Cabernet sauvignon? Everybody knows that one. Riesling? It’s that German sweet stuff, right? Malbec? From Argentina, great with steak. Pinot noir? That’s the fancy stuff the guy in the wine movie went crazy for.
We all know our favourite varietals, but what about trying a few of the thousands we may never have even heard of? According to the University of Adelaide’s 2010 wine database, the combined land surface covered by plantings of cabernet sauvignon, riesling, malbec, and pinot noir is less than 10 per cent of the world’s wine growing area. It’s time to branch out, and try some delightful, but lesser known, wines.
If you drink cabernet sauvignon, try touriga nacional.
The crown prince of Portugal, touriga nacional, has a history to rival its French counterpart. Grown in the Douro Valley and Dão regions, it’s often blended with touriga francesa to produce full-bodied, age-worthy, tannic wines that pair perfectly with red meats and cold winter nights. These wines are excellent value for their price point, and will impress even the most discerning palates.
Niepoort 2013 Dialogo Douro, Portugal
Big and bold: an evolving nose of blackberry, baked cherry, and leather meets integrated tannins and flavours of raspberry, white pepper, and charred wood. Could befriend many foods, but it begs for steak. CSPC 745245 $23
If you like sauvignon blanc, what about grüner veltliner?
While the varietal may sound like a Swiss yodeling trio, don’t let the name fool you. Grüner veltliner’s bright citrus flavours and minerality combine with balanced acidity to make a delicious, dry, white wine that is tailored for food pairings. Most often from Austria, and nearly always made as a single varietal wine, grüner veltliner has travelled to new frontiers and is cropping up in wines all over the new and old world.
Stift Göettweig 2011 Messwein Kremstal, Austria
Slightly effervescent with complementary flavours of tart lemon, sweet peach, grapefruit, and a long finish that alludes to French cheese rinds. Pair with seafood or cream sauces. CSPC 740333 $19
Can’t get enough pinot noir? Try its little brother, gamay noir.
Gamay noir was once side swept into the backwaters of Beaujolais winemaking. Submitted to high temperature fermentation, it left the drinker with banana and boiled candy flavours – no longer. Beaujolais has experienced a renaissance in natural winemaking practices and many producers now use limited additives and wild yeast to create subtle gamay noir wines that weave flavours of raspberries with earth and rose petal. Similar to many French wine appellations, you will rarely see the varietal on the label, but with a little research you are in for a treat.
Terres Dorees 2013 Côte De Brouilly Beaujolais, France
A brilliant gamay noir. Intricate layers of raspberry, clove, orange peel, turned earth, rose, black cherry, and the list goes on. It lingers and delights. Pair with fois gras, or freshly-baked buttered bread. CSPC 741809 $30
You drink merlot? Give barbera a try.
A deeply coloured wine with stunning red fruit and balanced acid, Barbera is food-forward with nearly endless pairing potential. The varietal is found throughout Italy, and the most common appellation is Barbera d’Asti. It is often matured in toasted oak, which lends the wine subtle tannins.
Michele Chiarlo Le Orme 2012 Barbera D’asti, Piedmont, Italy
A wonderful complex wine: Cherry, cranberry, orange peel, a hint of clove, and a sandalwood finish. Balanced acid makes it an easy pairing for most dishes, but it will complement prosciutto particularly well. CSPC 727648 $17
Chardonnay got your tongue? Savour some albariño.
If you have a love affair with unoaked, apple and peach chardonnay, just wait until you try albariño. It’s a whirlwind of stone fruit flavours. The varietal is traditionally dry and heady, with florality. Like any Spanish wine, albariño from Rias Biaxas is food-friendly and pairs well with everything from cheese to poultry.
Estylo Puro 2013, Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain
An effervescent wine that combines pear, peach, chalk, fresh honey, and vibrant minerality. Clean and dry. Pair with creamy cheeses, turkey dinner, or sea bass. CSPC 748598 $22
Is malbec your favourite? How about a grenache-syrah blend.
Malbec has taken root all over the world – and it’s no wonder. Traditional examples from Cahors, in France, are full-bodied, robustly tannic, and age beautifully. Grenache and syrah mimic malbec’s best qualities. They are often blended together in the Rhône Valley of France to make wines with rich tannins, dark fruit, and earthy characteristics. Full bodied flavour meets well-priced complexity.
La Vieille Ferme 2014, Ventoux Rhône Valley, France
Deep purple colour backed up by a spiced fruit nose. Lush tannins are flattered by cassis, tobacco, and plum on the palate. Can be enjoyed now or laid down for a few winters. CSPC 263640 $15
In no time you will be saying: touriga nacional? I have a whole case aging in my cellar. Gamay noir? Just as complex as pinot, and it’s fermented naturally. Albarino? That’s what we’re having with turkey dinner.
Cheers, and here’s to finding new favourites hiding behind lesser known labels!