When picking a wine, it can be tempting to stick with what we know is good. And while there's a reason that the regions we know and love are popular, we can sometimes forget that there's a whole world of wine to explore. Lesser-known areas can offer particularly well-priced bottles, interesting back stories...and bragging rights for introducing your friends to something new and delicious.
We asked 14 sommeliers which under-the-radar wine regions deserve more love than they're getting, and which producers are worth checking out. From the close-to-home Finger Lakes in New York State to far-flung Croatia and Romania, we knew we could count on these somms for a list of recommendations.
"There are two oft-overlooked regions here in the USA that I think should get more attention. The Finger Lakes in New York produces some stunning rieslings from producers like Hermann J Weimer and Dr. Konstantin Frank. Ravines makes a pinot noir that will make you weak in the knees if you love a Burgundy-style pinot. The North Fork of Long Island (also in New York) has some beautiful, elegant whites as well. Though most producers focus on reds, like merlot and cabernet franc, there are some great successes with pinot blanc and sauvignon blanc. Lieb Cellars make a Champagne-method pinot blanc that is out of this world. Shinn Estate does amazing things with sauvignon blanc as well as other white varieties."— Jason Wagner (The Gage (Chicago))
"I started observing the rise of exports from many former Eastern Bloc countries about 10 or 11 years ago—Slovenia and Romania for instance. There certainly was not the internal investment (noticeable in the quality of the imports), but you could see the possibilities. I'd read the very minor sections in wine books at the time, and it was very clear as to why these areas had once been inundated with vineyards. Foreign investment has certainly become a factor, as well as some of these countries folding into the European Union, which allowed direct financial support. Slovenia was one of the first, and I think most recently, Croatia. This EU support has allowed more promotion, and while the amount of quality exports are minimal, what is there is really astonishing. What I've seen from Croatia has been really encouraging. Outside of Kozlovic on the Istrian Peninsula, I would recommend Bura Estate on the southern slopes of the Peljesac Peninsula on the Dalmatian Coast, and Enjingi from Kutjevo. Their late harvest zweigelt (not sweet—it's dry) is a stunner. Very impressive."— Scott Cameron (Atera)
"Some current favorites and longtime loves include the Italian regions of Liguria (where Antonio Perrino, of Testalonga in Dolceacqua, crafts tiny amounts of stellar rossese and vermentino) and Valle d'Aosta (where Danilo Thomain makes a fantastic petit rouge in the micro-appellation of Enfer d'Arvier). I'm also a big fan of the Valais in Switzerland (home to Romain Papilloud's lovely Cornalin), Seneca Lake in New York (where Fred Merwarth at Hermann J. Wiemer produces America's finest riesling), and the Savoie in France (from whose high-pitched slopes Jean-Yves Péron sources some of the region's best mondeuse)." — Jeremy Quinn (Webster)
"I am old school, so I am not always chasing the next great thing. Of course, I am fascinated by what is happening in many up-and-coming regions. At the moment I am loving both white and red wines from the indigenous grapes of Corsica. I love the wines from Domaine Comte Abatucci, including my favorite rose this summer, which is made from sciacarellu (good varietal for a spelling bee). I am also becoming a fan of the pinot noirs from Patagonia in Argentina, particularly Bodegas Chacra. It is an amazing and unique place to grow grapes. Lastly, I have to mention Spanish wines. While not completely under the radar, I am digging the cooler climate reds from Ribeira Sacra that are not made from mencia but some other more obscure local varieties. My recent favorite is a merenzao from Ronsel do Sil the 'Alpendre'. Crazy acid and so much going on in the glass." — Rick Pitcher (Manzanilla)
"Savoie. Bright fresh wines from an old school region. I'm a big fan of the whites and pink sparklers."— Patrick Cappiello (Pearl & Ash)
"Greece, and especially Santorini, is still under the radar and they are producing some of the most interesting white wines in the world—between an incredible soil and some of the oldest vines you can find on the planet, the result is wine with dense, acid-driven structure, and extra-ordinary complexity; the red can be really great too. To look for: All the Hatzidakis, including the oak-aged nikteri. And Sigalas 100% assyrtiko and also his red from Mavrotragano." — Pascaline Lepeltier (Rouge Tomate)
"Two wine regions that are well known, but aren't consumed nearly enough are sherry and Madeira. In my mind they continue to fly under the radar and present great value and great satisfaction. A well chilled Manzanilla with olives, anchovies or some little fried fish is one of the best ways to start off any meal (breakfast included). Bonus points if your toes are in the sand. Hildalgo's La Gitana is pretty widely available and provided me with my sherry epiphany on a trip through Jerez. As for Madeira, where else on this planet can you find a wine that is aged for decades, tastes this amazing, and relatively cheap? It's virtually indestructible so you can enjoy the same bottle over an extended period of time (if that tends to be an issue). Barbeito and D'Oliveira are two great examples for the uninitiated."— Sabato Sagaria (The Little Nell Hotel)
