If variety is the spice of life, then my proverbial spice rack is overflowing.
Each year, I receive wine samples from producers throughout the grape-growing world. Many of the samples are good. Some of them are not so good. But the extraordinary thing about tasting so many different wines is the opportunity to try a number of different grape varietals that aren’t necessarily in the mainstream consumer spotlight.
There have even been a few occasions when I really liked a wine yet had no idea what grape it was made from. It was even more interesting when I found out that I had never heard of some of the varietals.
Here are a few varietals to encourage you to experiment at your next dinner party. For fun, try serving the wines blind (with the label concealed) and see if your guests can correctly guess the grape.
Gruner Veltliner is a popular Austrian varietal that has developed a loyal following here in the states over the last couple of years. It’s a food-friendly wine that tastes like equal parts gewürztraminer, riesling and sauvignon blanc, with bright, fresh white fruit flavors enhanced by crisp acidity. The 2016 Winzer Krems Gruner Veltliner Goldberg Kremstal DAC, from Austria’s Kamptal region, makes a wonderful summertime aperitif or a great companion to shellfish. The aromatic nose of acacia and crushed stones leads to fresh flavors of tropical fruits, peach and pear flavors in the mouth. The lemon/lime notes accent the crisp, clean finish. $19
One of my favorite white wines to start any Italian meal is Gavi di Gavi, but little did I know it was made from the Cortese grape. The 2014 Sassaia Gavi di Gavi, from the Piedmont region of Italy, is loaded with fragrant scents of apple and orange blossom, and acacia flowers on the nose. This medium-bodied white is studded with gobs of stone fruit flavors, green melon and mineral highlights that extend through the crisp, clean finish. $20
Originally from southern France, Alicante Bouschet gained notoriety during prohibition when it was credited with saving the wine industry in California. Its thick skin allowed it to hold up to shipping to home winemakers across the country. The 2015 Semaphore 7 from the Alentejo region of Portugal makes an inky black wine with scents of ripe plums and blackberries on the aromatic nose. Flavors of plums, blackberry liqueur, cedar and tobacco are supported on a medium body with a round, full finish. $10
In 1922, Dr. Fritz Zweigelt developed a red wine varietal that would thrive in the cooler climate and richer soils of his native Austria. The 2015 Hatton Daniels Lodi Zweigelt has migrated from Austria to the central San Joaquin Valley of California, where it adopts a bolder profile than its European cousin. Flavors of red berry, cherry and red currant play on the front of the palate, while notes of pepper and cedar glide in on the spicy finish. $25
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