A visit to a beautiful vineyard with acres of farmland and a welcoming tasting room can be one of the highlights of a trip to, say, California’s Napa Valley, France’s Loire Valley or Tuscany’s Chianti region, to name just a few renowned options.
But there’s another world of respected wineries – those that have been achieving ever-increasing acclaim from both sommeliers and travelers. Here are six of the less famous wine-producing regions across the United States worth a visit in 2022.
Columbia River Gorge, Washington: great for Cabernet Sauvignon
How can a wine region that’s literally 18,000 square miles be considered “under the radar?” The truth is, the Columbia Valley official wine appellation covers nearly half the state of Washington but has risen to international prominence only in the past generation. The Columbia River Gorge, which runs between Washington and Oregon and, like much of the Pacific region, was formed by volcanic activity, draws visitors for its jaw-dropping natural beauty, charming B&Bs, innovative restaurants, artisanal cheese and cool communities such as Walla Walla and Naches Heights, known for its biodynamic and volcanic wines. Get ready to taste the region’s decorated Cabernet Sauvignon, and also Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling and Syrah.
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Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan: great for pinot gris and sauvignon blanc; pinot noir and merlot
Michigan’s wine scene has drawn more and more acclaim in recent years, sometimes compared to an American version of France’s Bordeaux region. Leelanau Peninsula is a good place to start tasting, not only because of its exceptional wines but also because of its great food and the awesome lakeshore beaches at Sleeping Bear Dunes. Leelanau and neighboring Old Mission Peninsula produce more than half of Michigan’s wine, and both are easily accessible from popular Traverse City. Get ready to taste the region’s renowned whites such as pinot gris and sauvignon blanc, and also reds such as pinot noir and merlot – and be sure to sample some great fresh cheeses from local creameries.
Finger Lakes, New York: great for pinot noir, gewürztraminer and sparkling wines
If you’ve tasted a wine from the Finger Lakes region, in upstate New York, chances are it was a crisp, cold riesling – the region produces more than 200 brands of the popular white wine. But the area is gaining acclaim for a wider array of bottlings, including increasingly celebrated pinot noir, gewürztraminer and sparkling wines. The climate here, with snowy winters, is surprisingly perfect for certain grapes thanks to the temperature-moderating effects of the series of deep, long and thin lakes, formed into their finger-like shapes by glaciers during the last Ice Age, yielding warmer winters and cooler summers. The Finger Lakes region is one of New York’s most alluring summer destinations, with ample watersports, beautiful waterfalls, a growing culinary scene and historic cities such as Ithaca and Geneva.
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Anderson Valley, California: great for pinot noir and chardonnay
Of course, when it comes to California wine, the Anderson Valley, way up in Mendocino County, is upstaged by Napa and Sonoma. But comparisons to the Golden State’s world-famous wine regions are pointless: Anderson Valley produces excellent, affordable wines in a gorgeous setting. The cool climate here, just east of the Pacific Ocean, is ideal for growing pinot noir (there’s a pinot noir festival here each spring) and chardonnay and for producing sparkling wines so good that at least one local vineyard, Roederer Estate, is owned by a French Champagne company. Visit Pennyroyal Farm, where both grapes and fantastic cheeses are produced. Anderson Valley is located just north of Sonoma County, making it an ideal weekend escape from the San Francisco Bay Area or a day trip from Sonoma.
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Grand Valley, Colorado: great for grenache, syrah and viognier
West of Denver, Grand Valley is a unique region that feels very different from the rest of Colorado. Here, more than 20 wineries are forging a new wine tradition that’s ready for a closer look – and taste. On the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains, Grand Valley’s vineyards are mostly located at more than 4000 feet above sea level. Ample sunshine can be as much of a challenge as it is a blessing for winegrowers here, and the soil reflects the region’s ancient past as a seabed. Grapes that thrive on the valley floor are similar to those found in France’s Rhône Valley, including grenache, syrah and viognier; at higher elevations, cabernet sauvignon and malbec grow. Enjoy the area’s rivers and canyons, and pay a visit to charming lodgings such as the Wine Country Inn and sample the bottlings at wineries that include Red Fox Cellars and Carlson Vineyards.
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Texas Hill Country, Texas: great for Syrah and Tempranillo
Those who follow American wine only casually might be surprised to learn Texas, better known for barbecue and beer, boasts several wine regions. In fact, Texas wine dates to the 18th century and has increasingly gained acclaim for its “big reds.” The dry, warm climate of Texas Hill Country is perfect for wine grapes such as Syrah and Tempranillo, sometimes compared with the growing conditions in Mediterranean wine regions. You’ll find charming inns in communities such as Fredericksburg, and visit fun, Texas-themed tasting rooms and bring home excellent and extremely reasonably priced wines. And enjoy that legendary Texas cuisine such as mesquite-smoked barbecue.
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