Amidst the popularity of Napa Valley, Bordeaux, and Tuscany, lies a treasure trove of undiscovered and underrated wine regions waiting to be explored. Despite their under-the-radar status, these up-and-coming locales offer the undeniable appeal of uncrowded spaces where the wines are just waiting to be savored.
In the most popular regions, large corporations have bought most of the wineries, and they are managed as an investment. The wineries in these alternate areas still feature many of the owner’s family members pouring the wine, talking about the terroir and the rich history of the locale.
These hidden gems are not lacking in quality or charm but rather are often overshadowed by their more well-known counterparts. Fortunately, these lesser-known destinations provide a unique opportunity to escape the crowds and indulge in the beauty of an unspoiled wine country. The allure of exploring somewhere new and untapped is undeniable, and for the adventurous at heart, these up-and-coming wine regions harken back to the romance of wine tasting.
From Virginia to the Okanagan in British Columbia, here are some underrated wine regions that deserve more attention:
Missouri may not commonly be associated with wine country, but this hidden gem has a rich history of viticulture and winemaking dating back to the 1800s. But don’t let its Midwest location fool you – Missouri’s wine industry is experiencing a renaissance with the recent investment of $150 million into the charming town of Augusta by The Hoffmann Family of Companies.
Augusta lies in the most popular region of Missouri’s wine country, stretching from just north of St. Louis down to Ste. Genevieve County. Missouri wine country is home to nearly 130 wineries, vineyards, and 11 wine trails, making it one of the largest wine-producing regions in the Midwest.
The Augusta AVA was the first designated AVA in the United States and is where some of Missouri’s most beautiful and well-regarded wineries, including Montelle Winery, Augusta Winery, Noboleis Vineyards, and Mount Pleasant Estates, can be found.
Hilary Winn from the Missouri Division of Tourism particularly enjoys the views from Montelle overlooking the Missouri River Valley, where you can see for 75 miles on a clear day. It’s beautiful this time of year and absolutely stunning when bathed in fall colors. Augusta is one of my favorite places to go when I visit the St. Louis area since it’s less than an hour drive from the city.”
You won’t find common American vines that produce a bold Cabernet Sauvignon or a fully oaked Chardonnay like in Napa Valley. Instead, due to Missouri’s harsh climate, winemakers plant Vitis Vinifera, woody, deciduous vines native to the Mediterranean region and Central Europe. Along with being hardier, the so-called “wine grapes” have restorative effects and a unique, highly sought out flavor.
The Hermann wine trail, located along the banks of the Missouri River, is another popular spot for wine tasting. The trail features more than ten wineries, offering everything from classic dry reds to sweet vinifera-style wines.
Jaelynn Hale from NomadicJae visited the Hermann wine region in Missouri after hearing about its rich winemaking history, dating back to the 1800s, and its beautiful vineyards. “As a wine enthusiast, I was intrigued by the idea of exploring an underrated wine region that offered a unique and different experience compared to the more well-known Californian wine regions.”
The charming, small town atmosphere in Hermann, combined with its beautiful rolling hills and vineyards, allow visitors to get an up close and personal look at Missouri’s thriving wine industry.
“My favorite wine from the Hermann region was the 2019 Norton from Stone Hill Winery. This full-bodied red wine, made from the Norton grape (which is native to Missouri), had a wonderful balance of dark fruit flavors and a hint of spice. It was an excellent representation of the character and potential of Missouri wines,” continues Hale.
Nestled in the picturesque Snake River Valley AVA, just a stone’s throw away from the bustling state capital Boise lies a wine haven waiting to be explored. With over a dozen wineries to choose from, take your time to explore and taste wines at Ste. Chapelle, Williamson, Sawtooth, and Koenig Vineyards, where you can sample everything from Riesling to Syrah, and my personal Idaho favorite, Tempranillo.
This small wine region often gets overshadowed by its neighboring state, Oregon‘s massive wine regions, but you’ll find a treasure trove of wineries along the Sunnyslope Wine Trail. This wine region is still in its infancy, but that is part of the appeal.
“We are still this lovely coalescence of more of a neighbor mentality than competitors. There is so much friendliness and cooperativeness that you do not see in too many other regions,” says Beverly Williamson from Williamson Orchards and Vineyards.
