Ever been quietly sipping at a large, vine-fringed winery when a plague of tipsy tour busers bursts in and takes over the tasting room? It's a routine occurrence in many popular wine regions.
But it doesn't have to be this way. The simple pleasures of rustic, lesser-known wineries tucked into bucolic valleys – where leisurely sipping often blends with impromptu winemaker chats – is within the grasp of most travelling oenophiles – so long as you know where to go.
Diana Isac, Britain-based co-founder of online wine tourism platform Winerist has discovered many hidden gems over the years – and her website is crammed with handy profiles of regions large and small.
"One of my favourites at the moment is Tokaj in Hungary for its unexpectedly good wine and great local gourmet food," she says. The region is an easy hop from Budapest and produces celebrated dry whites alongside its traditional dessert wines.
Many of Isac's favourite regions have been slaking locals' thirst for years, but have only recently started attracting serious overseas tipplers. Wineries on the Greek island of Santorini is becoming increasingly popular – especially for its dramatic clifftop townscapes – while further north is a rising star that should not be missed.
"Croatia is becoming extremely exciting as there are many emerging and dynamic wine producers there who put quality above quantity," she says. "The wineries around Dubrovnik offer a different experience from those on the island of Hvar – there are few other places in the world where you can go for a wine tasting on a sail boat."
But it's not all about Europe. Isac points travelling grape nuts to Chile's beautiful Casablanca Valley – a 75 kilometre hop from Santiago where chardonnays and pinot noirs vie for taste-bud attention.
While my own jaunts have led me to savour lesser-known North American wine regions like Virginia (virginiawine.org), Texas Hill Country (texaswinetrail.com) and lower Vancouver Island (wineislands.ca), delving deeper into the southern hemisphere as summer emerges is ever-appealing to Canadians.
Melbourne-based Campbell Mattinson – editor of popular online review site The Wine Front (winefront.com.au) – has long explored those Australian and New Zealand regions beloved by locals but often missed by travellers. First up: Australia.
"There are four regions within 30 minutes of each other in the northeast of the state of Victoria," he says, referring to Beechworth, Rutherglen, Alpine Valleys and King Valley. "Together they give a snapshot of the diversity of Australian wine better than any other area."
He recommends Beechworth for shiraz and chardonnay fans; Rutherglen for fortified wines; the Alpine Valleys for tempranillo and aromatic whites; and the King Valley for Italian varieties and sparkling wines, adding "You're not shortchanged for quality of wine and food here but the scenery is also stunning."
The story is slightly different in New Zealand, where "it's harder to get off the beaten track but the track is in many ways less worn."
Visitors should consider the North Island's Hawke's Bay region, but they should also not miss Mattinson's favourite kiwi wine destination. "It's impossible to talk of New Zealand without pleading a case for the South Island's Central Otago, producer of many of the country's best wines," he says.
There's also more than great quaffing to keep you occupied there. "The landscape is rugged, cut by deep blue-green rivers and dramatically mountainous. And the town around Lake Wanaka is one of the world's special places."
OUR READERS WRITE:
- Nova Scotia’s Avon, Annapolis and Gaspereau valleys. Less than an hour from Halifax International Airport. Carol Bradley
- Uruguay’s wine country (home of the complex Tannat grape). A cheap and undertravelled region with great infrastructure. @remyscalza
- Istria, Croatia. I sampled wines there that were out of this world. And it’s such a small industry, there’s not a lot of export. @kattancock
- Cab Sav, Merlot, Bordeaux varieties from the Becca Valley in Lebanon. The old vines are from when they were a French colony. @CoachBlanket
- Go to northeast Victoria in Australia – Milawa and Rutherglen to be specific – rarely get a mention outside Australia. Nearly 50 wineries in a 50 km radius! Jenny Belcher
- Jordan! Omar Zumot is a visionary. Through skill and tenacity he has single-handedly put his country on the wine map. An inspiration. @matthewteller
- Washington State AVAs [American Viticultural Areas] are underrated. Catalunya in Spain and wines from Greece – fab. @GirlsGoGrape
- Switzerland’s Lavaux region and also the area near Biel/St Peter’s Island. @womanmusteat
- Bourassa, South Australia. Does that count as a lesser known region? Jackson Creek had some beautiful reserve wines when I was there. Sadly you can’t get them up here. Second pick is the Comox Valley [Vancouver Island]: I might be biased but there really are some good wines here. @mtnbikinggirl
- In Switzerland: don’t forget the reds from Valais or the rare white merlots of Ticino. @swissingaround
- Lots of great wineries in Oliver, B.C. – and so close together! We biked and tasted (love Black Hills Winery) from Osoyoos to Oliver. @SandInSuitcase
- Sardinia’s Cannonau red wine is said to be a reason why so many islanders live to 100 plus. Tastes good too!@DuncanGarwood