WASHINGTON – I was recently invited to a dinner party where the theme was “various varietals.” The guests were not allowed to bring any “commonly” produced wine like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay and the like.
There are over 200 fairly common unique grape varietals from which wine is produced, and probably another three or four hundred varietals of wine grapes that many of us have simply never heard of.
Best of all, many of these lesser known varietals and blends tend to deliver a lot of quality for the money. Here are a few wonderful wines made from varietals you probably have never heard of, all priced under $30.
From a small family winery located in the foothills of the Quilos in Bierzo region of Spain comes the 2010 Bodegas El Agosto Mencia. The mencia grapes are harvested by hand from vines averaging 60 years old in a vineyard that utilizes no pesticides or chemicals. The dark-skinned grape produces an intriguing nose featuring scents of smoked meats, black plums and dark currants. The mouthfeel is juicy and luscious, supporting flavors of black and red cherries, red currants and hints of clove and red licorice on the velvety finish. $25
Located near Lake Garda, in the province of Verona, Italy is the highly regarded wine region of Valpolicella, known for its prized Amarone wines. It is also home to the 2008 Lonardi Ripasso Valpolicella, a kid-brother to the more popular Amarone, which is made from grapes that have been dried on rooftops in order to concentrate the juice. With Ripasso, grapes dried by a similar process are added to the must of a dry wine. This particular offering is made predominately from the corvina grape, along with rondinella and malinara and offers up lovely flavors of condensed pomegranate, dark cherry, roasted coffee and dried herbs. Notes of dark cocoa highlight the charming finish. $25
The Mendoza region in Argentina is known mostly for the forward fruit-laden wines made from Malbec, but it also has a small production of white wine varietals. The 2010 Vina Alicia Tiara White Wine from Mendoza is made from a blend of riesling, albarino, and savagnin that is vinified without oak, but is allowed to ferment in extended contact with its yeast and other sediments. It produces a delightfully complex wine with aromas of lemon/lime citrus, nectarine, honeysuckle, and acacia flowers. Flavors of white peach, ripe nectarine and apricot fill the mouth and coat the entire palate.
The crisp acidity and bracing minerality highlight the notes of Meyer lemon on the bright, clean finish. $30