One of the best parts about being part of the team at V&T is constantly learning about new wines and grape varieties that I never knew- or, wines I might have read or heard about but never realized how delicious they could actually be before tasting them.
It’s easy as a consumer to go for the cabernet sauvignon, the chardonnay, and the pinot noir- because, admittedly, what wine store has ever designated an entire “Kerner” or “Garganega” aisle? This month at Vine & Table, we decided to showcase those varietals that are unique, interesting, out-of-the-ordinary (I want to say “hipster” but I’ll hold my tongue) wines that are easy to overlook. We think it’s time to give them a chance and realize just how amazing and unique wine can be when we all step outside our comfort zone!
Here’s a list of those wines we decided to showcase, and what makes them so special.
Wolfberger Cremant d’Alsace Rose
Why you want to be drinking this: while Champagne is dandy, cremants from elsewhere in France need the respect they deserve. Cremant d’Alsace is permitted to use other grapes alongside Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, like Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc, making for even more complex and elegant bubblies and rose sparklers.
Tenuta Terre Nere Etna Rosso
Why you want to be drinking this: this is straight-up volcano wine. The DOC of Etna is literally on the slopes of an active volcano in Sicily. Nerello Mascalese (and sometimes Nerello Cappuccio) are the grapes of Etna Rosso, and they thrive in the varying altitudes and volcanic soil of this area. Talk about a neat terroir!
Casa Silva Sauvignon Gris
Why you want to be drinking this: to those who like Sauvignon Blanc- AND those who don’t- give this one a whirl! Sauvignon Gris is similar to its better-known close relative, but the higher sugar levels in this grape varietal produce wine that is a little more lush and round with riper fruit notes. This particular one retains some great crispness and liveliness with its location in Valle de Colchagua, Chile. Due to naturally low yields, this varietal is highly coveted and makes for high quality wine.
Vina Cubillo Rioja Crianza
Why you want to be drinking this: 2009 is the current vintage- and yes, it’s a crianza. Rioja Crianza is the younger kind of Rioja (min. aging is 1 year in oak and 1 year in the bottle), but the Lopez de Heredia winery doesn’t release their wine until they’re truly confident that it’s ready to go out. That said, this will be unlike any Rioja Crianza you’ve ever tasted; it could easily stand up to its older brothers, which, for this price point, is pretty impressive.
Why you want to be drinking this: a Madeira as an aperitif or digestif (or just as an anytime sipper) wouldn’t be an immediate first choice for most people, and that’s exactly why you should serve it. The history behind this fortified wine from the Portuguese island of Madeira is as rich as its taste; this particular Madeira was aged in Four Roses bourbon barrels, making it unique and perfect for wine and spirits lovers alike. It’s sweet, but not too sweet, and is as nutty and caramelly and as palate-pleasing as could be.
Il Ramato Pinot Grigio
Why you want to be drinking this: when was the last time you had a pink pinot grigio?! Yes, this is 100% pinot grigio; the grape actually has a pale pinkish skin, which is nowadays not integrated into most pinot grigio production (hence why most pinot grigios you see today are white). However, the choice to integrate skin contact resulting in this coppery (“ramato”) hue is a time-honored tradition that results in a richer, fruitier, more aromatic wine.
Dom de la Voute des Crozes Cote de Brouilly Chanrion
Why you want to be drinking this: there’s more to life than Beaujolais Nouveau, my friend! This Cru Beaujolais is a much different expression of the thin-skinned Gamay grape, sporting a fuller body, deeper color and complexity, and a longer life. It’s still light and easy-drinking, but is more than a couple notches above in terms of quality and overall impression- the Gamay grape at its best!
Why you want to be drinking this: Carmenere is an ancient varietal along with some of its better-known predecessors (cab, merlot, petit verdot) and one of the six original grapes of Bordeaux. It was brought over to Chile where it survived the phylloxera pest outbreak and was preserved mostly due to it being mistaken for Merlot. It wasn’t until 1994 that it was realized to be Carmenere, and now the varietal is celebrated and thrives as a top red wine in Chile.
Frontonio Macabeo-Garnacha Blanca
Why you want to be drinking this: this white contains two fantastic, albeit lesser consumed, varietals. Here we have Garnacha Blanca (white grenache), which is plush and full like Chardonnay, but with more tropical bright green notes; and we have Macabeo, a fresh white varietal that adds texture and youthfulness to many blends (best known in Cava, Spain’s take on bubbly). Aged in oak barrels for a creamy soft body, the two together create a unique white blend worth trying!
Kopke Dry White Port
Why you want to be drinking this: white port is admittedly on few people’s radars as an everyday drinker. But have you considered dry port and tonic, a more flavorful and refined version of the gin and tonic? This white port is produced in a similar fashion as regular port (fortified with brandy), but white port offers delicious lighter notes of apricot, citrus peel, and toasted almonds. It shines on its own as an aperitif, in cocktails, or with seltzer.
Alpha Estate Malagouzia
Why you want to be drinking this: to save the turtles! “Turtles,” the single vineyard block that this wine comes from, is home to an ancient species of turtles that are protected and preserved here. Malagouzia is a recently-revived varietal native to Greece that creates vibrant white wine sporting notes of honeysuckle, citrus, and white spice. It’s both soft and crisp, and will be a welcome divergence from your usual white-varietal wine!
Huglweine Sparkling Gruner Veltliner
Why you want to be drinking this: to shake up your bubbly routine- what’s cooler than a sparkling Gruner Veltliner? This wine comes from the same line of latitude as Champagne, but is 100% Austrian in varietal and style. It comes from 100% Gruner Veltliner grapes, and boasts plenty of fresh green crispness and minerality, making it ridiculously food-friendly.
Catena San Carlos Cabernet Franc
Why you want to be drinking this: most would instinctively turn to its better-known offspring, Cabernet Sauvignon, to play it safe- but where’s the fun in that? In the past, Cab Franc was really used only as a blending grape, but recent years have proved the varietal’s potential to be fantastic as its own wine. Argentina has been on the forefront of producing 100% Cabernet Franc wines that are lighter in tannin and acidity with a softer structure, and perhaps even more memorable than many great Cabernet Sauvignons you’ve tried.
Pacher Hof Kerner
Why you want to be drinking this: have you ever tried a Kerner? The Kerner grape was originally bred in Germany, a cross between Riesling (which this wine resembles in many ways) and Trollinger. This particular one from the Alto Adige DOC displays Italy’s ability to showcase this varietal, which is aromatic, soft, and delightfully drinkable.
Why you want to be drinking this: known in the past as a “workhorse” varietal easy to work with and incorporate into blends, this varietal declined in past years in the shadow of Grenache / Syrah / Mourvedre blends. However, it’s back on the up and up and worth trying; Lioco winery decided to showcase 100% Carignan in this wine and show the rich, fruit-forward, deliciously drinkable stuff the little grape is capable of when given the respect and care it deserves!
Why you want to be drinking this: Nebbiolo is one neat grape, and this is one of its best expressions. It’s a very old varietal (references date back to the 13th century!), it’s delicious, and it’s not a very widely grown grape (primarily grown in the Piedmont area of Italy, like this Roero). What’s so great about Nebbiolo is its known ability to express terroir so well- so you’ll really be transported to Malvira’s vineyards in Italy when you sip this light and food-friendly wine.
So now that you know, there is no turning back; and why would you want to? Take a minute to explore these extraordinary varietals, your taste buds will appreciate the foray outside of the cultural mainstream.
Vine & Table