[dropcap size=small]W[/dropcap]hat’s better than hanging out with some friends and a bottle or two of wine? Going on a trip with friends to wine country and trying dozens of bottles, of course! You can even sneak in some sightseeing and nature time in between tasting sessions.
For the adventurous vino enthusiast, here are some less-well-known wine destinations that will give you great wine, gorgeous scenery, and bragging rights for knowing about them before anyone else (in no particular order).
1. Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
When people think of West Coast wine, their minds tend to go straight to California’s Napa valley. That’s a shame, because there are many other places on the West Coast that have great conditions for viniculture. B.C.’s Okanagan valley, unlike arid Napa, has a mild climate that is perfect for growing moisture-tolerant European grapes.
The valley produces wines of distinction, focusing on Merlot and Pinot Noir. The wineries of the Okanagan valley are also nestled in amongst gorgeous nature reserves and forests, so a trip there will be a feast for the eyes as well as for the palate.
2. Niagara, Ontario
This region, close to both Toronto and upstate New York, is internationally renowned for its ice wine. Ice wine, which originated in Germany, is a dessert wine made from grapes that have been allowed to freeze on the vine. The cold climate of Niagara relative to other major wine-growing regions allows it to be the world’s leading producer of the style.
Ice wine is a special beverage, labor-intensive and risky to produce, and it is well worth the trip to Ontario to taste Niagara’s award-winning output. And of course, you should stop at the famous Niagara Falls while you are there as well!
3. Lancaster Valley, Pennsylvania
The east coast of the United States has not historically been famous for wine production like the west coast has, but it has had a long history of viniculture. In fact, the first commercial winery in America was actually located in Philadelphia! Lancaster Valley, in the heart of Pennsylvania Amish country, is a center for viniculture in Pennsylvania. Wines from Lancaster have started making an impact at wine competitions in California, and it’s only matter of time before Pennsylvania becomes widely known as a wine destination.
Virginia also has a long history of wine production, though it did not become a large wine producer until more recently. Thomas Jefferson famously attempted to grow wine grapes on his Virginia plantation for decades without success.
However, new grape varietals and agricultural techniques are making Virginia one of North America’s major up-and-coming wine regions. Travel and Leisure recently said Virginia “should be on the must-visit list of any adventurous wine traveler.” The Virginia wines that have received the most praise are Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Norton.
5. Texas Hill Country
Though this state is better known for cowboys than for claret, Texas is a long-established and expanding wine producer. Its vineyards, mostly clustered in the hill country in the middle of the state, focus on grapes that take well to heat like cabernet and syrah.
The region’s dry climate is comparable to better-known wine destinations like Australia and Spain, and produces similar wines. A Texas wine trip would be great for people who like rugged nature and hiking with their wine tasting, since the hill country is a large expanse of mostly untouched wilderness.
6. Colorado’s Western Slope
Colorado has been making a name for itself lately with its craft beer scene, but it’s no slouch with wines either. Colorado’s vineyards, on the western slope of the gorgeous Rocky Mountains, are some of the highest in the world.
The western slope’s warm days and cool nights provide ideal conditions for growing merlot, chardonnay and riesling grapes. This is another great wine destination for nature lovers as well. The Rockies are great for hiking, and the views from higher elevations are astounding.