"I'm incredibly excited about Sicily right now and have been for a few years. It's one of these areas where you have the perfect storm of unique indigenous grapes, a variety of different climates, and a handful of quality-conscious producers that are changing the face of the region. These factors always make for exciting wines. I love fresh and lively reds from the frappato grape. The 2011 Tami Frappato Rosso Sicily, ($15) and 2011 Valle dell Acate Frappato, Sicily ($15) are two great examples that won't break the bank." — Brian Smith (Club W)
"Franciacorta, because it is so overshadowed by Champagne. From a quality stand point, the DOCG has a much stricter regulations than Champagne. Its possible total output is minuscule in comparison to Champagne and the price of Franciacorta is almost a third less. Why would you say no to an artisanal sparkling made exactly like Champagne that sometimes can be much higher in quality than some of the major Champagne houses and that costs consistently less? Some of my favorite producers of Franciacorta are Ricci Curbastro, Ca'dell Bosco."— Arthur Hon (Sepia)
"To be honest, I think that California is the 'under-the-radar' region I'm most excited about right now. California is definitely not an unknown wine region, but over the past few years there has been a shift of style taking place, moving away from the overripe, over-oaked style to a more refined, elegant and balanced style. There's also more experimentation going on in California with "non-traditional" grape varieties, fermentation techniques, or even something as simple as the vessel in which the wines are fermented or aged. As is the case when trying new things, some experiments work and others don't. What excites me is that there are intelligent and passionate people behind these wines. I really enjoy the white wines being made from native Italian grape varieties at Massican in Napa and the Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners from Tatomer in Santa Barbara County." — Davis Smith (Acquerello)
"Liguria! These coastal whites are so delicious. Made to pair with the local seafood and pesto, they are briny and herbaceous, great values and very unique. I love them! Some producers I like are: Punta Crena, Laura Aschero, Bisson, Ottaviano Lambruschi." — Joe Campanale (dell"anima, L'Artusi, and Anfora)
"I love the Jura. I met a Burgundian producer once who expressed to me his extreme distaste of Jura wines because 'they are always oxidized, funky, and weird.' But that is exactly why I like them. And contrary to his belief, they can actually be extremely fresh and beautiful. Trousseau noir is an amazing grape variety that has the elegance of pinot noir with the tannic structure of cabernet. It is complex and beautiful. There are also oxidized wines, as he said; however, they are done intentionally and are very similar to sherry. I love the wines from Tissot and Jacques Puffeney."— Savanna Ray (Wildwood)
"I am crazy for Sicily right now. It certainly produces plenty of wine but I think many wine drinkers forget what amazing values the island offers. Planeta makes a range of wines on the island and focuses on specific appellations with each label. I recommend their cerasualo di vittoria. I also love COS. This winery makes everything in amphora, which is an ancient way of making wine. Their frappato is soft and silky and loaded with bright cherry fruit. It is the pinot noir lover's next wine.— Emily Wines, MS, (Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants )
"A few under-the-radar wines I am into right now are: Picpoul de Pinet from France's Languedoc. I love the one from Domaine Guillemarine, whose vineyards surround a lagoon where oysters are farmed. The single-vineyard offering from Domaine Delsol is another light, fresh option. Also Bardolino, an Italian DOC located right near Valpolicella, which uses the same basic grapes (corvina, rondinella, and molinara). The wines are very different styles, however, with Bardolino tending to be a little lighter in body and fresher in style. It's light, dry and uncomplicated but still has bright red fruits, subtle spice, and that beautiful Italian quality I crave. There are bad ones on the market, but one I love is from Monte del Fra. Finally, wines from Greece, a new love of mine and completely under-represented in the US! The whites are refreshing and aromatic, perfect for seafood. Moscafilero is a favorite white varietal of mine; try the Domaine Spiropoulos "Ode Panos" sparkling moscafilero or the Domaine Skouras. For reds, a favorite is the Thymiopoulos 'Young Vines' xinomavro from the Naoussa appellation. It's a lighter, more Gamay-like version of its older vines relative, a red you can enjoy in hot weather or with seafood."— Lara Creasy (No. 246 , King + Duke, et. al.)