7 Up-and-Coming Wine Regions That Should Be on Your Radar | Wine Enthusiast
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7 Up-and-Coming Wine Regions That Should Be on Your Radar

A wine region need not have been born yesterday to be considered up-and-coming. Across the world, ancient winemaking regions from Armenia to Italy have been in the midst of transformation due to changing political and environmental factors. Some fairly well-known, but underrated regions have been growing and evolving at a rapid pace, with expanding vineyards, changing winemaking techniques, increased exports or surges in tourism. Others have simply lived in the shadow of their more famous neighbors for too long, but have more recently been coming into their own, taking advantage of shifting consumer preferences where novelty and value outrank prestige or brand loyalty.

Whatever the case may be, many wine-producing parts of the world are worthy of far more recognition than they’ve been receiving. Whether you’re looking for your next great bottle, an unforgettable vacation destination or both, put these up-and-coming wine regions on your radar right now.

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Crete Greece
Image Courtesy of Douloufakis Winery

Crete, Greece

Crete’s winemaking history dates back to the Minoan period, but the area’s modern wine industry is effectively less than 50 years old, having dealt with phylloxera as late as 1977. Yet, in the last 25 years, Greece’s largest island has seen a true wine renaissance. Production has moved from bulk quantities of international varietals made by large cooperatives toward small-scale fermentation by a new crop of ambitious winemakers who are committed to the resurgence of Crete’s native varietals.

“Native grape varieties offer a sense of novelty and adventure for wine enthusiasts who seek out new taste experiences and learn about different wine regions and cultures,” says Nikos Douloufakis of Douloufakis Winery, who has been credited with reestablishing the white varietal Vidiano on Crete. The aromatic grape, which was nearly extinct, has been a main driver behind the island’s new crop of terroir-driven wines. Many believe its may become the island’s answer to Santorini’s Assyrtiko grape.

But Vidiano is not the only indigenous grape on the island in the midst of a comeback. There are 11 in total, all of which are now being used in mono-varietal bottlings. Keep an eye out for Vilana, a versatile, citrusy white that has barrel-age potential; Liatiko, a light and juicy but grippy red; and Mandilari, a full-bodied red with plummy and earthy characteristics.

Cretan wines would have been extremely difficult to find anywhere but the island a couple of decades ago, but that’s no longer the case. According to Wines of Crete, export sales have more than doubled over the past 20 years. And even on the island, they’ve become far easier to access, with most wineries now offering on-site tasting rooms that cater the rising number of tourists. Numerous cruise operators have also begun to include Crete’s wineries, a majority of which are accessible from the port cities of Chania and Heraklion.

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Beneduce Vineyards in Hunterdon County, New Jersey
Image Courtesy of Andrew Pollack

New Jersey

New Jersey’s wine scene was late to the U.S. game due to a pre-prohibition law that limited the number of wineries allowed to exist in the state. Since the law was abolished in the early 1980s—at which time, there were only seven New Jersey wineries—local producers have been making up for lost time. According to Devon Perry, executive director of The Garden State Wine Growers Association, nearly 75% of the state’s now approximately 40 wineries have opened up shop since 2000, with almost half of those emerging in the last 10 years.

These winemakers have been bringing some major Jersey-style bravado to the proceedings. Mike Beneduce, winemaker at New Jersey’s Beneduce Vineyards, obtained trademark protection for the term “Chambrusco,” a light, sparkling red made in the style of Lambrusco from the hybrid grape Chambourcin. It’s a perfect metaphor for New Jersey’s up-and-coming wine scene—equal parts classic technique, innovation and fun, with the occasional nod toward the state’s Italian-American culture.

But it’s not just swagger. These wines can stand up to better-known regions across the world. Back in 2012, when the American Association of Wine Economists held a Judgment of Paris-style showdown called the Judgment of Princeton, several New Jersey wines outperformed many of their French rivals. Garden State winemakers have been working overtime to prove their merits even since. They’ve been using a wide range of both hybrid and international grapes, with plantings of Italian varieties such as Barbera and Nebbiolo on the rise.

“I think New Jersey is finally starting to discover the potential of what our terroir can express,” says Beneduce. “We’re honing in on site-specific varieties and winemaking techniques that are enabling us to craft some uniquely delicious wines that can hold their own against those from much more established regions on the East Coast and elsewhere.”

The entire state of New Jersey is smaller than many wine regions from around the world, but it nonetheless boasts four AVAs, all within easy striking distance of either Atlantic City, Philadelphia or New York City.

“I think all the stars are aligned for New Jersey to really explode on the wine scene in the next decade,” says Beneduce. “For people that are interested in being on the edge of discovery, now is the time to get out and taste what the top producers in our state have to offer.”

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Adriana Vineyard, Tupungato Alto, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina
Image Courtesy of Catena Zapata

Uco Valley, Argentina

Mendoza isn’t only for Malbec lovers, especially in the Uco Valley, where land availability has led to rapid expansion of the wine industry. The last decade has seen the introduction of new vineyards, tasting rooms and winery hotels, but also lots of forward-thinking experimentation. Cabernet Franc and Bonarda have been jockeying to become Argentina’s next big red. Fizzy pét-nats have been gaining traction among new and established wineries alike, and bottlings of rare styles, such as skin-contactless white Malbec, are increasingly cropping up.

Despite the Uco Valley’s rapid growth, the region is uniquely positioned to retain its wild beauty—a major plus for visitors. “Because water rights are limited, most vineyards in the Uco Valley have large areas that remain unplanted and in their natural state,” says Dr. Laura Catena, managing director of Catena Zapata, which this year earned top honors from the World’s Best Vineyards organization. “That means that every vineyard is surrounded by native vegetation, which includes desert brush and incredibly diverse populations of birds, insects, native plants and flowers,” she says. “It’s a part of the world where nature dominates over people and I, personally, love that.”

While that natural environment is a huge draw for visitors, it’s also expected to bolster the area’s ability to produce high-quality wines in spite of global warming. The Uco Valley mostly sits above 3,000 feet in elevation, moderating the overall temperature and allowing for a significant diurnal shift. Catena reports that environmental study of the Uco Valley has shown it to be largely unaffected by climate change over the past few decades—another signal to expect even more from this region in the years to come.

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Bodega Garzón in Uruguay
Image Courtesy of Bodega Garzón

Uruguay

Tannat is to Uruguay what Malbec is to Argentina: a bold, red grape of southwest France that found its spiritual home in South American soil. Yet Tannat was slower to catch on than Malbec in terms of worldwide recognition. This is partly because of production volume, but mostly due to winemaking practices that tended to result in overly-extracted wines, which exacerbated Tannat’s highly tannic structure.

With a generational shift among winemakers in the past decade or so, however, “Uruguayan wines are primarily in the profile of what the consumer seeks today,” says Evan Goldstein, a master sommelier and president of Full Circle Wine Solutions. These wines are “fresh and bright, due to the majority of wine country’s proximity to water, and showing a nice stylistic mix of the traditional—led by multigenerational family wineries—and the new younger generation’s approaches,” Goldstein says. Innovation in the realms of carbonic maceration, natural wine, pét-nats, amphorae and blending are also on the rise.

All told, exports of Uruguay’s wines have increased fourfold over the past 20 years, according to data shared by Uruguay Wine. Similarly, bottle production has increased over bulk wine production, with 10% of its output making its way to North America.

While there’s less need to travel to get a taste of Uruguayan wine these days, it’s still worth the flight. Montevideo, where a majority of Uruguay’s winemaking takes place, boasts what few wine regions can: the cultural and gastronomic vibrancy of a capital city coupled with beachfront access.

“Not to mention the great beef—the best on the continent,” says Goldstein. “And virtually always a seamless match for their ample amounts of Tannat and Tannat-based wines.”

