Get Out of Your Wine Rut: How to choose a wine outside of Chardonnay, Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio
Last month I was invited to dinner at one of those splashy Miami restaurants. I arrived early and decided to order a glass of wine at the bar. They had an eclectic “by the glass” selection which immediately raised my interest in the establishment. As I sat there enjoying a glass of Franciacorta, I grew increasingly disheartened listening to what people were ordering. I must have heard at least a dozen times, “I’ll have a glass of Chardonnay/ Pinot Grigio/ Cabernet”, and that’s OK if all you want is something in your glass you are familiar with. However, the longer I sat there the stronger my urge grew to ask someone, “Where’s your sense of adventure? They have such a great selection of wine by the glass!”
Later that evening I got to thinking that what I experienced at the restaurant bar happens every day in our stores. ABC Fine Wine & Spirits has a great selection of distinctive wines, but most of our guests ask for what they are comfortable with; Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet, Pinot Noir. I’m not here to bash any of those noble grape varieties, in fact I enjoy them as well. But there are so many high quality, fresh, lively alternatives that it’s a shame not to search outside the box sometimes.
Most wine drinkers tend to be adventurous souls at heart, even if they’re not sure where to look for a good replacement to their everyday favorite. A comprehensive list could easily fill a book, but the following are just a few suggestions to get you started on your journey.
Stylistically, Chardonnay can be all over the board from rich, complex and creamy to lean and crisp with zingy acidity. If you tend to favor the richer style, try a Viognier or an Arneis, both good choices. Garganega, the primary grape of Soave is steely and minerally, with apricot and yellow apple flavors. A final suggestion would be a dry Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley. This wine has intense honeyed apple flavors and mouthwatering acidity.
Many Italian Pinot Grigios are light, tart, clean, and refreshingly crisp. There are countless Italian varietals with similar but more interesting flavor profiles. Try a Greco di Tufo or a Falanghina from Molise. If you’re feeling especially adventurous travel to the Greek Island of Santorini and check out an Assyriko like Tselepos Santorini. This wine is particularly lemony and minerally.
Yes, I love Cabernet too but finding a good bottle that doesn’t break the bank can at times be challenging. There are lesser-known and more affordable alternatives such as Monastrell from Spain. This wine is an incredible value. Malbec from both Argentina or France are both complex, powerful wines that will please any Cab drinker. Another favorite of mine is an Aglianico from the volcanic soils of Southern Italy. Elena Fucci produces Titolo Aglianico del Vulture a deep, sophisticated wine with rich tannins and savory dark fruit flavors.
This red grape produces deliciously elegant wines. Pinot Noir is a wine that typically has delicacy and finesse. If you’re looking for Pinot-like wines with balance, fruit-forwardness and moderate tannins l suggest trying a Cru Beaujolais. Vignobles Bulliat Moulin A Vent is a fantastic choice. Another winner, Nerello Mascalese, native to Sicily is brimming with aromatic red fruits and a unique minerality. One more grape variety that is similar to Pinot Noir is Nebbiolo. These wines are bursting with dried flowers, cherries, cranberries and baking spices.
There has never been a better time to be a wine lover. With so many wine regions in the world producing fantastic, distinctive wines with a sense of place, you’re not being fair to yourself if you don’t venture out and try something different and delicious. Enjoy the adventure!