Erin Doman on September 18, 2015 4 Comments Anyone with even a passing knowledge of wines is familiar with the most common varieties, such as Chardonnay, Bordeaux, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and so on. However, there are many less common varieties of wine that hail from countries like Greece, the Americas, Spain and the corners of France, which is known as the wine capital of the world. These lesser-known varieties are not of poorer quality than their more famous counterparts, but for one reason or another they have just not achieved the same amount of traction in the wine world. If you are looking for a way to expand your wine knowledge, or else if you are trying to find the perfect wine to use in a tricky food pairing, consider some of these uncommon and rare varietals of the wide world of wine. Some of these wines are truly niche varietals from multiple different regions around the world. They are regional varieties that may not be that well known outside of their place of origin, but are worth mentioning because of some of their unique features or because they are currently in the midst of a popularity boom. If you are truly looking to expand your wine knowledge, set a goal to acquire these wines and try them out for yourself. Greece 1. Assyrtiko For thousands of years, Greece was all but synonymous with wine, an association that only began to change in the modern era of wine making. However, many Greek wines are still alive and well, including the unique Assyrtiko grape, grown mostly on the island of Santorini and nearby Aegean islands. This crisp white variety is a great entry point. It’s exceedingly refreshing, and ideal for summer. The volcanic soil of the region where it is grown gives it unique mineral notes. Santorini is home to some Assyrtiko plantations that are over 70 years old. 2. Malagouzia An ancient wine from western Greece, Malagouzia was virtually extinct for hundreds of years. However, it has recently made a comeback on the world stage. These grapes tend to produce very complex white wines with notes of exotic fruit, citrus and herbs. Like Assyrtiko, Malagouzia is a great wine for the hot days of summer. In fact, Malagouzia grapes are often blended with Assyrtiko grapes to produce a better balanced wine. 3. Agiorgitiko While you might not have heard of this grape before in the states, Agiorgitiko is actually one of the most widely planted red grape varieties in all of Greece. This grape produces a wine with low acidity that is notably spicy and usually quite fruity as well. This versatile grape can produce soft rosés to bolder red wines. This wine pairs well with lamb and baked vegetables. 4. Mavrodaphne This black grape creates a wine that happens to be one of the leading reds in Greece, but it hasn’t become quite as popular in the rest of the world. It has notable caramel, coffee and raisin aromas, and is frequently compared to port. If you love more robust and strong wines, Mavrodaphne–or Mavrodafni–might work for you. If you are looking for something even more obscure, consider seeking out wines with the even rarer clone of Mavrodaphne: Thiniatiko. France 5. Picpoul This variety of grape is normally grown in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, but is also sometimes grown in Spain. It is notable for its strikingly high acidity. One reason this grape isn’t as well known as others is because it is much more likely to develop a certain kind of fungus, making it more difficult to grow. There are three varieties of Picpoul: Picpoul Noir, Picpoul Gris, and the most well-known variety, Picpoul Blanc. Unfortunately, Picpoul Blanc is headed towards extinction. 6. Valdiguié Valdiguié hails from the south of France, primarily from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. In the 1980s, this variety of grape experienced a massive boom in Napa Valley, but poor cultivation and problems with disease quickly rendered the Valdiguié grapes tasteless in the New World. However, recently some intrepid wine makers in the United States have been trying to save Valdiguié’s tarnished reputation. When properly cultivated and prepared, Valdiguié is a unique wine, one with distinct fruity notes and a sweet-and-sour flavor profile, with a notably low alcohol content. 7. Romorantin A close relative of Chardonnay, Romorantin grapes are extremely exclusive. This wine is made from grapes grown in an area of less than 50 hectares in the Loire region of France. While tracking down this rare wine might be difficult, those who manage to do so are rewarded with a unique bouquet of lemon and fresh herbs that is great for pairing with otherwise tricky green vegetables, such as asparagus. Spain 8. Mencia Mencia grapes hail from approximately 22,000 acres in the northwestern part of Spain. The grape produces mild red wines with heady fragrances that are designed to be consumed young, before the wine has been allowed to age for very long. The wines are often compared to Cabernet Franc, though DNA testing has proved that the two grape varietals are not related. This variety of grape, while still quite rare, has been gaining popularity steadily since the early 1990s. One reasons that this grape still remains less popular is due to the finicky nature of the vine, which produces notably low yields. Recent advances in the cultivation of Mencia grapes has resulted in more full-bodied wines from the region. 