Emerging Wine Regions
“It was only 50 years ago that consumers were starting to believe Napa had any potential,” explains Ashley Hausman, a California-based Master of Wine. “Nowadays, it’s difficult to find an emerging region that doesn’t have at least one or two promising producers who could rival the world’s greatest in a blind tasting—bubbles from the United Kingdom, Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from Patagonia, or Rieslings from the Okanagan in British Columbia.”
Despite being one of the worlds remotest wine-producing regions, Patagonia—with its cool, dry, desert climate—has emerged as a New World leader in elegant red wines such as Pinot Noir and Malbec. Image: Alamy
In the past few decades, viticulture has expanded wildly, propelled by a warming planet, an expanding global economy, and next-generation vintners looking for new frontiers. Combined with advanced agriculture technology, vitis vinifera grapes are now thriving in new locales like never before.
What’s Old is New: Quality-Value Hotspots in Bordeaux and Burgundy
Though widely recognized as the gold (or rather, red) standard, Bordeaux and Burgundy are hotspots for innovation in the Old World. Though both still rely heavily on the country’s legally regulated appellation system to control yields, grape varieties, and even the alcohol content of their wines, new zones and grapes are coming onto the stage—offering incredible value.
“Some of the top producers and young winemakers alike are beginning to realize the potential in land surrounding more prestigious appellations,” says Hausman. In Burgundy, for example, the region’s far-reaching slopes are now being cultivated with the same energy and care as their premier and grand cru counterparts. “There are some sensational wines coming from the cooler sites that overlook the Côte d’Or—those of Haute-Côtes de Beaune and Haute-Côtes de Nuits,” she says.
The vines of Haute-Côtes de Nuits are cultivated on steep slopes between 980 and 1,300 feet (300-400 m) above sea level, and produce characterful wines with a natural twist that more sun-soaked plots don’t deliver. Image: Alamy
The cooler, windblown slopes in this area produce characterful wines with “bright acidity and beaming fruit,” Hausman adds. She recommends looking out for “Haute-Côtes de Nuits” and “Haute-Côtes de Beaune” on the label, and exploring these new regions via trusted importers and well-respected shops where buyers will have a keen eye for quality.
Bordeaux satellite appellations offer a similar combination of value and quality for Cabernet-loving oenophiles. In areas such as Fronsac, Canon-Fronsac, Lalande-de-Pomerol, and Montagne Saint-Emilion the clay and sandy soils rival those of more well-known appellations, often delivering a similar full-bodied and spicy, herbal wine.
Hausman’s top tip is to seek out some of the best recent vintages—“such as 2009, 2010, 2015, 2016, and 2018, as these sleeper satellites can really out-perform their more established counterparts.”
Separated by the Barbanne river from the better known Pomerol region, Lalande-de-Pomerol has recently attracted several acquisitive producers, who are making great value wines. Image: Alamy
New World, New Terroirs: Canada’s Okanagan Valley and The Southwest United States
“Being part of a newer wine region is more exciting than challenging,” explains David Paterson, winemaker at Canada’s Tantalus winery in British Columbia. “In many ways, we get to carve out our path here without having to adhere to long-running traditions that some more well-known areas can sometimes be bogged down by.”
In British Columbia’s sunny Okanagan Valley, white grapes thrive, and the region is booming thanks to continued investments in quality—a trend pushing the burgeoning region onto menus and store shelves outside the Canadian borders. Because the landlocked region is so far north, its grapevines actually experience more daylight hours in the summer than southerly neighbors, enabling the region to ripen grapes in what would seem like a frigid clime. In addition, its arid location makes grape growing ideal.
The tasting room at Tantalus Vineyards boasts breathtaking views of Lake Okanagan and the surrounding valley—which, despite its colder climate, receives more than 2,000 hours of sunshine a year.
In the finished wines, that dry, sunny climate translates to distinct, prominent aromas and flavors. “We’re a small region, with a finite amount of growing area and, as such, our wines are typically made in small production and are quite exclusive,” explains Paterson, who has also made wine in Burgundy, Australia, and Oregon. “The combination of bright acidity, minerality, and small-lot exclusivity makes the region special.”
In the Southwest United States, a similar evolution is in progress, as small wineries in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico are gaining recognition. “Not many people realize that these areas are actually the birthplace of wine in the United States—they’re some of the first regions in which European grapes were planted,” explains Jessica Dupuy, a wine expert and author of The Wines of Southwest U.S.A.
Flooding and colonial rule halted early efforts, but in the modern-era grapes are thriving in these arid regions. “We’re doing well with grapes you’d expect to find in the Rhône Valley and warmer parts of Spain and Italy,” says Dupuy, pointing out that many classic wine regions—Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Portugal, and Australia’s Coonawarra region—thrive because of their near-desert climes.
Horse-drawn tours at Sonoita Vineyards, a winery in Arizona, hark back to its earliest days when Spanish missionaries originally cultivated huge swaths of grapes across the American Southwest. Image: Alamy
New Heights: Altitude Combats Climate Change
In still other areas, producers are climbing—literally. In Chile, Argentina, and even China, mountainous regions are offering new outlets for wine growing as the planet warms, sometimes at dizzying heights.
In 2016, Moët Hennessy launched Ao Yun, a Himalayan wine estate near Shangri-La. The first reviews, for the 2013 vintage, were standouts from global critics. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate magazine called it “a new star of China” and though subsequent vintages have not been rated, the growth of Chinese wine in these regions is undisputed. In 2019, Domaines de Barons de Rothschild—the parent company of Bordeaux First Growth Château Lafite-Rothschild—released its first Chinese wine, a $300 Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend.
Ao Yun, which means “flying above the clouds,” is situated beneath Meili mountain in China’s Yunnan province. Its 500 acres (202 ha) are managed by more than 120 Tibetan farmers to create highly rated Bordeaux-style wines.
On the opposite side of the earth, in South America, wineries are moving up the slopes of the Andes to find the perfect balance between sunshine, altitude, and water for pristine vines. In the Salta subzone of Argentina, Colomé cultivates Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon at up to 8,858 feet (2,700 m) above sea level, where snowmelt and near-desert conditions create a high elevation region that pushes grapes to the extremes.
Many factors, including slope, drainage, wind currents, and weather patterns, contribute to the effects of altitude, which is why elevation in Argentina is considered “high” at 7,500 feet (2,286 m), whereas in California “high altitude” ranges from 650 feet (198 m) in Napa to 3,200 feet (975 m) in the Sierra Nevada.
Hausman and Paterson both recommend exploring these locales by starting with grape varieties that are already favorites. For instance, Riesling and Chardonnay enthusiasts should begin their adventure by looking for bottles labeled with those varieties from new regions. “As always,” notes Paterson, “Taste, taste, taste, and find out what you like.”