts an ideal climate for grapes thanks to a roaring river and high desert terrain, and offers visitors exciting and quirky boutique wineries with tasting rooms. Verde Valley is located about two hours from Phoenix and accessible via the Verde Canyon Railway. More adventurous travelers can kayak directly to some wineries.

Take the Verde Valley Wine Trail to discover more than 20 wineries over the course of one to four days; it begins in beautiful Sedona and heads north, culminating in Jerome, where former Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan makes small-batch cult wines under the Caduceus label. You can also opt to follow the Painted Valley Wine Trail, which features dozens of unique barrels hand-painted by local artists showcased in wineries. A few wineries not to miss: Burning Tree Cellars, Alcantara Vineyards, Page Springs Cellars, Oak Creek Vineyards, and Javelina Leap Vineyard.

Caduceus founder Keenan is proud of his viticultural home base. “Arizona’s wine industry is poised to overtake several wine-producing states in economic impacts,” he said. “With $3.3 billion in measurable impacts in 2015, and nearly a half million in state tax generation, this can no longer be considered a ‘cottage’ or ‘boutique’ industry.”