Nathan Russo, Director of Operations at Florida Panhandle, visited the Snake River Valley in Idaho’s wine region a few years ago when he was in the area for a wedding. “We visited several different wineries, but one I remember really liking was Cinder Wines, and I particularly liked their Cinder Chardonnay. I was impressed by how beautiful and peaceful the whole area was.”
Ste Chapelle Winery plays a big role in the region’s success, being an iconic landmark on the Sunnyslope Wine Trail. Guests love stopping here for the lovely views and sparkling wines. But they also offer a flavored milk tasting for kids to enjoy during their visit too.
“The thoughtfulness of Ste Chapelle to create a curated tasting event for families to enjoy together was magical! The cookie & milk flight consisted of strawberry, cookies and cream, and chocolate milk. My kids have never tried flavored milk before, so they were eager to give a full report on which milk paired best (strawberry milk won). Highly recommend a milk flight to become a trend for all wineries!” comments Stacey Alexander.
Wine writer Paige Comrie visited the southwest Idaho wine region recently because of its fast growth and high women-led winery percentage. “I also felt like there were a lot of potential stories here that have yet to be discovered. My favorites probably came from Williamson Orchards & Vineyards. Their 2019 Sangiovese and 2021 Albarino were exceptional standouts.”
“I love how passionate the winemakers are here. They’re in a lesser-known, fairly young wine region, forging new paths, discovering what works and what doesn’t, given the terroir. It’s not an easy choice — but they were all so excited and so intentional about the wines they craft. It’s a new frontier, and I’m excited to support them as they continue to grow. I expect some really cool things to come out of Idaho wine in the near future,” continued Comrie.
Okanagan, British Columbia
Unleash your inner sommelier and experience world-class wines waiting to be discovered just north of the border. Nestled in a breathtakingly beautiful region, this winemaking area is uncharted territory for most wine enthusiasts outside of Canada. While many of its high caliber wines are savored locally, top winemakers from around the world are beginning to take notice.
British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is a wine lover’s paradise, boasting a staggering selection of over 60 varietals that will tantalize the taste buds of oenophiles from all over the world. But that’s just the beginning.
Adventure awaits in this picturesque region, with hiking, bicycling, and kayaking on Lake Okanagan just a few of the many ways to enjoy the great outdoors.
The Okanagan Valley is renowned for its production of old-world style Chardonnay and organic wines, although you can also find other varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier. It’s worth noting that the region is one of the world’s leading organic wine destinations.
Tilman Hainle from First Leaf Estate Winery Consulting shares that his favorite wines from the Okanagan Valley are typically from smaller producers, and many of them have limited availability. Some standout wines for Hainle include the 2020 Addendum from Black Hills Estate (Merlot-based Bordeaux blend), 2020 Oldfield Reserve Cabernet Franc from Tinhorn Creek, and 2022 A Gris to Disagree from The Hatch Wines, a Pinot Gris.
“The standout quality that I find most compelling about the Okanagan as a wine region is its wide range of wines. You find everything from aromatic and delicate Riesling to powerful Shiraz to enticingly sweet Icewine.”
Sneha Saigal, Wine sommelier and writer based in New York, liked the Bacchus grape varietal he had from the Chaberton Winery. “The key lime, ripe peach, and pear flavors made this a beautiful and delicate white. The sweetness balances the acidity coming from the citrus fruit-tasting notes.
“I loved that these wines were not commercial or bulk-produced wines. More so, you get very high-quality wines at a fraction of the price. And, in fact, the VQA appellation (Vintners Quality Alliance) on these wines builds on the credibility and authenticity with which these wines are produced.”
The Okanagan Valley is also earning the nickname “Napa of the North” after businessman Richard Bai invested $100M into Phantom Creek Estates. This spectacular winery, located in Oliver, boasts a 500-seat amphitheater, a private tasting room with a Chihuly sculpture overhead, a breathtaking tasting room with views out over the valley, a popular restaurant, and one of the best rosé I have ever tasted.
The Founder’s Cellar Experience at Phantom Creek Estates is hands down the most incredible event at the winery. There is nothing short of amazement as the doors to the VIP tasting room are opened to reveal a circular room full of barrels that encompass a smaller circular glass room. The centerpiece is the most incredible abstract chandelier by Seattle glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, and the glass room has been designed so that the chandelier is reflected in each pane of glass.
The exquisitely set round table includes five wine pairings to complement each of the five courses to follow. It is one of the most spectacular events in the Okanagan region and is a must for any wine lover and foodie.
