Too often we find ourselves going back to familiar styles of wine and varieties that we feel are ‘safe’: Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet, Shiraz, the list goes on. Wine can be challenging because there are so many different varieties - and after working in the industry for over 15 years I am still finding ones I have never tried. In this article I hope to tempt you to experiment with different wines and to get you out of your comfort zone.
Greece has a myriad of varieties to try and many of them make high quality wines that can rival the best in the world. Assyrtiko is one of my favourites, a white grape whose home is on the island of Santorini. On these volcanic soils it produces an intense, bone dry, mineral wine, and from the best producers it is an ideal alternative to Chablis. Another charming white varietal is Malagousia, found mainly in Macedonia; this aromatic white has a generous stone fruit and floral character with touches of tropical fruit. If you like Viognier this is one for you. If it is a full bodied red you are after than look no further than Xinomavro, a beast of a wine packed with black fruits, olives and dried spices.
If we move north from Greece over to the cooler Austrian wine regions we find grapes that are equally hard to pronounce, but that are no less exceptional. One of my first trips in the wine industry was to Austria where I discovered Grüner Veltliner, which I am now hooked on for life. This grape can produce a variety of styles; from the sweet luscious wines of Neusiedlersee that rival any Sauternes, to the dry crisp easy drinking wines of Kamptal. The dry styles tend towards stone fruit and white florals while the country's good red varieties feature juicy, fruity, crunchy berry wine, most principally Zweigelt with its lovely spicy finish.
Portugal is one of my favourite countries for wine and one whose still wines have often been overshadowed by its fortified ones. Touriga Nacional is one that is one of the main components of port but as a single varietal still wine it is full bodied with supple juicy tannins and a lot of dark fruits, and as a blend with other classic port varieties it has a bit more structure and savoury notes. Both are a nice alternative to a Bordeaux blend.
If one country has more indigenous varieties than any other it is Italy. From the north with its fabulous Nebbiolo’s and Lagrein’s down to the boot where you find big powerful wines like Taurasi to the delicately strawberry scented Frappato’s, it is a treasure trove for the wine adventurer. If you are a getting bored of Pinot Grigio have crisp fresh Friulano or for a richer, fuller wine Fiano is a no brainer. With so many different grapes it is always a good idea to ask when you are in your local wine shop or Italian restaurant what to go for.
There are many other fantastic varieties from all over Europe and the ones I mentioned above are just some of the many examples that can be found. Countries such as Hungary, Slovenia and Germany can all offer great alternatives to the classics. So throw caution to the win and vote,’IN’ to trying some different wines.
Assyrtiko - Try Gaia’s Wild Ferment Assyrtiko from Great Wines Direct (£18.96). Toasty, smoky and funky on the nose with mineral dusting and brooding intensity. The palate is salty dry with lazer-beam precision and very funky wild ferment layering of complexity with oak wreathed into the mix with sensitivity. The finish is dry, with lasting salty and tangy flavours. Unique and outstanding wine.
Malagousia - I would recommend Gerovassiliou’s Malagousia from the Whisky Exchange (£14.75). A local Greek variety that has a touches of rose petal, ripe peach and lemon bon bons. It is not as weighty as Viognier and has a lovely freshness to it. This wine is ideal with lighter Asian dishes and shellfish.
Xinomavro - The single vineyard Hedgehog red from Alpha Estate (Maltby & Greek £16.50) will stand up to any big red. Bright purple-red color. Complex, typical bouquet of small berries red fruits, leather and spices (vanilla, pepper, clove), with hints of ripe blackberry. Full mouth, rounded tannins, balanced acidity and well integrated wood tones. Long aftertaste with intense quince aroma.
Grüner Veltliner - If you like Albarino or Pinot Grigio the drier wines will suit you, Felsner Moosburgerin Grüner Veltliner from Waitrose (£12.49) is a good place to start. The Felsner family have a small estate in one of the best dry-wine regions in Austria: the Kremstal. There they produce this crisp, aromatic Grüner Veltliner, with it's pear and white pepper notes.
Zweigelt - Try Sepp Moser’s Zweigelt (£12.99) from Corks Out. A vibrantly fruity, organically produced, red from this characterful indigenous Austrian variety. Fruity and perfumed nose showing blackberries, white pepper and spice. Bright palate with fresh acidity, crunchy redcurrant and raspberry fruit, and layers of spice, liquorice and herbs.
Touriga Nacional - Marks & Spencer Touriga Nacional Tercius (£8.50) is a wonderfully floral scented, voluptuous red with a soft creamy texture, subtle flavours of dried damson and mint and an elegantly savoury aftertaste.
Blend - Niepoort’s Drink Me Tinto (Slurp £12.45) using grapes Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz,Tinta Amarela and Tinto Cão, this wine displays a ruby colour, with plenty of red fruit and tea leaf aromas. A spicy character with strong pepper notes and a typical mineral aroma of slate soil. Very fresh on the palate with a good length, good structure and well integrated tannins.