The close of a year inspires introspection. We assess our successes and failures of the months prior and prepare goals for the 12 to come. For the traveling oenophile, aspirations might include hitting a vaunted region that’s eluded, say Burgundy, or a far flung place that’s appeal is as much in the passport stamp as the wines.  

 

To inspire your travels in 2018, here are three unsung destinations to consider. 

 

Lebanon

The greatest wine and food country that Americans have yet to discover, Lebanon is a feast for the senses. Literally, every meal is a feast, and the old-is-new again wine industry supplies Bordeaux-style reds, Syrah and whites from Chardonnay and Viognier. Wine in the Levant, the broader term for Lebanon and surrounding areas before the creation of contemporary political borders, traces back thousands of years. The Phoenicians, a seafaring people, traded local wine in clay amphora from the port of Byblos. Research indicates that wine production remained unbroken only to falter around the turn of the 20th century. 

 

The modern industry has grown rapidly in the last few decades. Stalwarts like Château Ksara, Château Kefraya, and the oldest winery, Domaine des Tourelles, have built the foundation on which younger brands now grow. Overseas, the most widely known wine is Château Musar. Serge Hochar was a great ambassador for his brand, of course, but also for Lebanon. Elie Maamari from Château Ksara continues to make inroads in America’s markets. “I love visiting the U.S.,” Maamari said, “because they are very open-minded and curious.” 

 

So, for the open-minded American traveler, the best way to know Lebanese wines is to visit. Yes, the news cycle is relentlessly negative, and the latest alarm arising from the suspicious resignation of the Prime Minister does nothing to allay fears. But the Lebanese live with gusto marked by a keen sense of humor. Beirut runs, the city is full of friendly people and fantastic restaurants, and wineries are just an hour or two away. 

 

Switzerland 

Swiss vineyards hide in plain sight. They’re everywhere, and yet the average tourist rarely returns home waxing about wineries. One reason may be lack of exposure to the wines in the States coupled with the Swiss tourism machine focused on luxury, sports, and nature – rivers deep and mountains high. Yet if you’ve ever sailed Lake Geneva or driven its shoreline, you’ve seen the UNESCO recognized vineyard terraces of Lavaux in the canton (akin to a state) of Vaud. Planted at astonishing heights on vertigo-inducing slopes, the subtle, mineral-flecked white grape Chasselas rules the region. 

 

But wine neither stops at Lavaux, nor end with Chasselas. In fact, Swiss Pinot Noir and Syrah make compelling arguments as the next Burgundy and Côte-Rôtie, especially if climate change continues its march. Southeast of Vaud, Valais occupies a 100 km-long swath of valley carved by the Rhône River. The canton is home to elegant, smoky Syrah and a wealth of indigenous grapes like Petite Arvine, grown in small quantities. It’s wine geek heaven. 

 

Driving northeast past Vaud, across a few harrowing mountain passes, leads to Germanic Graubünden. This region, also called Heidiland for serving as the setting for Johanna Spyri’s famous books, is most likely to give Burgundy a run for its money. A quartet of villages dedicated to Pinot Noir – Malans, Jenins, Maienfeld, and Fläsch – provide for a few days of enjoyable cellar-hopping. 

 

Elqui Valley, Chile 

If you’re familiar with Chilean wine, you’ve most likely heard of the Colchagua and Maipo Valleys for their Cabernet-heavy red blends, or Casablanca and Leyda for cool, coastal Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Yet the deep south and far north are ripe for exploration by the adventurous wine drinker. Specifically, the Elqui Valley near the border of the Atacama Desert should be on your must-see list. 

 

The best way to get to Elqui is to fly from Santiago to the seaside town of La Serena and pick up a car. Visiting Elqui isn’t just about visiting wineries. It’s a spiritual place. While pisco and wine grapes drive agricultural tourism, 300-nights of clear starry skies and the earth’s strong magnetic force lure astro-tourists, mystics, and healers. A stroll through the little village of Pisco Elqui reveals these core draws, as signs for massages, tarot card readings, and spiritual guidance abound.

 

Driving through the steep, narrow valley you’ll be startled by the visual contrast of verdant vineyards tumbling down cactus-covered mountains. Without irrigation from the river, this rocky strip would support only the hardiest of wildlife. And yet, three wineries thrive in the area. The first and largest, located at the entrance to the valley, is Viña Falernia. Thirty-minutes further sits boutique operation Elqui Wines making superb Syrah. Finally, at the deepest point in the valley is Viñedos de Alcohuaz, home to the country’s highest-altitude vineyards at 2,200 meters. They produce varietal wines and red blends from Malbec, Grenache, and Syrah. With a newly opened tasting room, there’s never been a better time to explore this fascinating corner of Chile.