Wine regions you’ve

probably never heard of

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SPW Contributors

Sanlam Private Wealth

Myanmar, Croatia, Greece … A clutch of cheeky – and rather unusual – upstarts are adding a twist to global winemaking and appreciation. Whether you’re packing your passport or expanding your cellar, these exciting new wine regions are sure to tantalise the palate.

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Appreciating Strandveld wines

Burgundy. Rioja. Margaret River. Champagne. Chianti. Napa Valley. Mosel. Alsace.
They’re among the world’s great wine regions, home to estates spoken of in hushed tones and iconic wines held over for special occasions.

And while it’s easy to name-drop the likes of Screaming Eagle or Romanée-Conti at that next power lunch, how about asking the sommelier for their finest assyrtiko, bogdanuša or Mexican tempranillo instead?

Just as South Africa’s Swartland and France’s Languedoc-Roussillon have stepped up and made a name for themselves, so lesser-known wine regions worldwide are proving they’re worth your attention. These five newcomers are worth a sip.

DALMATIAN ISLANDS, CROATIA

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While the seaside villages and idyllic scenery have made Croatia a tourist hotspot in the eastern Mediterranean, the islands of the Dalmatian Coast also offer some of the country’s finest wines.

There are more than 300 designated wine regions across Croatia, where the winemaking tradition dates back some 2 500 years, but far and away the best place to combine scenery, culture and cuisine with an excellent glass of wine is on the islands of Vis, Hvar and Korčula.

Around two thirds of the wine produced in Croatia is white – a blessing when travelling through these islands renowned for their seafood. Bogdanuša, grk, pošip and maraština are just a few of the common cultivars in this corner of southern Dalmatia, but also worth a sip is plavac mali. Descended from zinfandel, it’s a red wine much loved by locals.

Speaking of the locals – don’t be surprised if you find them topping up their wine glass with a little water. During the day islanders are partial to ordering a gemišt (white wine and sparkling water) or bevanda (red wine and still water) with their lunch. We suggest you do the same.

VALLE DE GUADALUPE, MEXICO

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Just south of the US border you’ll find travellers flocking to the hottest new wine region on the West Coast of North America.

Vines have been planted in this corner of the northern Baja Peninsula for close on a century, but it’s only in the past decade or two that Valle de Guadalupe has become a hot ticket for discerning travellers drawn by the lack of crowds, design-focused wineries and farm-to-table food offerings. And, of course, the great wine.

With the warm climate, it’s little wonder that Mediterranean cultivars do best here, with plenty of tempranillo, grenache and syrah vineyards in the ground.

Lomita is a good first stop, with owner Fernando Pérez Castro producing a range of Mediterranean-inspired wines well suited to the spicy fish tacos dished up at the restaurant at the back. Decantos Vinícola is worth a visit for the striking modern architecture alone, while Monte Xanic is one of the largest producers in the valley, and is best known for its award-winning white wines. Also on your list should be Finca La Carrodilla, which produces the region’s first certified organic wines.

SANTORINI, GREECE

Famous for its postcard sunsets and donkey rides, the southern coastline of this ancient Aegean island is also a fine destination to discover the quintessentially Greek grape, assyrtiko.

Santorini is a tough place to be a winemaker. The rocky volcanic soils mean everything must be done by hand, or donkey, and yields are low. And forget about neat and tidy trellising. Here the vines are planted using a method known as koulara, with the stems twisted into a basket shape that protects the vine from the heat and wind, and captures precious moisture from morning dew and sea mists. Because the vines are ungrafted, some may be as old as 250 years.

These harsh conditions result in assyrtiko’s trademark minerality infused with notable citrus aromas. It’s typically a bone-dry white wine, although it’s often blended with two other local cultivars, approachable athiri and aromatic aidani.

Also worth a taste is the vinsanto, a sweet dessert wine unique to Santorini that’s often barrel-aged for more than 20 years before bottling.

INLE LAKE, MYANMAR

Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, has many attractions that make it worth a visit: the bustling capital Yangon, the temple-strewn plains of Bagan, and the charming streets of Mandalay. But wine?

In what comes as a pleasant surprise for many visitors to the Inle Lake region in scenic Shan State, Myanmar is home to a pair of wineries. Despite the myriad challenges of cultivating vines in the humid tropics, Red Mountain Vineyards and Myanmar 1st Vineyard Estate have vineyards of pinot noir, shiraz, tempranillo, chenin blanc and chardonnay planted in the lush forested hills surrounding Inle Lake.

While the wines are unlikely to make the Bordelaise fear losing their market share any time soon, the wines of Myanmar are worth a taste for curious travellers.

SOUTHERN CAPE, SOUTH AFRICA

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Closer to home, if you’re looking to escape the tourist bustle of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, point your nose south to discover the burgeoning vineyards scattered from Elim to the Breede River.

It’s only been 20 years since the first vines were planted near the mission village of Elim, close to Cape Agulhas, but the likes of Strandveld Vineyards, Ghost Corner and Black Oystercatcher are already renowned for their top-notch sauvignon blanc, packed with minerality and racy acidity.

Further east, architect and winemaker David Trafford has proven the potential of the southern Cape, with his Sijnn Wines garnering numerous accolades since he first planted vines on the banks of the Breede River back in 2004. Look out for his superb Sijnn White, a blend of chenin blanc, viognier and roussanne.

Outside the wheat-farming town of Riversdale, Baleia Bay winemaker Abraham de Klerk is also overturning convention, producing superb chardonnay and pinot noir from vineyards planted in the Duiwenhoks valley.

The best winemakers have a ready sense of adventure when it comes to winemaking, and so should wine-lovers. And just as the palette of new cultivars available on local shelves continues to grow, so the geographical spread of wine-worthy regions keeps on expanding. Next time you’re stocking your cellar, take a sip off the beaten track.

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