As a sommelier, I feel an obligation to the world of wine to introduce people to things that they maybe aren’t used to. Sure, I love Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay as much as the next guy, but there are over 5000 different grapes used in wine production all over the world. Yes, Napa Chard is fantastic but there are unique experiences to be had outside of our comfort zones, often at fractions of the cost of more known regions. Here is a short overview of a few interesting grapes that don’t get the credit they deserve.
Some people may disagree with me about this one but I believe that these Rhone grapes deserve a spot on this list just for the shear amount of California Chardonnay drinkers missing out on something that they would surely love. Rhone style blends often have the rich, creamy quality of Chardonnay but offer more aromatically. Roussane has a beautiful honeysuckle quality while Marsanne can brighten a wine with good acidity and mineral tones. Anyone willing to pay +30 dollars for a Napa Chardonnay will be delighted by these wines, which cost much less. Keep an eye out for Rhone-style blends out of Paso Robles.
Honeysuckle, Stone Fruit, Nuttiness, Tropical Fruit
Viognier, Chardonnay, Chablis
This late-budding grape from the Languedoc region roughly translates to “lip-stinger”, a nod to its intense acidity. These wines often lean toward lemon-like flavors and are a perfect pairing for seafood. Compared to more popular wines with high acidity like Sauvignon Blanc, these Piquepouls often over deliver with more character and body. The best part? Most of these wines are well under 15 dollars.
Lemon, Lime, Minerality, Pear, White Flowers
Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Riesling, Vermentino
Muscat is a hard grape to sell for some people as it is often associated with the sweeter bulk wine made in California. However, dry renditions of the grape are often outstanding with intense aromatics that leap from the glass. They have the uncanny ability to be both pretty and vibrant, intense and delicate. Don’t be scared to try this varietal which is made all over the world. I recommend the Spanish Botani which shouldn’t be too hard to find.
Honeysuckle, Orange Blossom, Grapefruit, Mango
Viognier, Riesling, Chenin Blanc
This could also top a list of grapes with weird names but the wines produced from this variety should not be overlooked. Most Gruner is produced in Austria, often at prices suitable for everyday consumption. The acidity is even higher than Sauvignon Blanc and exhibits zest and spice notes. One of the more versatile white wines, Gruner can be paired with anything from sautéed vegetables and fatty meats to spicy thai dishes.
White Pepper, Ginger-root, Lemongrass, Peach
Riesling, Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc
Melon de Bourgogne (Muscadet)
Tasting a Muscadet for the first time is an experience that I will never forget. I was sitting in a oyster bar in San Francisco with Kate Francis who ordered us a glass of this light bodied, acidic wine. At the time, I was more interested in full bodied red wine and the low-alcohol French white didn’t really interest me. That is of course, until I tasted it with the oysters. The experience was truly greater than the sum of its parts. Not only did the salinity and mineral notes in the wine marry perfectly with the sea flavors of the oysters, but also the acidity of the wine contrasted the rich creaminess as well.
Muscadet comes from the western area of the Loire Valley in France where there is a strong maritime influence and cooler climate, giving the wine a firm acidity. This acidity is essential for pairing with seafood – similar to a squeeze of lemon. Further, the soil (rich in magnesium, granite and volcanic rock) gives the wine beautiful mineral tones.
Meyer lemon, Sea Salt, Grass, Minerals
Dry Riesling, Sancerre, Pinot Grigio