Used to mean: Bordeaux
New hot spot: Corsica
A rugged Mediterranean island about the size of Connecticut that’s French but closer to Italy, Corsica is home to a number of grapes, many rarely found elsewhere. Niellucciu and sciaccarellu, both reds, and vermentinu, a white, are the most prominent. Sea breezes keep the vineyards from getting too hot, so the wines are surprisingly elegant.
Try: Domaine de Torraccia Porto Vecchio Rouge 2012 ($25) has an intensely smoky, red-fruit character. Comte Abbatucci Cuvée Collection Rouge Ministre Impérial 2013 ($98) is aromatic, with notes of anise, plum, rose petals, and campfire.
Used to mean: Mosel
New hot spot: Pfalz
Riesling grows everywhere in Germany, but with global warming, some of the southern regions are making more room for pinot noir. The Pfalz, stretching south from Mainz toward the French border, has a long, dry autumn because of the Vosges Mountains, which keep the rain at bay.
Try: Friedrich Becker Pinot Noir 2012 ($22) shows the firm, meaty, ripe character a long autumn creates. Okonomierat Rebholz Trocken “S” 2010 ($40) is more about cherry and spice aromas; look for “Spätburgunder” (pinot noir in German) on the label.
Used to mean: Tuscany
New hot spot: Mt. Etna
Growing vines on Sicily’s active volcano—a March eruption injured at least 10 people—seems a bit foolhardy, but winemakers have decided it’s worth it for the complex red-fruit and earth-tinged wines. The local Nerello Mascalese grape struggles to grow in the tough volcanic soil, producing less but better fruit.
Try: Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso 2015 ($22) has a freshness that’s atypical for wines arising from hot growing conditions—usually more sun means more ripeness and less acidity. The Passopisciaro winery produces six Nerellos highlighting different vineyards on the mountain. Contrada Chiappemacine (“Contrada C”) ($60) is from the lowest elevation, where the richer soils result in a fuller-bodied wine.
Used to mean: Marlborough
New hot spot: Hawke’s Bay
Hawke’s Bay opens onto the South Pacific from the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. The maritime climate keeps the syrah grown there from getting overripe and turning burly and alcoholic; instead, the wines are concentrated and firm, often with a meaty or spicy character that evokes the syrahs of France’s Northern Rhône.
Try: Te Mata Bullnose Syrah 2014 ($45) is dense with blackberry, black pepper, and violet aromas. Those pepper and floral notes also appear in the Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah 2013 ($90), a bigger, riper wine.
Used to mean: Barossa
New hot spot: Yarra Valley
Next door in Australia, syrah goes by shiraz, a wine sometimes so jammy, soft, and ripe with glycerol (a fermentation byproduct) that it can seem sweet. A few parts of the continent, including Yarra Valley, are trying to fight that reputation by producing refined pinot noir, which thrives in a climate that’s only slightly warmer than its original home, Burgundy.
Try: Mac Forbes 2015 Pinot Noir ($39), a juicy, fresh wine, hails from right outside Melbourne; southern and near the ocean, the area cools down enough at night to suit the grape. Timo Mayer Close Planted Pinot Noir 2013 ($100), showing another side of the valley, is silky with raspberry notes and a mélange of exotic spices.
Used to mean: Rioja
New hot spot: Ribeira Sacra
Mencía, a grape that makes dense, powerful wines in warmer areas, comes out graceful and light in cooler Ribeira Sacra, tucked in the corner of Spain north of Portugal. The steep, terraced vineyards—first carved out by ancient Romans—were abandoned when villagers moved to the city during Francisco Franco’s reign. Now, European Union investment and forward-thinking winemakers are bringing this area back to life.
Try: Algueira Mencía 2015 ($18) is close to pinot noir in style, with a firm texture and aromas of white chocolate and raspberries. Guimaro Finca Pombeiras Mencía 2014 ($59) is more savory and intense, with white pepper and cinnamon notes.
Used to mean: Napa Valley
New hot spot: Paso Robles, Calif.
Tucked into the hills north of San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles has mostly been a source for bigger wineries based elsewhere looking for quality grapes at a good price. Today, enterprising boutique outfits are exploring these vineyards, including historic plantings of zinfandel and petite sirah, as well as more recent plantings of syrah and other Rhône varietals.
Try: Fableist Petite Sirah 2015 ($20) shows this grape’s ability to be full-bodied, dark-fruited, and chocolaty but still lively. Onx Reckoning 2013 ($54) is a more complex, syrah-based blend; it has a sturdy blackberry core with hints of soy, pepper, and cedar.
Where to go for an out-of-the-way tipple
Chicago: The Publican
Although it claims to be more of a beer hall, the Publican has a short wine list that largely bypasses traditional regions to shine a light on lesser-known parts of Europe.
Chef Chris Shepherd’s list, which includes asides, diatribes, and comic strips, is full of sommeliers’ idiosyncratic favorites.
Los Angeles: Augustine Wine Bar
In addition to a rotation of older wines, Augustine features several off-the-radar regions, including Paso Robles.
New York: The NoMad Hotel
Wine Director Thomas Pastuszak gives special attention to Corsica, a region he’s visited repeatedly.
San Francisco: SPQR
The list here covers all of central and southern Italy, but Sicily and Mt. Etna in particular take pride of place.