Travelers often play favorites, returning to cherished destinations time and again.\r\n\r\nFor people focused on wine, however, there are plenty of places to explore, especially as destinations reopen to vaccinated travelers. Those who want to avoid crowds might consider these five alternatives to Western European wine vacations.\r\nCroatia\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201cRiding a donkey with grape baskets during harvest is one of my first recollections of my grandfather\u2019s small vineyard,\u201d says Mirena Bagur, cofounder of online retailer Croatian Premium Wine.\r\n\r\nIn the last decade, U.S. travel to Croatia grew by leaps and bounds, especially in conjunction with HBO\u2019s blockbuster series Game of Thrones, parts of which were filmed in Dubrovnik. The country\u2019s tourism board says that accommodation capacity doubled since 2012.\r\n\r\n\u201cTourism is a key industry for Croatia, and its wine history spans millennia,\u201d says Bagur. \u201cIt was just a question of time when the two would combine.\u201d\r\n\r\nPlus, Croatian wines are increasingly available. According to the Croatian Bureau of Statistics, exports of the country\u2019s wine to the U.S. have grown from about 1.3 million bottles to approximately 1.7 million bottles from 2013\u20132020.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt is significant, however, that while the growth in quantity is at around 30%, the growth of value has increased to about 65%, which shows a significant emphasis on exporting premium Croatian wines to the U.S.,\u201d says Bagur. \u201cThis is not surprising, given that more U.S. citizens are traveling to Croatia and learning about the wines and then searching for them when they get home.\u201d\r\n\r\nCroatia has 130 indigenous grapes, mostly from Dalmatia and its islands. White grapes Malvazija Istriana or Malvazija Istarska and Po\u0161ip, and red grape Plavac Mali, have become regional flagships.\r\n\r\nIstria, which borders Italy, shares its food and aesthetic traditions. From the restaurants in Rovinj to the wineries in the hills, everyone has upped their \u201coeno-gastro offerings,\u201d says Bagur, as they\u2019ve combined specialties like truffles with Malvazija Istriana. Kabola combines modern architecture in ancient hills, and family-owned Rito\u0161a Winery in Pore\u010d sits near the Eurphrasian Basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage site.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nSouthern Dalmatia lies Croatia\u2019s newest appellation, Komarna. On the limestone hills that face the sea, wineries like Terra Madre Winery farm organically. Rizman Winery has a small gourmet restaurant with sweeping views of the Adriatic.\r\n\r\nDalmatia\u2019s famous walled city, Dubrovnik, is near the Pelje\u0161ac Peninsula. Here, wineries make tannic, powerful reds from Plavac Mali, a relative of Zinfandel. Citrus-scented Po\u0161ip, an indigenous white grape, thrives on nearby islands Kor\u010dula and Hvar.\r\nGreece\r\n\r\n\r\nFrom remote mountain vineyards cultivated by monks to salt-tinged vines on sun-soaked islands, Greece is the total package.\r\n\r\nSofia Perpera, oenologist and director of the marketing board for Wines of Greece, says Nemea and Thessaloniki should be on any wine lover\u2019s itinerary. Greece\u2019s largest red wine-producing region, Nemea is home to the Agiorgitiko grape, used to make fresh reds and ros\u00e9s as well as complex, ageworthy wines.\r\n\r\nThe historic seaport village of Nafplion provides a picturesque base from which to taste the popular aromatic white grape Moschofilero in the appellation and ancient city of Mantinia, 45 minutes away. For mythology buffs, Hercules slayed the Lion of Nemea near the Temple of Zeus, two hours west of Mantinia.\r\n\r\nThessaloniki, a seaport in northern Greece, has ancient wine history that spans multiple cultures, says Perpera. Top wineries and the country\u2019s best wine museum are in the village of Epanomi, 45 minutes east of Thessaloniki.\r\n\r\nWinemaker Vangelis Gerovassiliou of Ktima Gerovassiliou is largely credited with reviving the white grape Malagousia, which spurred plantings across the country. The Gerovassiliou Wine Museum displays a collection of 1,500 wine openers, which Vangelis started collecting in the 1980s.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nNinety minutes west of Thessaloniki, Naoussa prides itself on red grape Xinomavro. Attractions along the way include the tomb of King Phillip, father of Alexander the Great. It\u2019s considered one of the most exciting excavations in Greece.\r\n\r\nFor another perspective on Xinomavro, head to up-and-coming region Amyndeon. Perpera recommends a stop in nearby Nympheo, a traditional village that embodies \u201csimpler times,\u201d she says.\r\nCrete\r\n\r\n\r\nThe food and wine scene, combined with Minoan ruins like Knossos, thought to be Europe's oldest city and the island\u2019s largest Bronze Age archaeological site, make this a standalone destination.