When I first fell in love with wine it was a pinot noir from the central coast of California, Rusack Winery in Santa Ynez Valley. It was unlike anything I have ever tasted. I used to hate wine, it was too sweet, and I like most boys at the ripe drinking age of 22 was drinking beer, whiskey, and tequila. I barely exposed myself to wine before this. I had my preconceived notions about wine and I tended to stick to my cabernet sauvignon. And yet, this Rusack pinot changed my entire perspective. It opened a world into good, enjoyable wine and now I see that every wine is a new adventure and something new to experience. I became obsessed with finding new wines to try and change my alter my perception further. One of these was the Italian grape Barbera, another wine that thoroughly surprised me, catapulting itself to the top of my favorites list. We all remember the wine that made us fall in love with wine, it may have been chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, rose, or even Riesling. However, I have found with most of my friends and family, that once they fall in love with one type of wine that’s all they’ll ever drink. I will say there is no problem with that, people like their comfort zones especially when it comes to booze. Yet, there are over a thousand different grape varietals in this world just waiting for us to try them. Why limit yourself to just a small few? Here are some suggestions that will help get you out of your comfort zone:
- Alsatian (Alsace) Riesling –
Alsace is a region famous for this particular grape. It sits in the northeastern part of France adjacent to the borders of Germany and Switzerland. A nice cool mountainous climate with beautiful rivers and streams, a perfect place for good wine. The Riesling that comes out of this area is unlike any other you’ve had I can assure you. One of the biggest misconceptions with Riesling is that it is sweet and syrupy, often too sweet for people, hence why people don’t like it or say they don’t. But they have never had an Alsatian Riesling, for this is how Riesling is supposed to taste. It is light and crispy with notes of ripe green apples and apricots, and it tends to be extremely dry. This food with a nice buttery fish like seabass or cod will change your life. Like a good French rose, this wine is perfect for a hot summer’s day with good seafood. This wine can be hard to find in stores sometimes, however, there are other options if you can’t find it. Try German or Austrian Rieslings, make sure they say, “Off Dry” on the label, these wines will be very reminiscent of the Alsatian stuff.
- Albarino –
Keeping the theme going with dry whites, Albarino is a lovely example of that originates from Spain. This is one that is naturally produced dry and crisp. I have had Albarinos from Napa Valley that is slightly more fruit-forward but is still reminiscent of the original. Albarino to me has very similar qualities to a good Sauvignon Blanc, except with more stone fruit (ripe green apples and pears) profile to it with a nice and dry finish. This wine is also phenomenal with fresh fish and fried foods (oddly enough, but just try it), while at the same time being very easy to drink on its own, almost too easy. This one is slightly easier to find in stores than the dry Rieslings and is typically at a very approachable price.
- Muscat –
Muscat is a very unique grape, it is one of the oldest grape varietals out there and has been widely grown all over Europe for centuries. The origin of this grape is still unknown, but it has been discovered that the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians drank this juice. Enough fun history, let’s talk about this grape. Moscato and Muscat are actually the same grape, one’s Italian and the other is French. Muscat is an interesting grape because it can produce such unique profiles from sweet and bubbly to light and dry. The sweeter ones produce an aroma and profile that makes you think of peaches and apricots, whereas, the drier Muscats have a profile of melon, honeydew, and more tropical flavors with that nice and dry finish. Not everyone will love this wine, but it will definitely share its unique profile and perspective to those curious enough to try it, and they will find that it was worth it.
- Gamay –
This is one of my new favorite wines because of just how unique it is. The simplest way to describe it is like a drier pinot noir, but then the profile isn’t at all the same. Like pinot, it’s a lighter red wine. Instead, Gamay is not a full-bodied but a nice cherry and prune fruit profile with a dry, earthy finish. This grape originally was developed as a blending grape because of its color and dryness but is slowly making its mark in the wine world as somms and wine experts alike recommend it. It’s great with white meats and even better with gamier meats like lamb or venison.
- Barbera –
Barbera is another fantastic red wine that few people think about, and yet it is one of the most widely planted Italian varietals out there. Some of these vines are over a century old out in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, this area produces the Barbera d’asti, which for those who know Barbera know this style. The profile of this wine is very similar to that of Gamay but with a fuller body and more berry notes, but it does retain the dryness and earthiness that old world wines are so famous for. It is another one of those grapes with a long history but has only recently been noticed in the wide world of wine. Some California producers have done a wonderful job of reproducing this wine, however, I have yet to see some of them in stores as the consumers have yet to explore this beauty. If you find it, buy it, it will not disappoint.
- Cabernet Franc –
Now, this is a grape that almost everyone that has had a red blend has had in some shape or form. However, few have had it in its purest form well at least not being blended into Bordeaux or Bordeaux style blends. On its on it produces a different profile than what to expect. It is typically a more medium-bodied wine but can find itself a little fuller sometimes. It is not overly tannic and heavily structured, instead, it is more earthy and acidic. Its profile is that of black cherries, raspberries, bell peppers, and jalapenos. For me, the uniqueness comes from its spice mixed with a slightly fuller berry-style fruit component. This wine is often shadowed by the bigger cabernet sauvignon, but should never be ruled out. Napa Valley has produced some wonderful Cab Francs, so has Oregon, Washington, Australia, and New Zealand. However, the classic Cab Franc style comes from its home in France. This wine is great for the holidays when we all have that wonderful buffet of food waiting for us.