Great wine from four places that haven't been on your list of favorites... until now

Tough to miss the world's most talked about wine regions. Most of us have encountered at least a bottle or two of Pinot Noir from Burgundy, Cabernet Sauvignon or a big red blend from Napa, or a Tempranillo from Rioja. The familiarity of the wine from these places is comforting to us, helping us make the right choices at the wine shop or the fancy restaurant. Today, though, we're looking at four places in the world that make absolutely exceptional wine, but that you may not have tried. Explore them in person if you can, or just confidently choose them the next time you're staring down a purchasing decision!

Ribera del Duero, Spain

Home to some of our favorite red wine anywhere, the region of Ribera del Duero sits astride the Duero river in north central Spain a bit over two hours by car from the more famous Rioja wine making region (the Duero, by the way, eventually flows into Portugal's famous Douro wine making region). Like Rioja, the predominantly red wine from Ribera del Duero is dominated by the native-to-Spain Tempranillo grape. You'll find the medium to full body rustic red fruit taking on the characteristics of the oak barrel it was aged in qualities we expect from the amazing Tempranillo varietal, though we also find that the del Dueros give us distinctly lovely blueberry notes that you don't find elsewhere.

Virginia, USA

Call it "home region" bias, but we don't care: The Commonwealth of Virginia is one of the world's most under appreciated yet truly delightful wine regions. We find Cabernet Franc and Viognier to be the best overall red and white (respectively) varietals, though we've had some very compelling Vidal Blanc, Traminette, and even some Chardonnay and red blends that we'd go back to. In general, the ticket to Virginia's recent success has been an acknowledgement among its best winemakers that it isn't the American west coast. In many ways the best wine coming out of Virginia shares more in common with old world France than with new world California. We've reviewed Delaplane Cellars and Barboursville Vineyards, and will surely be adding new reviews to that list over time.

Alsace, France

Alsatian wine hails from the far eastern region of France that has acrimoniously changed hands with Germany in war-torn times past. You'll find wine wine here; we've seen some very nice dry Riesling, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris here, though the shining star for our taste is the incredibly unique and aromatic Gewürztraminer that constitutes about a fifth of the region's total production. Defining characteristics of the Gewurtz are sophisticated austerity as opposed to the dripping sweetness you find in the same varietal grown other places, a cool slate minerality, and just the right sweetness to make this the match made in heaven with spicy curry-based Asian foods such as Panang Chicken. This is the wine you want to break out for Thai food, which we admit is a geographically odd combination.

Umpqua Valley, Oregon, USA

Situated south of the Willamette Valley, down Interstate 5, the Umpqua Valley is less well known but produces wine just as good as its northern neighbor. We wrote briefly about the Brandborg Winery whose Ferris Wheel Pinot Noir was in our best of March 2016 lineup, and we promise a full review of that particular winery soon! We've also enjoyed Brandborg's Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, and several of their other takes on Pinot Noir. In general, we love the blend of sophisticated yet down to earth that Umpqua Valley wines convey. We think you'll love the valley's Pinot Noir in particular!