9. Gorgollasa The grape was on the brink of extinction until the 1990s, when a few farmers were able to revive it from the only four remaining vines left. There are now roughly 2,000 Gorgollasa vines producing fruit. This grape is frequently used in a blend, but can also create a wine on its own. The wine is rather dry and matures better when made in larger batches. It wasn’t until 2011 that it became authorized. North America 10. White Zinfandel You most likely have heard of Zinfandel, and have probably tasted it before as well. If you are a resident of the United States, you have likely even had white Zin, as it is quite popular in the States. However, in the rest of the world, Zinfandel most often comes as a red. Though less popular in other countries, white Zinfandel is not necessarily lesser than its red counterpart. White Zinfandel is a very old wine that tends to go in and out of fashion. Despite the name, it is actually a blush wine, one with a translucent pink tint and a sweet flavor. It is distinguished from red Zinfandel not by the type of grapes used, but rather by the pressing process used to prepare the wine. White Zinfandel has been known to have a bad reputation in the past due to poor winemaking practices, which is a reason why this variety tends to go in and out of fashion, and also why this wine hasn’t achieved a huge amount of popularity all over the world. 11. Petit Manseng This is one American wine that doesn’t actually hail from the West Coast, uniquely enough. Petit Manseng has found its home around Richmond, Virginia, where the rich soil is perfect for growing this late-harvesting grape. Technically, this is originally a Spanish and French grape, but the fact that it has found a home in Virginia is something unique to be noted. Petit Manseng is a highly acidic and complex wine, with notes of citrus and flowers, finishing with a unique spicy aftertaste. South America 12. Torrontés The Torrontés grape can only be found on about 21,000 acres in Argentina. This white grape creates a smooth wine with a high acidity, and has a notable apricot aroma. The Torrontés wine can also be floral and is often spicy, frequently drawing comparisons to Gewürtztraminer. It is meant to be imbibed within two years of the vintage date, as it doesn’t fare as well when aged. Today, the Torrontés grape is one of the most commonly grown white grapes in all of Argentina. 13. Bonarda Bonarda grapes, also known as Charbono grapes, are technically a French variety, except today they are much more widely grown in Argentina. This grape is also frequently grown in Napa Valley. This is not a very well known grape, and is often mistaken for the more common Dolcetto grape, though DNA testing has proven that these grapes are not related. In terms of most widely planted varietals in Argentina, the Bonarda grape is second only to Malbec. This grape produces a wine that has a high acidity and notes of fruit and spice. 14. Carmenère Cermenère grapes were originally grown in France. Today, this varietal is rarely found there and instead found mostly in Chile. A very small quantity of these grapes are grown in California and Washington. Unfortunately, this grape varietal is highly susceptible to phylloxera, which is one reason this grape has not reached a high level of popularity worldwide. This grape, when grown in optimal conditions, produces a wine that is comparable to Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Choosing a Wine If you’re not sure which wine to try, an easy place to start is by assessing what might be a good food pairing. While most types of meals have a popular variety of wine that is most commonly paired with them, they can also be paired with one of the less well-known wines for surprising effect. Consult either a sommelier or any decent wine and food pairing guide to find some of the lesser-known wine varieties that pair well with your favorite meal. You can also choose a new wine by branching out from what you know. For example, wines produced in regions near where your favorite wine is grown and made often have a similar flavor but still retain their distinct regional character. You can also see what wines are made in your area and begin your search for something new by buying from local wineries or ones that you happen to visit while traveling. The next time you are shopping for wine in your local liquor store or visiting your favorite well-stocked bar, take a break from the ordinary and try a lesser-known wine. You may be surprised by what you find.