‘Under-the-radar’ wine regions

SHERYL NANCE-NASH | 4/1/2021, midnight
When you think of wine growing, places like the Napa Valley, Sonoma, Bordeaux and Tuscany likely come to mind, but ...
Stone Tower Winery in Leesburg, Virginia is just one o the many wineries in Loudoun County, Virginia (Visit Loudoun and Todd Wright Photography)

When you think of wine growing, places like the Napa Valley, Sonoma, Bordeaux and Tuscany likely come to mind, but there is great wine where you might not expect. That’s as good a reason as any to go exploring, with glass in hand of course.

Here are some of the under the radar, under-appreciated wine destinations around the world.

Loudoun County, Virginia

Loudoun County and its 40 vineyards offer plenty of pleasure. At Greenhill Winery & Vineyards in Middleburg you can take a carriage ride through the vines. Take a cheese plate and a bottle of the sparkling Blanc de Blancs along for the ride. The Sunset Hills Vineyard near Purcellville hosts a “Winemaker for a Day” program set to return in May allowing guests to become an “apprentice” winemaker for a day. Age, blend and bottle your own wine, and if you like what you create, get your personal label affixed to the bottle and take it home with you. One way to impress your friends. Bluemont Vineyard on the slopes of the Blue Ridge hosts team building Sangria making classes on the spacious outdoor patio. Stone Tower Winery introduced a Self-Guided Vineyard Tour–a 1.25-mile beginner’s level hike through vines, hills and rugged terrain on which you take a tote bag containing a map, two glasses and a wine tasting kit. At various points during the 45-minute hike, scan a QR Code on the map with your cell and an audio narration on the estate’s grape varietals and wines begins. As for the tasting kit, it contains four miniature bottles––two whites and two reds––the reds being their popular Bordeaux-style Hogback Mountain and Windswept Hills blends. Many wineries feature live local acts on weekends. Enjoy jazz, folk and country, rock, pop and classical music.

Alentejo region, Portugal

Alentejo is an emerging wine region in eastern Portugal. This hot, dry area is best known for its red wines. The Alentejo region covers about a third of Portugal and its wines win awards. Borba, Évora, Redondo and Reguengos are typical of the Alentejo, and can make smooth, harmonious, very easy-drinking reds. The white Antão Vaz is the star grape of the region, with good acidity and tropical fruit flavors.

Tualatin Valley, Oregon

The valley is home to more than 31 estate wineries and tasting rooms, and also boasts (as of 2020) two new American Viticultural Areas (AVAs): Tualatin Hills and Laurelwood District. Signature grapes such as Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are among the dozens of varietals in the region, along with Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Rosé. The 33,600-acre Laurelwood District AVA covers the northern slopes of the Chehalem Mountains AVA. With iron-rich Missoula Flood loess soil contributing to the unique flavor of the wines.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

The city is probably best known for its architecture, traditions, and art scene, but some may find it surprising that its natural light and beauty is also favored by winemakers. The region around San Miguel de Allende is one of the world’s newest places for viniculture. San Miguel de Allende embraces its wine culture in “La Ruta del Vino” (The Wine Route). The Wine Country is located right in the center of Mexico, in the Bajío area, known for its year-round spring-like weather and majestic backdrops of evergreens, cacti, farms and haciendas. Experience Mexican rural living while tasting fine wines and food pairings. Find out how to pair local wines with international cuisines and learn about the winemaking production process and Mexico’s rich history of winemaking at different winery tours and events held throughout the year. San Miguel’s wine region has four paths, departing the city in the direction of either Guanajuato City, Queretaro, Celaya or Dolores Hidalgo. The vineyards are varied. One is full of mysticism and energy amid medieval architecture. The Bodega San Miguel cellar, measuring 108,000 square feet), is one of the largest in the state. Then there’s Tres Raices, which features enormous sculptures and artworks inspired by Mexican culture, a series of lakes and multiple spaces to escape. Enjoy local cuisine, tastings, wine tours and an underground cellar wrapped in 148 acres. Do tastings while blindfolded to enhance the smell and taste and bottle your very own wine.

Yadkin Valley, North Carolina

In the rolling foothills of North Carolina near the Virginia border you’ll find the Yadkin Valley with its 48 wineries. Those wineries are turning out surprisingly good dry and off-dry wines, which goes against the perception that North Carolina wine must be limited to sweeter varietals from native grapes. Vineyard managers grow mostly European vinifera and French American hybrids. The elevation and latitude of Yadkin Valley are quite similar to Napa Valley, creating good growing conditions. What grapes do well in Yadkin Valley? Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, Chardonnay, Cynthiana, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Tannat, Vidal Blanc and Viognier.

Texas Hill Country, Texas

Fredericksburg is the heart of Texas Wine Country where there are more than 100 wineries and vineyards. Fredericksburg is beloved for its rolling hills and greenery. There are more than 50 wineries and tasting rooms located in Fredericksburg and Gillespie County––not to mention the dozens within an hour or two. Outside of Fredericksburg, towns to visit to taste the Texas soils and grapes include Johnson City, Stonewall, and Hye. They’re close to one another, making for a wonderful day trip to enjoy the Hill Country landscape, tour the property, and sample Texas wines paired with delicious bites and good company. 

Traverse City, Michigan
When you think Michigan you like think lakes and car production. But Traverse City has 40 wineries throughout the Traverse Wine Coast. Located on the 45th Parallel, Traverse City wineries literally line up with the most prestigious wine regions of Europe (think Bordeaux and Piedmont). They attribute their happy grapes to the natural insulation of Lake Michigan, the fertile soil and the long hours of sunlight for extended growing seasons. This is Michigan’s most well-known wine region with established producers making award-winning wines and tasting rooms with spectacular views of the blue waters of Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay.