5

Underrated Wine Regions in Europe

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Anyone who loves wine probably won't be surprised to learn that Italy, France, and Spain lead the world in wine production — after all, you can always find a great glass in the likes of Tuscany, Champagne, and Burgundy. But for those who are interested in a more unique wine region without the crowds, there are plenty of fantastic options elsewhere in Europe — as long as you know where to look. Explore five underrated European wine regions for your next vino-fueled adventure abroad.

5

Goriška Brda, Slovenia

A view of a vineyard in Goriška Brda, Slovenia.
Credit: mavrica01/ iStock

Located near Slovenia's western border with Italy, Goriška Brda (or Brda, as it's usually called by the locals) is influenced by its proximity to the wine regions of Italy. However, these Slovenian wines can stand all on their own.

Because of its diverse landscape, visitors often describe the region as having a Mediterranean feel with an alpine influence. The area produces both red and white wines, but white is more common — in particular, pinot grigios, a complex regional variety called rebula, and orange wines. Each April, the area hosts a wine festival called Brda & Vino, which offers the opportunity to fully embrace the region's culture. The festival takes place in the medieval village of Smartno and features more than 30 winemakers from around the region.

Aside from its wines, Brda is also well-known for its cherries, several historic castles, and beautiful hiking trails. If you have a little more time to explore, don't miss the city of Maribor, located just outside Brda. Here, you'll find the oldest vine in the world still producing fruit. The vine was planted over 400 years ago, at the end of the Middle Ages and during the Turkish invasions. You can enjoy wine from the old vine by visiting the Old Vine House winery, or by attending the yearly Old Vine Festival in September.

4

Douro Valley, Portugal

Wine glasses against vineyards in Douro Valley, Portugal.
Credit: Apropos Images/ Shutterstock

In 1756, a royal Portuguese charter made the Douro Valley the first demarcated wine region in the world. Today, the Douro Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site marked by its postcard-worthy cascading vineyards and traditional quintas (wine estates), many of which are located along the Douro River.

Port is still the traditional and most common wine made in the Douro Valley, which is located 60 miles outside Porto, Portugal's second largest (and aptly named) city. Port is typically a sweet, red wine, but it does come in drier varieties, and sometimes even white. Although port is the main wine of the area, many other varieties are grown in the Douro Valley. This is the perfect region for adventurous palates, largely because of the winemakers' large dependence on local grape varieties — less than 10% of the wines made in the Douro region use international grapes, which means you'll probably be tasting something new wherever you go.

3

Tokaj, Hungary

A view of a vineyard in Tokaj at sunset.
Credit: posztos/ Shutterstock

The Tokaj region of Hungary, about 150 miles northeast of Budapest, was once declared the "wine of kings, king of wines" by King Louis XIV of France, but these days it still manages to fly under the radar. Wine has been made here for over a thousand years, and Tokaj is best-known for being home to the oldest botrytized wines in the world. Sloping foothills along two of Hungary's rivers, the Tisza and the Bodrog, receive early morning fog and create the perfect conditions for botrytis cinerea, a fungus also known as "noble rot." Botrytis cinerea concentrates the sugar inside grapes to create a sweet, structured wine. Aszú wine, the favorite of Louis XIV and a product of the botrytis fungus, began to be produced around the 16th century. Tokaj is also known for Furmint, Hárslevelű, and Yellow Muscat varieties, among others.

One of the best ways to explore the region's wine offerings is by taking a ride on the Wine Bus. Groups from two to 50 people can take the tour, which lasts around about four to five hours, and stops at three wine cellars. Guests can taste different varieties at each stop and learn about the winemaking process, as well as the unique philosophy behind the region's wine.

2

Santorini, Greece

Wine, snacks, and fruit on the table with a view of the Greek sea.
Credit: Santorines/ Getty Images

Picturesque beaches, blue Aegean waters, and distinctive architecture make the island of Santorini a bucket-list vacation destination for many people. However, few outside of Greece are as familiar with the region's fantastic wines. In the early 15th century, the island was covered in volcanic debris by the Minoan eruption, which created a large caldera in the center of Santorini that became filled with seawater. Along with fog from the sea, this created perfect soil conditions for winemaking.

Santorini produces the majority of its white wine from three grapes (Assyrtiko, Aidani, and Athiri) and red wines from Mavrotragano and Mandelaria. The island is also famous for a sweet dessert wine called Vinsanto, made by a process which uses predominately the Assyrtiko grape (at least 51%) and requires the fruit to be dried in the sun for 12 to 14 days.

Visitors can find out more about winemaking on the island at the Santorini Wine Museum. Located in caves eight meters below ground, the museum teaches visitors about historic winemaking practices and also offers a glimpse into what life would have been like on the island hundreds of years ago. And no wine tour would be complete without a tasting of the area's wines.

1

Valais, Switzerland

Glass of champagne on a Swiss mountain village in the summer.
Credit: svanaerschot/ Getty Images

The Swiss are known for their delectable cheeses, but any good cheese plate must be accompanied by wine. Fortunately, the Swiss also make great wine. But considering that around 200 million bottles of wine are produced in Switzerland every year and less than 2% of that is exported, Swiss wine remains a well-kept secret outside of Switzerland.

The Valais region produces about one-third of the wine in Switzerland. Its largest export being pinot noir, but you'll also find a wide range of other varieties, from robust reds like syrah and merlot, to whites like chardonnay and pinot gris. The region is home to more than 20,000 independent wine grape cultivators, many of whom ferment their own wine.

Valais has a thriving tourism industry, so you're certain to find plenty to do in the region when you're done wine-tasting. Enjoy skiing or hiking in the Alps, and visit the famous, near-symmetrically peaked Matterhorn mountain nearby. For lovers of all kinds of spirits, Valais also has a long tradition of producing internationally renowned fruit brandies.

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