4 secret wine-tasting destinations

You might not know about these low-profile vineyards. Here's why you should.

Augusta, Missouri

wine mount pleasant estates
Mount Pleasant Estates, Augusta's oldest winery.

Any guesses as to America's first federally certified wine region? Nope, it's not in California. In fact, the honor goes to this Midwestern spot, located 45 miles west of downtown St. Louis. (Augusta beat Napa to the punch by eight months.)

The area can credit its vino bona fides to its German immigrants, who started producing wine more than 150 years ago. These days Augusta's 11 wineries range from small mom-and-pop shops to sprawling vineyards, all spread across a compact 15 or so miles of lush, rolling hills.

Where to sip: Start your tour at Mount Pleasant Estates, a 10-acre winery that overlooks the Missouri River Valley. On April through October weekends, take the complimentary tour of the original 1881 limestone cellars, suggests Barbara Gibbs Ostmann, contributor to Missouri Life magazine. You'll learn that Mount Pleasant was established in 1859, making it the oldest winery in Augusta.

Head to the tasting room for samples ($6 for five) of $20-$40 wines, many of which have won medals at the World Wine Championships Awards. Along with traditional Cabernets and Chardonnays, try the Tawny Port. The rich dessert wine, $28 for a half bottle, takes 15 years to produce and has attracted a cult following.

Sommelier Glenn Bardgett of St. Louis area restaurant Annie Gunn's recommends the Chambourcin, a $12 dry red, at Augusta Winery. "A sip takes you to the South of France," he says.

The winery, located in town, also has good $12 or less wines made with French varietals such as Seyval Blanc. With a flight of 2012 vintages in hand -- these wines benefited from a particularly great growing year, notes manager Jessica Cahill -- make your way to the property's wine and beer garden. There, settle in to snack on homemade pizza and sip in the shade of the vines.

  @Money - Last updated October 03 2013 04:15 PM ET
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