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Armenia vineyard
Getty Images

Armenia

Armenia’s wine renaissance is happening in real time, according to Ani Mouradian of Van Ardi, Armenia’s first post-Soviet, boutique winery. “The world can be watching live as we are progressing through the golden age of Armenian wine,” he says, given that the region is only about 15 years into the process of rebuilding. Soviet rule since the 1920s had seen the eradication of private winemaking enterprisesin Armenia, during which time grape production in the country was co-opted for fruit brandies.

For Armenia’s winemakers, what’s old is new again. Evidence of winemaking in Armenia dates back at least 6,000 years. (Evidence of ancient winemaking can be found in the Areni-1 cave, after which Armenia’s most important red grape is named.) Today, ancient sites and grapes are being revived. So, too, are techniques such as amphora aging and the practice of kakhani, the careful drying of grape bunches hung on ropes.

“Armenia is fast being recognized globally for a set of wines that have a beautiful blend of familiarity and uniqueness that sparks a satisfying intrigue among consumers,” says Zack Armen, the second-generation Armenian-American who in 2018 founded Storica Wines, which imports Armenian wines to the U.S. In addition to Areni, which has a fresh and juicy profile similar to Pinot Noir, the white grape Voskehat—meaning “golden berry”—is poised as a Chardonnay alternative.

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Image Courtesy of Texas Hill Country Wineries
Image Courtesy of Texas Hill Country Wineries

Texas Hill Country

Texas wine has come a long way—so far that it’s high time for consumers to consider its many wine regions individually. Case in point, Texas Hill Country, a region in Central Texas triangulated by Austin, Fredericksburg and San Antonio.

“Texas Hill Country has recently hit its stride in finding what works for Texas,” says Justin Paul Russell, director of operations for Pangea Selections. Previously, the region strived to mimic global wine regions. But that has changed over the past few years. “We are seeing a swath of producers making wines suited for the climate,” he says. They’re “also picking earlier to maintain acidity and tension rather than letting fruit languish in the heat and then producing overripe and over-extracted wines.”

Wineries such as Lightsome and The Austin Winery are among those leading the charge, according to Russell. The hot climate skews from dry to humid depending on the exact location, and so wines often include bold, grippy reds that aptly exude “Don’t mess with Texas” attitude, such as Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Mourvedre and Tannat. But Texas Hill Country isn’t only about barbecue-worthy reds. Be on the lookout for white wine bottlings, especially from grapes that thrive in warmer weather, including Rhône Valley and Portuguese varieties such as Viognier, Picpoul and Alvarinho.

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Vineyards of Lugana near Lake Garda in Italy
Image Courtesy of Getty Images

Lugana, Italy

It’s rare for an Italian wine region with a strong bond to a singular grape to have flown under-the-radar for any meaningful length of time. Perhaps size can be blamed, as Lugana, located on the shores of northern Italy’s Lake Garda, simply doesn’t have the acreage of regions in Tuscany or Piedmont. Even though it exports 70% of its output, according to the Consorzio Tutela Lugana DOC, the scale is not on the same level to easily compete for its fair share of the U.S. market.

“Lugana is a hidden gem,” says Lars Leicht, founder of Vino Viaggio. Wines here are made from Turbiana, an aromatic grape indigenous to the region, and “can be crisp and refreshing, but also full of flavor and complexity that reflect the unique terroir at the prow of the glacier that formed Lake Garda.”

Winemaking in the region has never been better, Leicht says. It’s diverse, too, despite having a singular, signature grape. According to the Consorzio Tutela Lugana DOC, the Lugana Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) designation includes Turbiana-based wines in five different styles, including sparkling and late-harvest varieties.

The region is certainly worth a visit. With at least 15 wineries in the tiny region offering on-premise winery accommodations, Lugana is especially well poised to welcome visitors for a fully immersive understanding of what makes this region up-and-coming.