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Travel American wineries you should visit (and none of them are in California)

In October, check out the Fredericksburg Food & Wine Fest in Virginia.

Fredericksburg Food & Wine Fest

California lures the lion's share of Sideways-style quaffers – although areas such as Paso Robles and Temecula Valley show there's much more to sip here than Napa and Sonoma – but the United States is bursting with intriguing alternatives worth sticking your nose into.

"New York state's two primary fine wine regions – Long Island and the Finger Lakes – couldn't be more different," says Lenn Thompson, executive editor of New York Cork Report (newyorkcorkreport.com). The former is dripping with merlot, cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc, while the cooler latter is ruled by riesling, with sparkling wine, gewurztraminer and blaufrankisch side notes.

But while visit-worthy wineries abound – Thompson's faves are Long Island's Paumanok Vineyards and Seneca Lake's Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard – are there any under-the-radar areas worth sniffing out?

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"The region I have my eye on is the Niagara Escarpment AVA. The Canadian side of the border has a well-regarded wine industry, so it shouldn't be surprising that New York's side shows promise. Right now, Arrowhead Spring Vineyards and Leonard Oakes Winery are doing great things."

And what about the rest of the country? "I'm a fan of lesser-known regions and have found outstanding wines in Michigan, Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia," Thompson says.

Virginia-based wine blogger Warren Richard (virginiawinetime.com) certainly agrees with the latter.

"The concentration of better wineries here is in the Monticello area – where Thomas Jefferson experimented with wine making," he says, adding that Virginia producers have since mastered the craft of quality production.

"They're known for world-class viognier. Red blends that include most of the Bordeaux varietals also show well. Norton, a native grape, also does well in the state."

And while there are many wineries to practice your glass-swirling technique – see virginiawine.org for listings including details on Virginia Wine Month in October – Richard offers one must-visit hot spot. "My favourite winery is Linden Vineyards. Jim Law raised the bar for quality wine making here back in the 1980s and his wines – especially Hardscrabble Chardonnay – compare favourably to Burgundy whites."

Outside Virginia, Richard rates New York, Arizona and Colorado, but he's also found some Texas wines surprisingly pleasing. Houston-based wine blogger Jeff Cope (txwinelover.com) isn't surprised.

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"Our top wine area is the Hill Country near Fredericksburg," he says. "You'll find wineries and tasting rooms serving some of the state's best wines in a compact area – it's wine trail now has 42 wineries."

He recommends tempranillo – a locally popular red – plus whites including viogniers and roussannes. But naming a must-visit producer is harder. "That's difficult because I've visited over 230 wineries! If we're talking Hill Country, just start on Wine Road 290 – you'll soon find one you love."

In October, visitors should consider the Fredericksburg Food & Wine Fest (fbgfoodandwinefest.com), but Cope also advocates touring area wineries on quieter weekdays. "You may be the only ones present and most of the time you'll be talking to the actual wine makers."

Out west, thirsty oenophiles also swear by Washington's tasty tipples. "Walla Walla offers the most diversity in types of wineries to visit," says Chuck Hill, veteran writer with Wines Northwest (winesnw.com).

But while Washington's food-friendly Rhone white varieties are his personal favourites, Hill's recommended producer is Chinook Wines in the Yakima Valley. You can plan your regional visit via washingtonwine.org – then compare with what's available in adjacent Oregon at oregonwine.org.

"Be open-minded and drink new things," Thompson suggests. Well-known regions make some great wines, but if you only drink those, you're going to miss out on the gems in the rest of the wine world. That's where I like to drink."

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