Without a doubt, there’s something to be said for the classics. When you know what to expect from a favorite wine region, you’re unlikely to be often disappointed. However, it’s also true that when you stick to the usual suspects every time, you’re limiting your opportunities to discover new and exciting wines that you may end up loving.
As a bonus, because wine prices are largely based on supply and demand, when you shop for wines from lesser-known locales, you’re likely to save quite a bit of money. Even the highest-priced wines from some of these regions will cost you less than an introductory-level bottle of Burgundy.
These are a few fantastic wine regions you may not have heard of that deserve your attention. Your palate and wallet will thank you.
Austria is fairly well-known for its white wines but deserves much more attention than it gets for its excellent reds. The Burgenland region in the country’s southeast is home to many of the finest examples. Blaufränkisch and zweigelt are the key red varieties here, offering high levels of elegance and freshness amid rich, concentrated berry fruit with plenty of peppery spice. These are some of the most food-friendly and approachable red wines you’ll find anywhere, but they’re certainly not lacking in depth or complexity. Burgenland is also celebrated for its rich, unctuous sweet white wines made from grapes affected by noble rot, which at their best can rival the greatest wines of Sauternes.
This miniscule Loire Valley region produces wine from only one variety. An ancient grape not found anywhere else in the world, romorantin is responsible for both dry and sweet wines that bear a resemblance to chenin blanc, with their steely minerality, crisp, mouthwatering acidity and honey-dipped apple flavor profile. Often, a touch of intentional oxidation adds complex roasted, nutty character to these unique wines. Romorontin’s wines once held a reputation for being austere and unapproachable, but the grape has undergone a major renaissance in recent years, and today that old belief couldn’t be further from the truth. The best examples of the variety are a rare delight, and one would be hard-pressed to find a better pairing for lobster, crab or sushi.
This picturesque village sits upon rolling hills close to the Italian border and is one of the culinary world’s best-kept secrets. The wines made here do an outstanding job of complementing western Slovenia’s fresh, flavorful cuisine that draws influence from its connection to Italian and Austro-Hungarian cultures. Goriška Brda is perhaps best known for orange wines, made from white grapes using extended skin contact for a hearty, savory character. There are also great fresh, lively whites made here—from local and international varieties like rebula, sivi pinot (pinot grigio) and friulano—and excellent savory full-bodied reds based on Bordeaux varieties like cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc, as well as the inky, spicy and iodine native variety teran.
Without a doubt, Lanzarote wins the prize for most visually intriguing wine region. But this Spanish isle isn’t just a pretty face—the wines are also seriously good. The easternmost Canary Island, Lanzarote is subject to extreme local winds and arid conditions, so vines are typically planted in protective stone-walled craters dug into the island’s black volcanic ash soils, creating the effect of a lunar landscape. The production here is mostly white and based on the malvasia variety, which is known to produce excellent floral, lightly viscous wines with plenty of stone fruit character, in both dry and sweet styles. A handful of juicy, spiced berry-tinged reds are made from the local grape listán negro. A racy streak of minerality provided by the volcanic soil runs through all of the wines here.
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The vineyards of Australia are typically associated with big, bold reds made from shiraz or cabernet sauvignon, but not all of the wines made Down Under are massive fruit bombs. The Mornington Peninsula, about an hour’s drive south of Melbourne, showcases the more elegant side of Aussie wine. This underappreciated, easygoing region takes its viticultural cues from France’s Burgundy and Alsace appellations, finding great success in its diverse soils with varieties like pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling and pinot gris. When shiraz is grown here, it is often labeled “syrah,” indicating a more restrained Old World style. Here, sunny yet windblown terroir helps developing grapes retain acidity, allowing for bright, crisp and refreshing wines with moderate alcohol and plenty of fruity ripeness.
The Aosta Valley is Italy’s smallest, northernmost and least-populated region. The influence from nearby France is palpable here, and native French varieties like chardonnay and gamay are grown alongside popular Italian specialities like nebbiolo and dolcetto. There are also some rare native grapes planted here that you’ll find almost nowhere else, such as cornalin, fumin, petit rouge and prié blanc. Thin, rocky soils on mountainous terrain lend the wines great complexity and a rustic, alpine character. The reds tend to be vibrant, earthy and spicy, while whites are typically crisp, floral and mineral-driven. Despite its tiny size, Valle d’Aosta is easily one of Italy’s most fascinating and diverse wine regions.