\r\n\r\nAnna Maria Kambourakis, who co-owns Chania Wine Tours with her husband, Vasili Kokologiannakis, loves Crete\u2019s juxtaposition between old and new. She cites the 3,000-year-old wine press in Vathypetro, which is right down the street from \u201cnew, state of the art wineries.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe island\u2019s 11 indigenous varieties include Vidiano, a standout white wine grape native to Rethymno, and aromatic whites Muscat of Spina and Malvasia. Kambourakis likes red grape Liatiko for its elegance. Producers blend Kotsifali and Mandilari together for the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) wines of Peza.\r\n\r\nMany producers also create natural and orange wines, which pay homage to the island\u2019s historical production methods.\r\n\r\nThere\u2019s a cluster of wineries in the Peza and Archanes regions, outside of capital city Heraklio. Lyrarakis Winery has an outdoor vine museum with local grapes, and Digenakis Winery has a new, art-filled tasting room.\r\n\r\nDiamantakis and Paterianakis wineries have incredible views of the surrounding countryside, while a new museum at Titakis Winery shows the evolution of Cretan winemaking.\r\n\r\nAround Chania lies the solar-powered Dourakis Winery, built on the side of a mountain, and Manousakis Winery, which also has a terrace restaurant that serves traditional Cretan dishes.\r\nGeorgia\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201cFor millennia, wine has been embedded in the Georgian lifestyle,\u201d says Natia Khidasheli, copartner and manager of travel companies Sun Georgia Travel and Taste Georgia, and a wine guide for nearly a decade. \u201cAny house, guesthouse or even touristic site can be considered a wine tourism destination.\u201d\r\n\r\nIn Georgia, she says, wine tourism isn\u2019t just about wine. It\u2019s about the entire hospitality experience, with lots of good food and drink set against a striking, mountainous backdrop.\r\n\r\nGeorgia has more than 525 indigenous grape varieties. The most famous Kakhetian varieties are Saperavi, the country\u2019s richest and the most full-bodied red, and Rkatsiteli, a popular white grape. In central Georgia, Chinuri and Tavkveri prevail. In the west, there are fresh, bright whites made from Tsolikouri, Tsitska and Krakhuna grapes.\r\n\r\nNear the capital of Tbilisi lies Chardakhi, a village where Georgian wine industry icon Iago Bitarishvili treats visitors to a lunch of cheeses and dumplings. Overnight guests can experience the aristocratic lifestyle of 19th-century Georgia at Chateau Mukhrani.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nIn addition to the country\u2019s best-known wine region, Kakheti, Khidasheli recommends a visit to the Imereti area of western Georgian, and specifically Baia Abuladze in the village Obcha.\r\n\r\n\u201cNot only are her wines fresh with typical Imeretian zest, but the incredible food is cooked by mom,\u201d she says. Khidasheli also suggests Gaioz Sopromadze for great wine and \u201cpeak Imeretian cuisine\u201d cooked by the winemaker\u2019s wife. In the Samegrelo area, Oda Family Winery serves natural wines.\r\nArmenia\r\n\r\n\r\nIn the shadow of Mount Ararat, on a Biblical landscape, Armenia\u2019s ancient winemaking culture flourishes anew. It\u2019s said that the Great Flood swept Noah and his Ark into the Ararat Valley, where he settled with his family and planted the world\u2019s first vineyard.\r\n\r\nAccording to Ara Sarkissian of Storica Wines, a leading import, sales and marketing company for Armenian bottlings in North America, wine has played a role in Armenian culture for thousands of years. The country\u2019s 400 indigenous grapes include the fruity, medium-bodied red Areni, and a citrus- and flower-scented white, Voskehat.\r\n\r\nWhile in Armenia, Sarkissian recommends asking winery or wine bar staff to taste small-lot experiments, a trend among winemakers. In the capital city Yerevan, In Vino, a wine bar that opened in 2012, inspired a row of restaurants along Saryan Street proud to serve domestic wines. Wineries have proliferated as well, as 25 facilities opened their doors across the country in 2018 alone.\r\n\r\nAn hour outside the capital, Van Ardi serves biodynamic wines amid picturesque hills. Plus, Sarkissian says, pretty much everywhere you turn in Armenia, you encounter an open-air museum \u201cspanning the Roman, Medieval and Soviet eras.\u201d\r\n\r\nFor wine history, head to Vayots Dzor, Armenia\u2019s best-known wine region two hours from the capital and the site of the Areni-1 cave complex. It has the world\u2019s oldest winemaking facility, which is more than 6,000 years old, with ancient fermentation vats, wine presses and storage jars.\r\n\r\nThe area\u2019s most famous modern winery is Zorah, founded by Zorik Gharibian. He grew up in Italy and cultivated a successful career in fashion before returning to his homeland to prove its wine traditions could be beautifully revived.