There’s been a lot of talk in the wine press lately about how traditional grape varieties compare to some of the lesser known ones. Some of us ‘wine people’ are willing to admit that what gets our attention is not always what appeals to popular tastes. However, if you ditch your usual Chardonnay for a day and try something a little different, it just might be the start of a great wine adventure, or wine-venture. Here are some guidelines based on what you may already know and like:
- If you like Sauvignon Blanc, try Vermentino. Vermentino is an Italian white grape that is also popular in Sardinia, Corsica and Southern France and is being experimented within Australia and California. Wines made from the Vermentino grape are typically light, bright, citrusy and aromatic. The grape grows well close to water, be it the ocean or the bay, so look for examples from Liguria and Sardinia in Italy, Corsica in France and Carneros in California. Ideal food pairings include fried foods, pesto pasta and salads.
- If you like Chardonnay, try Grenache Blanc. Originally from Spain, Grenache Blanc is also cultivated in France and California. The wines are rich and full but have balanced acidity and clear minerality akin to Chablis from France or a lightly oaked Chardonnay from California. Apple, melon, peach and pear are common descriptors and the relatively high alcohol level delivers substantial body. Look for wines from the Rhone region of France, the Priorat region of Spain and the Central Coast and Sierra Foothills regions of California. Scallops, lobster rolls and pork chops all make great matches.
- If you like Pinot Grigio, try Ribolla Gialla. Widely planted in Italy, the grape is also grown in Slovenia, Greece and California. Ribolla has crisp, fresh acidity and nutty, lemony flavors and can range from light to intense much like Pinot Grigio. Try a bottle from Friuli, Italy, Slovenia or from the handful of Napa, California producers. Grilled fish, charcuterie and risotto make great companions to Ribolla.
- If you like Cabernet Sauvignon, try Tannat. Originally from the Basque Country and Southwestern France, Tannat produces powerfully fruity, full-bodied, tannic wines that benefit from some air or some age. Although grown in various other countries, the grape may just put Uruguay on the wine map. Sample a bottle from Uruguay, Madiran, France or the U.S. and be sure to match it up with something hearty, such as a rib eye steak, cassoulet or sharp, aged cheeses.
- If you like Syrah, try Mourvedre. Most well known in the Provence and Rhone regions of France and in Spain, where it is called Monastrell, the wines tend towards blackberry and blueberry flavors with savory, peppery notes and a gamey character that mellows with age. Many Mourvedre wines are blended with other grapes but there are 100% varietal wines too. Look to Jumilla in Spain, Bandol in France, Australia and California for good examples. Game meats pair nicely, as do grilled lamb and earthy mushroom dishes.
- If you like Pinot Noir, try Zweigelt, a grape produced from the crossing of two other grapes: St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch. Developed in Austria, the grape is also planted in Germany, Hungary and Canada. Red fruit flavors, including cherry and raspberry, are common in Zweigelt along with spicy and earthy notes and a silky texture. The ample acidity makes it a versatile food wine that goes well with everything from pork tenderloin and duck breast to Mexican food. Stick to Austria for the most authentic tasting experience.