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Beyond Napa: 10 off-the-beaten-path wine regions

With places like Napa and Bordeaux becoming overrun with tourists at times, these off-the-path wine regions offer all the charm, flavor, and beautiful scenery of classic vineyard exploring.
Image: Food Rosh Hashana Wines
This undated photo provided by Carmel Winery shows a view of Kayoumi Vineyard in Upper Galilee, northern Israel. Carmel, which produces 100 percent kosher wines, has nearly 3,500 acres of vineyards ranging from Upper Galilee in the north to Negev in the south. AP
/ Source: Sherman's Travel

It’s hard to imagine that as recently as 30 years ago most wine snobs dismissed Napa vino as swill, and just a couple of decades ago Australia and Chile barely blipped on the wine connoisseur’s radar. Today, increasingly sophisticated vinification techniques have fostered a promising new generation of winemakers across the globe, from India to Tasmania. This is great news on two fronts: First, there’s more fantastic wine to drink and more values to be found. Second, with places like Napa and Bordeaux becoming overrun with tourists at times, these off-the-path wine regions offer all the charm, flavor, and beautiful scenery of classic vineyard exploring (though if you still love those classic wine centers, we have our top picks for those, too, in our story on the top 10 wine regions).

1. British Columbia: Okanagan Valley
The land: Like France’s Champagne region, the Okanagan Valley (4 hours northwest of Spokane) nuzzles the 50th parallel. The 155-mile valley is home to large, deep lakes that cool the summer sun, and a rich volcanic soil ideal for winemaking. The crisp, dry winter also makes it an ideal spot for high-caliber ice wine.

Why it’s hot: There’s the wine, of course, but visitors enjoy this off-the-path wine region's fantastic four-season recreation — from hiking to skiing —and incredible mountain scenery while savoring white Rieslings and deep-red Pinot Noirs.

Wineries to watch: CedarCreek, Kettle Valley, and Sandhill

Lodging pick: The town of Oliver — at the base of the Okanagan wine route — is home to Burrowing Owl Winery’s posh 10-unit guesthouse. It has a pool and hot tub, and is adjacent to the winery’s renowned restaurant, the Sonora Room. (2-hour drive from the Kelowna, B.C. airport;; 250-498-0620)

Take it home: Oculus, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, from Mission Hill Family Estate

2. Hungary: Villány and Szekszárd
The land: Hungary’s wine regions, within a few hours’ drive of Budapest, boast quaint villages, baroque castles, whitewashed winepress houses, and famed thermal waters.

Why it’s hot: The southwestern, off-the-path wine regions of Villány and Szekszárd have a sub-Mediterranean climate that provides more consistent growing conditions than Bordeaux — on the same latitude — producing exemplary Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots.

Wineries to watch: Takler, Tiffán, Bock, and Gere

Lodging pick: Stay at the Crocus Gere Wine Hotel and Wine Spa, a family operation in Villány that focuses on vino-centric wellness. (Approximately 3 hours by car from Budapest;; 011-36-72-492-195)

Take it home: Heritage Cuvée from Takler

3. India: Nashik
The land: The Nashik-Pune corridor, 120 miles east of Mumbai, is India’s largest producer of table grapes, but winemaking is now taking hold. A revered holy city, Nashik is peppered with remarkably opulent temples and 2,000-year-old caves built for Jain saints, set amid scenic lakes and waterfalls.

Why it’s hot: Nashik’s state (Maharashtra) is aggressively promoting vineyard development and wine tourism. Although the infrastructure is inconsistent (and some wineries have closed in the face of too much supply and not enough demand), the off-the-path wine region is putting out high-quality Shiraz, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Wineries to watch: Chateau Indage and Sula

Lodging pick: Stay at the lushly landscaped and palatial Gateway Hotel Ambad Nashik in Nashik. (3-hour drive from Mumbai;; 011-91-253-660-4499)

Take it home: La Réserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Grover Vineyards

4. Israel: Upper Galilee and Golan Heights
The land: Baron Edmond de Rothschild cultivated Palestine’s first French varietals in 1882. Before him came Noah, this wine region’s first vintner, according to Genesis. The rugged, high-altitude Upper Galilee and Golan Heights rank among the eastern Mediterranean’s top appellations.

Why it’s hot: Israel’s technological advances (like drip-feed irrigation, now adopted worldwide), along with its diverse microclimates, have created first-rate, (and often) kosher bottles.

Wineries to watch: Castel and Carmel

Lodging pick: The Mizpe Hayamim Resort makes a posh base for touring the wineries. (20 minutes from the Rosh Pinna airport via transfer from Tel Aviv;; 011-972-4-699-4555)

Take it home: Chardonnay from Yarden

5. Mexico: Guadalupe Valley
The land: Tequila, tacos, and . . . wine? It’s true. Today, Baja’s Ensenada area and Guadalupe Valley, 75 miles south of San Diego, is vino central, with grape-nurturing cool Pacific breezes and morning fogs.

Why it’s hot: Despite medals and raves from taste-makers like Robert Mondavi, Baja remains an undiscovered off-the-path wine region — meaning lower prices and enthusiastic greetings from the vintners.

Wineries to watch: Casa Pedro Domecq, Casa de Piedra, and L.A. Cetto, with its superfine Nebbiolo wines that pay homage to the owner’s Italian ancestry.

