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The hidden wineries of Europe

When people think of the wine producing countries in Europe, they tend to take a more traditional route. Italy, France, Spain and Portugal are at the head of most wine lovers’ lists – with Germany and Austria a close second.

Now’s the time to broaden your mind and include a few alternative destinations, a sunny climate and soil quality are the most important aspects of wine production and here our some of the more unusual suggestions.

Switzerland isn’t just about cuckoo clocks

For crisp whites or luscious reds you wouldn’t normally think of the country of Alps, dirndl and bankers. Switzerland’s reputation as a wine producing country is a very well kept secret. In fact, the country only exports 1.5% of its total wine production. No wonder that this revelation is kept under wraps – the Swiss are keeping it all for themselves!

With one seven acre plot that’s halfway up a mountain, wine from Annatina Pelizzatti is highly regarded both in Switzerland and outside the country. Producing velvety pinot noirs as well as chardonnays and pinot blancs in the canton of Graubundenm, this winery is a wonderful treat just waiting to be explored. You can cheat by obtaining the wine in Zurich – but where’s the fun in that?

Another winery that uses the mountainside to grow its grapes is the prize wining vineyard of Jean-Rene Germanier. Based in the French speaking Vetroz region, this winery hosts open days and is the place to visit for a premium syrah or if you want to sample some eau de vie – brandy distilled from pears. You might want to stay here forever.

King Wenceslas was a good king

With its warm summer climate, wonderful architecture and beautiful countryside, the Czech Republic isn’t only a destination for Brits to celebrate stag or hen parties. Prague also has six vineyards which are definitely worth exploring. And you could kill two birds with one stone when paying a visit to Prague’s St Wenceslas Castle.

The good king is said to have founded the winery here as far back as the start of the 10th century – and yes, grapes are still growing here. Riesling and pinot noir are the wines on offer at the castle. Visiting the winery is easy and sampling the wines is even easier – the vineyard has its own restaurant, the Piano Nobile where you can enjoy the very best of Czech food washed down with wine from the St Wenceslas’ vineyard.

Cooling in Croatia

Vinyards aren’t what springs to mind when thinking about Croatia, but this Balkan country is where Zinfandel originated. With 300 wine regions across the country, there are multitudes of secret wineries for you to seek out in this part of the world.

Don’t be deterred by the inhospitable terrain around the Peljesac peninsular, just spend some time uncovering this region’s treasures. You’ll soon discover that you can easily spend an entire holiday travelling between the wonderful family run wineries in the area.

Start off with the Vukas family in Ponikve, near Ston. The family has been producing wine for over 100 years so they must be doing something right. The vinyard produces spirits as well as local reds and whites, and the family love showing off their wares.

Not just Cabernet Sauvignon

Bulgaria has a reputation for wine production that goes way back, but many of the wines that originate in Bulgaria are rarely tasted outside the country. For some exceptional wine – it’s so special that the liquid changes colour the moment you uncork the bottle – the Struma Valley is where you’ll track down white wine produced from the Keratsuda grape. Look out for the pomegranate and olive groves and you’re sure to spot a small vineyard close by.

Staying in Bulgaria, the Orbelia winery in the south west of the country at the foot of the Belatsitsa Mountain specialises in organically produced wine. This particular vineyard uses contemporary techniques to ensure quality, but they’ve been making wine in Bulgaria since before the time of Alexander the Great and the ancient Thracians.

Small is beautiful

Try the tiny state of San Marino for your next wine tasting mission. Travelling from Italy is the best way to reach the country, and once you arrive this mountainous microstate will award you with some exceptionally delicious wine.

Alternatively, searching the Basque territories on the Spanish-French border is always worthwhile. Laguardia on the Ebro is one of the centres of winemaking, and with 50 wineries dotted around this region, you’re in for a heady treat.

Just because most of these wines aren’t renowned outside their native countries, it doesn’t mean they’re not any good. Quite the opposite, in fact, the locals want to keep the best for themselves. Sampling different wines in far flung parts of Europe is a fantastic way to spend a holiday and they’re all just waiting to be discovered.