Many of the world’s best wine regions are popular vacation spots in their own right: California, France, South Africa, and New Zealand. But there are still some undiscovered, award-winning wine regions with hidden treasures like “floating” vineyards and castle wineries—and fewer tipsy tourists.
Winemaking was recently heralded as a sustainable approach to rural tourism development by the World Tourism Organization, so you can feel good about planning your trip around grape varietals. Mike Veseth, Wine Economist and author of the book Around the World in 80 Wines, tells me that some of the least-known wine regions are also some of the world’s best, especially if you’re seeking a new and unexpected way to see the following bucket-list-worthy countries.
Wine Regions You’ve Never Heard Of
Here’s where you can uncover some unexpected wine regions around world, and which ones Veseth personally recommends.
Samut Sakhon, Thailand: Floating Vineyards
Thanks to its rainy subtropical climate, Southeast Asia isn’t exactly known for its wine offerings—but Thailand should be. Bangkok-adjacent wineries like the Monsoon Valley Vineyard has won international awards, and keeps a few domesticated elephants on staff. Samut Sakhon Province is home to “floating vineyards” thanks to monsoon season rains. Irrigation networks between the leafy rows of massive grapes make canal networks for runoff, which let workers harvest grapes via boat.
Like most of the fruit in lush Thailand, the grapes are massive. And popular varietals of Chenin blanc, Syrah (shiraz), and Cabernet are made to compliment Thai food like curries and satay. Many wineries have their own restaurants so you can try your favorite pairing when you visit.
Where to Stay: The Hua Hin province’s affordable hotels are as picturesque as its vineyards. Try the Vana Varin Resort for jungle-nestled villas with private pools and ATVs to get around.
Kakheti and Mtskheta, Georgia: Wine Castles
If you had to guess which wine region was the world’s oldest, you’d be right to say it’s in Europe. But you might be surprised to find out that, dating back 8,000 years, it’s in a country that many Americans haven’t even heard of: Georgia.
“Georgia—the European country, not the U.S. state—is rich in history, culture, and natural beauty. But poverty in rural areas runs high. What’s the right way to stimulate rural development while preserving culture and environment? Wine is one obvious answer,” Veseth tells me. “Georgia is the cradle of wine, with a 6,000-year winegrowing history. Georgian wine, especially natural wine made in traditional qvevri, is becoming increasingly trendy around the world.” The Georgian earthenware winemaking method has even been given UNESCO Intangible Heritage status.
Chateau Mukhrani, the original Georgian Royal Chateau, is a historic wine cellar that dates back to the 19th century. The UNESCO World Heritage town of Mtskheta is surrounded by more castles, cathedrals, and monasteries, and the eastern Georgian region of Kakheti alone is home to dozens of wineries.
Where to Stay: Kakheti is the heart of Georgian wine country, and the perfect place to stay at a unique and affordable winery hotel like Shuchmann Wines’ Chateau and Spa, which has a pool and and offers wine tours.
Yamanashi, Japan: Wine Spa
Don’t discount modern Japan when it comes to visiting historic wineries. Southwest of busy Tokyo near Mount Fuji, Yamanashi is the nation’s most famous wine region. Maruki Winery was established here in the 1800s by some of the first Japanese to master French winemaking techniques. Maruki raises sheep to help cultivate the ground and weeds—so you can get a unique petting zoo experience during a visit.
Where to Stay: Yamanashi’s Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake is a family friendly resort with a “Vino Spa” (pictured above) that uses wine region ingredients like Merlot grapes and grape seed oil in its treatments. The ingredients are sourced from nearby winery Domaine Mie Ikeno.
Bali: Equatorial Wine
Like Thailand, Bali is home to award-winning wineries despite its subtropical weather. “Equatorial wines,” or wine made near the equator, are notoriously hard to make since grape growing usually calls for dryer climates. Another factor making Bali’s wine region even more unlikely to exist is the fact that it’s in the largely Muslim country of Indonesia.
“It’s not easy, but grapes are grown on Bali and wine is made by members of the Christian community”, Veseth said. “Sababay Winery makes award-winning wines that match perfectly with local cuisine.” Sababay doesn’t export, so Bali is the only place you can try their award-winning wines.
Where to Stay: You don’t have to leave the majestic Bali coastline to get to Sababay. The five-star oceanfront hotel Rumah Luwih Beach Resort & Spa is just a stone’s throw away, and adjacent to the Bali Wildlife Safari and Marine Park.
Beqaa, Lebanon: Rosé Made by Monks
Another largely Muslim area with its own undiscovered wine region, Lebanon’s northeast is also home to some of the oldest winemaking in the world. Travelers visiting Beirut, once known as the “Paris of the Middle East,” can journey to the ancient Phoenician city of Baalbek, which has been making wine for over 5,000 years.
Nearby Chateau Ksara, the country’s largest winery, is a historic fortress and winery that was created by Jesuit Monks in the mid 1800s. Ksara ships its wines worldwide, including to the U.S., and has won international wine awards. It’s especially known for its intensely pink rosé wines.
Where to Stay: Spend a night outside busy Beirut if only because Baalbek is as historic as it is affordable. The quaint Palmyra Hotel overlooks the Baalbek Roman Ruins from just $80 per night.
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SmarterTravel Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram @shanmcmahon.