There are many thousands of grape varieties planted worldwide. Italy alone accounts for over a thousand, yet when it comes to choosing a wine, most of us invariably fall back on a very small selection of old favourites.
While there is great security in choosing a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio and knowing exactly what to expect, I find that stepping out of that comfort-zone and selecting a wine composed of these lesser-known varieties can often be surprising and just as rewarding.
I have made a few suggestions below, with which to begin your experimentation!
Starting with the two varieties named earlier, interesting alternatives are available.
So if sauvignon Blanc is your thing, I recommend the Cos de la Roque (€9.99 down from €12.99 for August) from the Armagnac-producing Gascony region of south-west France. Made from the traditional local varieties, Colombard and Ugni-blanc, this is zesty and herby, aromatic, sauvignon-style white that works perfectly with a wide range of dishes from grilled shellfish to zingy goats cheese salads.
For all the Pinot Grigio fans out there looking to try something new, Grillo would be a great place to start. Grillo was traditionally planted in Sicily to supply the production of the island’s famous fortified wine, Marsala, but now it is producing wines with a soft, approachable nature, with pear and peach fruit and good vibrant acidity making it a really good Pinot Grigio alternative.
The Il Meridione Grillo (€8.99 down from €11.49 for August) is a great example of this style: aromatic, lemon-fresh, crisp and cool with no oak. Great on its own, this wine also works really well with summer salads and lighter pasta dishes.
For my red choices, I will start with a Greek wine, Gaia Agiorgitiko (€18.49) which is made exclusively from Agiorgitiko grapes (AKA St. Georges) grown at Gaia’s own estate in Nemea which is in north of the Peloponnese.With some similarities in style to Italy’s Barbera, It has a great depth of black-berried fruit along with an appealing mix of earthy and herby spice. Match with chargrilled lamb cutlets to see it at its best.
My final selection may come as a surprise not just for its grape variety, but also for its point of origin. I have chosen a Tannat-based red from Uruguay.
Tannat is traditionally grown in the Basque region of south-west France and here it tends to produce wines with firm, tannic structure, a deep dark colour and with high level of alcohol.
The variety was introduced to Uruguay in the 19th century by Basque settlers, and it has since gained great prominence and is now considered to be the ‘national grape’ in very much the same way as other South American countries have adopted French varieties such as Malbec in Argentina.
The Tannat wines produced here are characterised by more elegant and softer tannins along with blackberry fruit notes. The Preludio Barrel Select (€25.49) is a blend composed primarily of Tannat; the remainder is made up of the traditional Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot.
With a hugely complex nose of ripe red fruits, dried figs and vanilla leading into a silky smooth palate, this could easily pass for a Cru Classé Bordeaux.
However, if this was indeed a Bordeaux, one would expect to pay somewhere in the region of €40 for a wine of this unquestionable quality. This is a wine that is crying out for a tender fillet steak.