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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Lesser Known Wines You Might Want to Try

Everybody knows Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir -- probably Pinot Gris, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, and Syrah, too. There are many more obscure wine grapes then there are well-known ones. Following are a few of these unknown wines (unknown to Americans anyway). You may find something you like or you might discover it's no wonder they're not popular.

Sample for curiosity's sake, but at your own risk.


Chenin Blanc (shen-in blahnk). Bright and floral. Usually best with a bit of residual sugar to offset the acidity and bring out the fruit. A summer sipper or good with lighter foods. Sort of California's forgotten grape as it was more popular a few decades ago.

Grenache Blanc (gruh-nahsh blahnk). Citrusy. Will be soft if grown in a warm area; more bright (higher acid) if from a cooler region. Can be high in alcohol, especially those soft ones from the warm regions. It can be a little simple and uninteresting.

Gruner Veltliner (grew-ner velt-leener). The white wine grape of Austria. Never heard of it? You might start seeing it as GV's popularity grows in the U.S. It's been planted all over the country from Oregon to New Jersey. Light on aromatics and fruit, higher on spiciness. Depending on where it's grown and how it's made it can be light and zesty or rich and nutty. A good food wine.

Marsanne (mahr-sahn). Medium-bodied, fruity, perfumey. Often blended with Rousanne and Viognier to make Rhone-style whites.
Roussanne (roo-sahn). Depending on where it's grown (warm vs cool climate) it can be rich, honey, and full-bodied or delicate and perfumey. Both Marsanne and Roussanne are usually better when blended with each other and/or Viognier.

Semillon (seh-mee-yahn). Can be soft, heavy, oily and bland, but really does well blended with Sauvignon Blanc. Semillon makes an excellent white dessert wine.

Viognier (vee-oh-nyay). Full-bodied, flavorful and aromatic. Lots of fruit flavors. Use with the same foods you would a Chardonnay. A good Viognier is less boring than Chardonnay especially the ones blended with Marsanne and/or Roussanne.


Barbera (bar-beh-rah). Good acid, low tannins, and dark fruit flavors. In California it does well in the warmer growing region of the Sierra Foothills plus there are good ones from Dry Creek Valley. Drink it young with your favorite tomato-sauced pasta or rich meat dish.

Cabernet Franc (cab-ur-nay frahnk). Related to Cabernet Sauvignon, but more red fruit and less tannin. It's usually herbaceous and can be too green if not grown and made correctly. If done right it's perfumey, rich and smooth. Use with steaks and lamb.

Carignane (care-ig-nahn). Fruity, spicy, tannic. Was much more popular in California at one time when it was often blended with Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. It's pretty hard to find now. Good with pasta and grilled meats.

Grenache (gruh-nahsh). I call it Pinot Noir Lite. It has lots of fruit and not much tannin. Often blended with Syrah which makes sense as Syrah is kind of the opposite (not much fruit, lots of tannin). Grenache is a good summer red wine. It is gaining popularity and that's a good thing. Watch the alcohol level as it can get pretty high.

Mourvedre (moor-ved-ruh). Spicy, peppery, tannic, and can be high in alcohol. The good ones are  meaty with intense fruit flavors. A Rhone red that's usually blended with Grenache and/or Syrah. In California, "Mourvedre central" is the Paso Robles area.

Petit Verdot (puh-tee vehr-doh). A full-bodied, dark, tannic wine used in Bordeaux blends in France. If you like a hardy Petite Sirah you might like Petit Verdot. The "petit/petite" in the name of each refers to berry size--neither is petite in flavor.

Sangiovese (san-joh-vay-zay). Bright, tannic, earthy, and lighter-bodied. It got fairly popular in California 20 years ago, but seems to have dropped off. I think some people aren't sure how to make a good Sangi and that's too bad. Some of the best I've had come from the Sierra Foothills of CA. A pasta wine if there ever was one (Sangiovese is from Italy, after all).

Tempranillo (tem-prah-nee-oh). Red fruit, tobacco, spices, lower acid. The main grape of many Spanish red blends. In the last 20 years it's started to show up as a premium grape in Washington, Oregon, and Texas (yes, Texas' climate and Tempranillo seem to go together).