Europe’s most legendary wine regions—Tuscany, Burgundy, Chianti and even La Rioja—have earned their top-of-the-list rankings with superb, reliable vintages, not to mention each region’s stunning scenery that visitors drink in along with the wine. But where are the best places for the true oenophile hunting for new sources of tannic inspiration? A few under-the-radar European wine destinations are sure to surprise you. As you book your vacation rental, be sure to keep these lesser-known hot spots in mind.
1. Lavaux, Switzerland
Tucked between Lausanne and Montreux along the shores of Lake Geneva, Lavaux is Switzerland’s most dramatically beautiful wine region. Why haven’t you heard of it? Perhaps because the Swiss have been keeping it all to themselves—more than 98 percent of the wine produced here is consumed in-country. Luckily, Lavaux is a dream to visit and was even named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007 for its remarkably steep, terraced vineyards built on south-facing slopes and framed by medieval-era stone walls. Wander miles of walking paths through the vineyards (some centuries old), stopping at the occasional tasting room or traditional capite (wine hut) for a glass of the native Chasselas, a drinkable, mineral-forward white that happens to be the country’s most popular wine. Be sure to check out some cellars in the wine-centric villages on the lake, such as Domaine Bovy in Chexbres-Village and Domaine Chappuis in nearby Rivaz.
2. North Dalmatia, Croatia
Croatia may be known around the world for its beach parties and national parks, but it also boasts a rich grape-growing history, with 12 distinct wine regions and more than 800 wineries. One of the most interesting wine-producing districts is North Dalmatia, which stretches up the Adriatic coast from Split to the antiquated coastal town of Zadar. Often overlooked in favor of nearby Istria (known as the “Tuscany of Croatia”) and popular South Dalmatia, undiscovered North Dalmatia offers visitors the chance to taste indigenous varietals without the crowds. Head to Primošten, a vinogorje where the native Babić grape has grown for generations in rocky plots that have proven surprisingly hospitable to grape vines: The terroir, sea air and sunny Mediterranean climate combine to produce a bold and highly tannic red. Try a glass at the Suha Punta winery, which has an educational tasting room and a lovely courtyard.
3. Kakheti Province, Georgia
The Caucasus nation of Georgia holds one of the oldest wine-producing cultures in the world, with thousands of vintages cultivated in the area’s lush hills and shielded valleys, and a serious winemaking tradition closely connected to the national identity. The cherished ancient process has remained relatively unchanged: Large clay urns called qvevri are filled with one (or often, a blend of two or more) of Georgia’s many indigenous grape varieties—seeds, skin and all—and buried underground in cellars to ferment. The result? Weird and wonderful wines found nowhere else. Best known for Saperavi, a powerful red, Georgia also produces plenty of tannic, meal-enhancing whites. To see for yourself, make your way east from Tbilisi to warm and windy Kakheti, the country’s most prominent wine region. You’ll want to visit the Khareba winery in Sighnagi, where you can tour massive tunnels cut into the side of a mountain that are now used as cellars.
4. Corsica, France
You might raise an eyebrow at the sight of a French region’s presence on this list, but like the island it calls home, Corsican wine is unique in its identity. Climates, cultures and even elements in the soil itself have clashed and collaborated over time to produce grape varieties that are distinctly Corsican. One of the most important is Nielluccio, a robust red grown on the island’s northern limestone slopes, with a name meaning “black and dry.” Sciacarello is the other prominent red, this one bright, floral and grown in the granite-heavy south. Corsica is small enough that you can cover quite a bit of ground in one trip. You can’t miss the vineyard-packed Patrimonio, where you should visit the excellent cellars of Clos Marfisi and Orenga de Gaffory (and do some great historical sightseeing, too). From there, head south to try the natural wine blends at Clos Canarelli in Tarabucetta, but not before taking a scenic drive around the Cap Corse peninsula, lined with ancient villages on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other.
Consider your accommodations carefully as you make your way to these global wine destinations. Choose a rental that’s close by so you can walk or bike to these hidden gems and enjoy the tastes of the region.
This article was written by Jennifer Kotlewski. Jennifer Kotlewski is a travel writer based in Los Angeles, California. She’s visited over 26 different countries and develops travel advice for many destinations, including Croatia, for kimkim.com.