Laura Raimondi, owner of La Sicilyana Wines, shares that as a wine enthusiast and importer, exploring lesser-known wine regions has always been a passion of hers.
“I was drawn to the Okanagan Valley because of its diverse microclimates and the unique wines produced there. It’s a region that’s gaining momentum in the wine industry, and I was eager to explore and taste the wines firsthand.
What I loved most about the Okanagan Valley was the breathtaking scenery and the warm, welcoming atmosphere of its wineries. It’s a region that not only offers excellent wines but also provides a genuinely memorable and enjoyable experience for visitors.”
New Mexico‘s wine region is the oldest in the United States, with the historic planting of vines in 1629 by Spanish monks. It is celebrating 393 years of consecutive winemaking, where Italian, French, and German influences are the foundation of this remarkable wine industry.
For the past four centuries, grape growers in New Mexico have been trying out different types of vines, like Vitis Vinifera and French hybrids, to find the best combination of weather, soil, and land. This has resulted in the production of excellent wines that pay homage to their traditional roots while offering uniquely bold and genuine flavors.
New Mexico is the only place that grows a variety of non-traditional types of grapes in high-altitude areas between 3,300 to 6,000 feet above sea level. The high altitude and increased sunlight help the grapes mature fully and express their unique flavors.
If you would like to try wines from New Mexico but aren’t able to make the trip, try one from Gruet Winery, which is available in many local stores in the US.
Gruet Winery is one of the top sparkling wine producers in America, with roots originating in the Champagne region of France. This family-owned and operated winery opened its doors in 1984 after the family of six relocated from France to start a new adventure in American winemaking.
If you wish to try a variety of truly amazing New Mexico wines, you need to visit in person. One of the top wine producers, Vivac Winery, bottles only five thousand cases each year, so finding them in your local wine shop is a rarity.
Adeel Khan, a Project Manager from BusinessClass.com, was drawn to New Mexico’s wine region because of its unique high-altitude vineyards and the blend of Spanish, Native American, and Anglo-American cultures that influence the winemaking traditions in the area.
“One winery that stood out to me was the Vivác Winery, located in Dixon, New Mexico. The winery produces a range of high-quality wines, including several that are on the pricier side but worth the splurge.
“One of the standouts was their 2018 Barbera, which is made from grapes grown in their high-altitude vineyard. It has a deep ruby color and aromas of cherry, blackberry, and vanilla. On the palate, it’s full-bodied with firm tannins and a long finish.”
Christopher Goblet, Executive Director of New Mexico Wine, shares his thoughts on this up-and-coming wine region. “New Mexico’s wine adds a little bit of spice, a little bit of extra flavor to a trip. It really rounds out the cultural experience.”
Michael Dominguez, Wine Educator, Connector, and Entrepreneur, was impressed with the respect that each grape grower has for their land and the care that the winemakers take with the grapes when they arrive in the cellar.
“It is difficult growing grapes in the desert, and the creativity, camaraderie, and spirit of the New Mexico wine industry continue to grow, matching the high quality of wines to the beautiful landscape. Resilience. Resilience is the one word that always comes to mind when I think of the New Mexico wine industry. And I love it.”
There are now more than 130 Arizona wineries spread across three regions in the state: Verde Valley (closest to Scottsdale at 90 minutes away and with the best infrastructure for visitors), Sonoita/Patagonia, and the Wilcox Bench (near the border with Mexico). All of these regions sit at a higher elevation than Scottsdale.
If you don’t have time to traverse the state, you can visit Scottsdale’s seven Arizona tasting rooms, with the newest being Wine Collective of Scottsdale, featuring more than 30 Arizona labels under one roof (minority/woman-owned).
Larry Snider, VP of Operations of Redwood Vacation Rentals, shares that his absolute favorite wine region is the Sonoita AVA in southern Arizona.
“The area has high elevation and cool nights, making it an ideal location for growing grapes. I had heard about the region in a podcast, and it had been on my list of places to visit for a while– so when I had an opportunity to go to the area, I made sure to stop by.
“My favorite wine from Sonoita was the 2017 Estate Mourvedre from Flying Leap Vineyards– a full-bodied red wine with rich fruit flavors and hints of spice and tobacco. It had a beautiful deep color and a smooth finish that lingered on the palate.”
