Eight lesser-known grape varieties that will expand your wine horizons
There’s a huge world of wine out there waiting to be explored, but sometimes it just feels easier to go with what you know, and that’s often more popular grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir. But if you feel like switching things up a little – which is always recommended if you’re looking to broaden your palette – try one of these lesser-known alternatives instead.
If you like Pinot Noir, try Blaufränkisch
Pinot Noir is universally popular because it’s light-bodied, easy to drink and pairs well with lots of foods. Blaufränkisch, an Austrian red, is similar in that it also boasts a highly-drinkable acidity and pairs well with everything from white meat to pasta dishes. Most bottles are characterised by fruit flavours – in particular black cherry.
If you like Cabernet Sauvignon, try Touriga Nacional
Like a good Cab Sav, Touriga Nacional – hailing from Portugal – is a full-bodied red that can be aged for a long time, and can hold its own against bold, flavourful dishes. This one is definitely worth exploring if you’ve not yet, because it’s one of the few new grape varieties Bordeaux has permitted in a bid to protect its wine production from the effects of climate change, so we’ll definitely be seeing more of it in the future.
If you like Merlot, try Nerello Mascalese
An elegant, perfumed red grape, Nerello Mascalese is native to Sicily, grown predominantly on the slopes of Mount Etna, which gives it its bold, earthy and fruity characteristics. More structured and heartier than a Pinot Noir, Nerello Mascalese is a good match for Merlot thanks to its strong acidity and tannins.
If you like Syrah, try Mondeuse Noire
Hailing from France’s Savoie region near the Swiss border, Mondeuse Noire (sometimes known as Gros Rouge) is known for its powerful aromas of sour cherry, plum and black pepper with good acidity and well-integrated tannins, making it a great alternative to Syrah. This powerhouse pairs well with seasoned meats and pungent cheeses.
If you like Sauvignon Blanc, try Grüner Veltliner
Sauvignon Blanc may well be synonymous with warmer New World climates, but if it is acidic citrus flavours that tickle your taste buds its definitely worth giving Austrian-grown Grüner Veltliner a try. Its primary fruit flavours are lime, lemon and grapefruit, complemented by an herbaceous quality often described as white pepper. What makes it particularly unique though is its signature vein of acidity, making it a great alternative to the ubiquitous Sav Blanc.
If you like Chardonnay, try Falanghina
Chardonnay is known for its crisp, fruity flavours and all-round versatility, and Falanghina is a very well-matched substitute. One of Italy’s most ancient grape varieties, Falanghina is grown mostly in Campania, the Italian region that borders the Tyrrhenian Sea and is home to the Amalfi Coast. Expect flavours of lemon, orange blossom, pear and apple.
If you like Viognier, try Malagousia
Grown primarily in Central Greece and Greek Macedonia, the aromatic Malagousia was rescued from near extinction in 1983, and is today best known for its citrus and peach characteristics, as well as a rich mouthfeel that makes it a great alternative to the more common Viognier. It’s a perfect match for lighter summertime foods, but is also delicious enjoyed on its own.
If you like Chenin Blanc, try Aidani
Another white grape hailing from the Greek Islands, although in this case Santorini. Occasionally known as Aidani Aspro (white) to distinguish it from its dark-skinned variant Aidani Mavro (black), this is a low-acid wine with rich floral aromas and plenty of minerality. It’s mainly known as a blending grape in Greece but is absolutely worth seeking out on its own for its wonderfully soft flavours and delicate body which makes it very much akin to Chenin Blanc.