Lodging pick: Located 10 miles north of Ensenada in the heart of the region’s vineyards, the neo-Mission-style Adobe Guadalupe Inn features 60 acres of vineyards, and stables with Aztec horses. (2-hour drive from the San Diego airport;; 011-52-646-155-2094)

Take it home: El Gran Vino Tinto from Château Camou

6. New York: Finger Lakes
The land: Named for the elongated, finger-like shapes of its 11 parallel, glacier-carved lakes, upstate New York’s pastoral Finger Lakes region (a 9,000-square-mile area set about 300 miles north of Manhattan) boasts a vineyard-covered wonderland of more than a 100 wineries. The lakes’ unique microclimates provide prime grape-growing conditions and see most of their viticultural activity centered on Seneca, Cayuga, Keuka, and Canandaigua lakes — the largest of the bunch, each is anchored by its very own scenic wine trail.

Why it’s hot: Apart from top-notch wineries that regularly turn out award-winning Rieslings and Gewürztraminers, the pastoral off-the-path wine region is full of picturesque villages, quaint bed-and-breakfasts, farm-fresh eateries, and stunning lake vistas. Its state parks, speckled on lakefronts and bursting with water-carved gorges and waterfalls, round out the offerings for outdoor enthusiasts.

Wineries to watch: Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars, Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, Heron Hill Winery, and Lucas Vineyards

Lodging pick: Perched on the banks of Seneca Lake, Glenora Wine Cellars offers the region’s only inn situated directly on a vineyard; it’s set just steps from a bustling tasting room. Thirty guestrooms tout balconies or patios with lovely lake and vineyard views, and guest are treated to wine-centric extras with their bookings, including a complimentary bottle of wine and tasting coupons. (4.5-hour drive from New York City;; 607-243-9500)

Take it home: Riesling from Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars

7. Portugal: Douro Valley
The land: The Douro Valley is home to steep-terraced cliff-side vineyards, gaping gorges, and a countryside dotted with medieval cathedrals and fortresses. Visitors can cruise upriver from the glorious city of Porto or ride the region’s equally scenic railway.

Why it’s hot: The off-the-path wine region has become one of the most dynamic Old World winemaking frontiers, launching a dry-red-wine revolution utilizing indigenous grapes, including primary port varietals like Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cão.

Wineries to watch: Ramos Pinto and Niepoort

Lodging pick: Stay in Pinhão’s Vintage House, a restored 18th-century riverfront manor/warehouse with its own concierge to arrange estate visits. (Approximately 60 miles from the Porto airport;; 011-351-254-730-230)

Take it home: Chryseia from Prats & Symington

8. Tasmania: The Tamar, Derwent, Huon, and Coal River Valleys
The land: Revered for its pristine scenery, Australia’s island state is one of the world’s hottest cool-climate viticultural frontiers with two dominant wine trails. One route in this off-the-path wine region goes along the Tamar Valley and Launceston; the other farther south, around Hobart and the Derwent, Huon, and Coal River Valleys.

Why it’s hot: Twenty percent of primordial and unspoiled Tasmania is marked as a UNESCO World Heritage area. Those wild conditions produce the bright flavors and bracing acidity found in silken Pinot Noirs, steely Pinot Gris, and crisp Rieslings.

Wineries to watch: Stefano Lubiana and Clover Hill

Lodging pick: The Moorilla Estate offers cliff-top chalets overlooking the Derwent River. (30-minute drive from Hobart;; 011-61-03-6277-9900)

Take it home: Ninth Island Pinot from Pipers Brook

9. Texas: Hill Country
The land: Hill Country is an uncharacteristically verdant slice of Texas, with its rolling, green namesake hills and blankets of bluebonnets in the springtime. The toasty weather — devoid of evening ocean breezes to cool the landscape down — lends itself to Rhone Valley varietals like Syrah and Viognier; the latter is quickly becoming Texas's answer to California’s Chardonnay.

Why it’s hot: Texas’s Hill Country forgoes the stuffy stereotypes of more established wine regions and instead uncorks its bottles alongside laid-back live bands and smoky barbecue. This off-the-path wine region is particularly primed for oenophiles who like to learn about the winemaking process, as vintners are often on-site and eager to answer questions about the year’s production.

Lodging pick: Settle into one of six new studio-sized cottages (eight more are scheduled to open by the end of 2010) at the Fredericksburg Herb Farm, a bed and breakfast with an on-site spa that sources ingredients for products and lotions from its backyard garden. (About a 2-hour drive from Austin;; 830-997-8615)

Take it home: Viognier from Driftwood Estate

10. Uruguay: Colonia
The land: Optimally located at 34-degrees latitude, Uruguay’s Colonia offers scenic drives along the Río de la Plata estuary, and the tranquil 17th-century town of Colonia del Sacramento.

Why it’s hot: Uruguay's off-the-path wine region stakes its rep on Tannat, an obscure, tannic grape with high antioxidant properties.

Wineries to watch: Pisano Family, Carlos Pizzorno, and Establecimiento Juanico

Lodging pick: Stay at the serene Four Seasons Resort, Carmelo. (3-hour drive from the Buenos Aires airport;; 011-598-4542-9000)

Take it home: AMAT from Carrau