Wine 101: The Lesser-Known Regions

Last week, Ben asked the question where is wine made? Today I'm picking a few regions you may never have suspected of producing great wine. We all have the standby bottles we adore and return to, but being a wine lover is also about discovery. I hope you get the chance to drink from one of these off-the-radar regions.

The Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

Tragically, wine legend Serge Hochar passed away last week. He's the man who transformed Château Musar and Lebanon into places people associate with fine wine. Geographically, Lebanon isn't such a crazy place to expect to find great wine; it's on the Mediterranean and north of Israel (which produces its fair share of vino). However, since the early 70s, Lebanon was entrenched in a brutal civil war that lasted over 15 years (a span of which Château Musar only missed one vintage) and it continues to be a place of instability.

Musar's funky and savoury flagship red is influenced greatly by Bordeaux and is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Cinsault. The weird and wonderful white blends two grapes that are indigenous to the mountains of Lebanon, Obaideh and Merwah. These wines have a charm that you won't find anywhere else.

Zenata, Morocco

Morocco is a North African country whose population is over 99% Muslim. This stat doesn't exactly suggest a hotspot of viticulture, yet Morocco is also a former colony to Rome and France. The foothills of the country's mountains make for areas of high altitude vineyards, such as Zenata, a region between Rabat and Casablanca. This is home to Domaine des Ouled Thaleb, the oldest and most revered winery in the country that makes wine almost exclusively from French grapes (although they do make a white from a native grape called Faranah). Northern Rhône star winemaker, Alain Graillot, has also collaborated with the team at Ouled Thaleb to produce his own Moroccan Syrah.

New Mexico, USA

I was shocked the first time I tried the sparkling wine from Gruet, the French-styled winery in Albuquerque. Siblings Nathalie and Laurent Gruet moved from Champagne and planted vineyards in 1983 near a town called Truth or Consequences. They now produce over 125,000 cases of bubbly per year made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and 80% of the fruit is grown organically. The Gruets found that planting in New Mexico gave them some of the highest altitude vineyards in the US. Despite how hot the days can get, the nighttime temperatures drop drastically, which traps acidity in the grapes. The greatest thing about Gruet is the value; most of their labels sell for well under $20.

Canary Islands, Spain

There's the rule that wine can be grown around the world in the bands between the 30th and 50th degrees of latitude on either side of the equator. The Canary Islands are just outside of this margin. Grapes are grown in black volcanic soils at high altitudes and the remoteness has kept production generally uninfluenced by trends. For example, you'll find wines being made from grape varieties like Listán Negro, Negramoll, Listán Blanco (aka Pedro Ximenez), and Malvasia. Many of these vines are grown in craters dug into the ashy soils to protect them from hot winds, which makes for some of the most aesthetically strange and beautiful vineyards on the planet.

Lillooet, British Columbia, Canada

Lillooet also breaks the 30-50° growing rule. Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek moved their family from Holland and opened Fort Berens Estate Winery. They took a gamble on the deep valley and planted 20 acres of vines starting in 2009. Despite its northern aspect, Lillooet often records the hottest temperatures in Canada, yet the nights are cool, which maintains acidity in the grapes. Fort Berens makes wine from Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. The quality that Fort Berens has been able to achieve in just a few vintages makes Lillooet an alluring place for those with a dream of opening a winery in a budding region.


Jake Skakun is a writer and sommelier from Vancouver, currently living in Toronto. He can be found most days pulling corks and twisting caps at the Black Hoof. He Tweets and Instagrams @jakeskakun.

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