Colour outside the lines with a wine from lesser-known red grape variety.

Pop quiz…you’re at your local wine market and feel like you’re drowning in a sea of the usual suspects, what do you do?

Most people might “give up”, and minimize their risk by doing one of the following: Seek out a trusted or smart-looking staff member for a recommendation, or select their go-to bottle because it’s safe and easy. While tried and tested, the time is now for a little bottle bravery, and colour outside the lines with a wine from lesser-known red grape variety. You may be pleasantly surprised at how delicious this approach can be.

Let’s begin with an alternative to everyday cabernet sauvignon with the rare and regional touriga nacional. Touriga nacional is a Portuguese variety that traditionally was used for port but has enjoyed recent success vinified in a dry style. In terms of grape yields, touriga nacional is notoriously stingy but produces fruit with high levels of tannin and loads of black and blue berry fruit.

Select the 2009 Quinta De Ventozelo Touriga Nacional from Douro, Portugal (CSPC + 720734, $30) as it showcases touriga’s tendency towards black plum and black currant for fruit, a richly spiced mouth feel, and muscular tannin.

Touriga nacional sings with grilled protein and it marries exceptionally well to lamb shank and beef ribs. The grape also known as samso, mauzelo, carignano, and cariñena is primarily used for blending but has seen success as single varietal expressions in Spain, France, and Chile. Known for its rich, dark purple hue and elevated acid, carignan requires patience in the vineyard and warm temperatures.

Consider the 2010 Miguel Torres Chile Cordillera Carignan (CSPC +704323, $32) as it expresses the rich dark black fruit the varietal is known for with notes of cola, ink, and dark cacao. It has racy, lip smacking acidity with dusty tannin and a long finish that accompanies a hanger steak with ease.

Diverting from the usual cabernet sauvignon and merlot is the noble grape petit verdot. Like our friend carignan, petit verdot has been relegated to the supporting role in places like Bordeaux as a blending constituent due to lengthy ripening time. Fortunately, the varietal has found a permanent home in the new world where warm climates allow for successful ripening year to year.

Think about Australian producer Pirramimma in their 2012 McLaren Vale Petit Verdot (CSPC +608216, $27). The aromatics and flavours of this wine explode from the glass with notes of violets, rose, dried cherries, graphite and red currant. Bright acid, lively tannins and a slightly sweet finish bring the experience full circle. Look to pair petit verdot with charcuterie, smoked game and pate as well as manchego and blue cheeses.

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