Eva Keller from Discovering Hidden Gems has been telling everybody since she visited in August 2021 that the Elgin/Sonoita wine region in Southern Arizona is the most underrated wine region in North America.
“We’re from California, so wine tasting is a popular pastime for us, and we seek out wine regions everywhere we travel. By far, our favorite wine is from Flying Leap Vineyards & Distillery. Their best-selling wine is their Habanero Chili Infused wine which constantly sells out.”
Virginia offers more than 300 wineries that stretch across every region of the state, from the waters of the Chesapeake Bay to the Appalachian Mountains.
Virginia is one of the only wine destinations in the country where visitors can kayak to a winery, enjoy bluegrass music while sipping local wines, sample regional wines at a National Park or enjoy wine at a National Historic Landmark.
Thomas Jefferson was America’s first wine lover. His dream of wine grown and made in Virginia is now thriving around his homestead at Monticello and throughout the Commonwealth.
Some of Virginia’s top varietals are Viognier, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Chardonnay.
“Virginia is such a special place for wine lovers. For one, it is the birthplace of American wine, with the first attempts to produce wine being traced back to the first settlers and even some of the country’s Founding Fathers. Today, over 300 wineries spread across the State produce bold wines that embody the grace, grit, and experimental spirit of Virginia,” says Brigitte Bélanger-Warner from Virginia Tourism.
For people who want to pretend they’re enjoying a glass of red in one of Europe’s prestigious winegrowing regions for much less travel time, they should experience Virginia’s Peninsula Wine Trail. This is Virginia’s newest wine trail featuring six diverse wineries that produce some of the best wine in the Commonwealth.
Virginia Peninsula AVA (established in 2021) is Virginia’s 8th AVA. This recently defined grape-growing zone was drawn to reflect the region’s subtropical climate, extended growing season, and maritime features that impact the topography.
It is nestled in an Atlantic Coastal Plain area defined by the York and Pamunkey Rivers to the north and the James River to the south. The 673,059-acre Virginia Peninsula encompasses the counties of James City, York, New Kent, and Charles City and Poquoson, Hampton, Newport News, and Williamsburg.
Wineries on the Trail are Gauthier Vineyard, Jolene Family Winery, New Kent Winery, Saudé Creek Vineyards, Upper Shirley Vineyards, and Williamsburg Winery.
Meagan Ward and her husband Luke, from Richmond, VA, are thrilled to have an almost-undiscovered wine region right in their backyard. “In under two hours, we can easily enjoy Shenandoah mountain views and small, charming towns surrounded by vineyard after rolling vineyard. While we love trying all the new wineries and vineyards that keep springing up throughout central and western Virginia, our tried-and-true favorite is Jefferson Vineyards.
“We rarely agree on wines, but we can always agree to share a bottle of Jefferson’s Rose. Its mix of Cabernet Franc and Merlot means that while it’s light, it’s also flavorful and not too sweet. They’re pouring the 2021 vintage right now, which we highly recommend.” There’s always something very special about being able to scoot away for a day or a long weekend to enjoy the views, the history, and the delightful flavors of Virginia wine country.
Marla Durben Hirsch, founder of Wine With Our Family, shares that, unlike some wine regions, many of these wineries are small, family operations. “The wines produced, the styles of production, and even the visitor experience vary tremendously so that one can customize a visit to one’s liking and personal taste. It’s also an easy day or weekend trip from Washington, DC, Charlottesville, Va, and other locales, and offers a lot in the way of accommodation and dining.
“Many people will tell you that their favorite Virginia wine is from Barboursville. Its wine is wonderful, and the winery is very famous. But I suggest that people branch out. Some of my favorite Virginia Wines recently have been Linden Vineyards’ 2019 Avenius Chardonnay, Gabriele Rause‘s 2021 Roussanne, and DuCard’s 2020 Merlot.
“What I love most about this wine region is its versatility. Want gorgeous scenery? Cute towns to wander through in between winery visits? Incredible history? Fine dining, a picnic, or a food truck while you sample? Looking to relax after a hike? A fancy tasting room followed by a tasting in a rustic one that seats just six people? Virginia’s wine region has it all.”
Casandra Karpiak is a travel writer and the co-owner of Savoteur. A Toronto native with Danish roots currently residing in British Columbia, her travel writing has been seen on The Associated Press wire, MSN, CBS, NBC, Entrepreneur, 24/7 Wall St, Times Daily, and many more.
You can follow her travel adventures on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.