Wines That Don’t Get Enough Face Time

The wine world has seen some turmoil over the past few years. Rebelling against the current “bigger is better” style of wines, a number of vintners have embraced a “less is more” style, culminating in both a “natural wine” movement and the formation of “In Pursuit of Balance,” an organization my cohort Rusty Gaffney wrote about last week. There’s also been a “Balkanization” of California’s larger wine appellations, with some vintners forming splinter groups, ostensibly to better tell their smaller viticultural area’s story. And finally, in something of a surprise, foremost wine critic Robert Parker stepped down as head of his publication, The Wine Advocate.

But, with chaos comes opportunity. And, in the midst of all this wine upheaval, many vintners have taken the opportunity to explore making wine with other grape varieties—grapes outside the norm and those not getting any love from wine critics. In a recent diatribe, Robert Parker dismissed many of these grape varieties as “rarely palatable” and “godforsaken.” Apparently ignoring Parker’s admonition, vintners have continued to expand their horizons by making wines from seldom-seen old world varieties that do quite well in their native countries and presumably deserve a fair shake here as well.

Of course we’re all familiar with popular varietals such as cabernet, chardonnay, and merlot. But, there are hundreds more out there that we neither see nor hear about. Even if we do hear about them, there doesn’t seem to be enough interest in bringing them into our local wine shops or big-box retailers. So, what are they, where are they, and how do you find them?

Well, now that I have you salivating, are you ready to go exploring? Here are a few of the white varieties/varietals (remember, the grape is a variety; the wine is a varietal) that deserve a longer look.

White Grapes/Wine

  • chenin blanc: fresh, with a light feeling of sweetness, and goes with every kind of food. If not already varietally labeled, look for wines from France’s Loire Valley.
  • grüner veltliner: crisp and fresh with a touch of herbs. Think sauvignon blanc with a personality. Generally from Austria, and should already be varietally labeled.
  • marsanne: lightly honeyed, but fresh and crisp. If not already varietally labeled, look for wines from France’s Rhone Valley.
  • albariño: crisp and fresh, and pairs well with almost anything. Generally from Spain’s Rias Baixas region.

Red Grapes/Wine

  • corvina: the main grape in Italy’s Bardolino and Valpolicella regions. Amazing food matches with almost anything.
  • grenache: available varietally labeled, or look for wines from France’s Côtes du Rhône.
  • mourvèdre: ditto
  • tempranillo: mimics cabernet, but with fewer tannins. Great food match. Generally from Spain, and should already be varietally labeled.

Frankly, from a price standpoint, the white wines make for easier exploring. That said, none of these red wines should break the bank either. Happy hunting.