Benjamin Mitrofan-Norris on June 24, 2016 0 Comments There’s little doubt about the fact that the world of wine can be a slightly stuffy, conservative place at times, and we as wine drinkers do have a tendency to stick to what we know and like when selecting a bottle to enjoy at home or at a restaurant with friends. Why this is the case could be down to several different reasons — perhaps it is the millennia-old history behind our favorite bottles, or the fact that there is sometimes simply too much variety, too many flavors and aromas to deal with. Whatever the cause, most of us like to stay close to what we feel safe with, and we perhaps don’t branch out into the unknown as often as we should. The result of this is that certain grape varietals and wine styles have grown, and have seemed to have captured something of a monopoly on some corners of the wine market. Our local wine stores are now flooded with these ‘safe’ options, brought to us by big, familiar names and brands, printed on pretty labels, coaxing us from the shelves. There’s nothing wrong with knowing what you like, and returning to old favorites time and again, but wine is supposed to be exciting, a voyage of discovery with every bottle. There is a staggering range out there to try, and it would be a crying shame not to take a leap of faith, and test some lesser known varietals. To do this is to support smaller wineries, to discover a new world of flavor, and maybe you’ll even discover a new favorite to add to the list. Here is a brief (and by no means exhaustive) selection of some of the world’s ‘underrated’ grape varietals to look out for next time you’re choosing a bottle. Each one is adored in its own region, and is trying to break the international market. So, give them a try, and make your mind up for yourself. 1. Verdicchio The wonderful grapes of Verdicchio have been growing steadily — in low-yielding, delicious bunches — in the central Italian region of Marche, for well over a thousand years. They’ve long been prized for their golden colored fruit, which hangs in heavy, long, pointed bunches when fully ripe. Those grapes produce a splendid wine of quite extraordinary character. Verdicchio wines are punchy, acidic, with bright, citrus flavors and a yummy, almond roundness. It’s a versatile grape, too. Its stringency makes it a great base for some of Italy’s best and most interesting sparkling wines, and the country’s characterful straw wines, which are sticky, sweet and perfect as a digestif. 2. Pineau D’Aunis This grape varietal is set to take off over the next few years, thanks to an unexpected enthusiasm within millennial circles for the wines made from it. This particular grape varietal is actually set to be the next big thing, according to those who know. Over the past few years, it has garnered unexpected appreciation within millennial circles and amongst the wine-drinking hipsters, and this fringe fanaticism is bound to enter the mainstream before too long. Why? After tasting, it isn’t difficult to understand. Pineau D’Aunis is a wine brings together excellence in flavor and aroma, alongside a real sense of place, authenticity and originality. It comes from the world-beating Loire Valley region of France, but it has always been something of an underdog in comparison to its more famous and widely appreciated peers. Indeed, many claim it has been taken for granted and confined to the tables of French bistros for too long, and it’s always a joy to see it on the shelves of an international wine store, instead. Pineau D’Aunis is a beautifully elegant red wine, with plenty of rustic charm. It is packed full of soft, dark fruit flavors, and has a real meaty spiciness to it, too, making it an ideal easy drinker alongside barbecue food and light, savory snacks. Great fun, and one to drink heartily with friends. 3. Albarino Travel to Galicia in northern Spain, where the wind blows and the ocean batters the shore, and you’ll find it isn’t the typical fiery red wines of Spain that reign supreme, but the Celtic white wines of Albarino grapes. This historic grape varietal may not come from the sunniest region of the country, but it is, without doubt, the equivalent of bottled sunshine. Holding a powerfully botanical bouquet and plenty of interesting acidic notes, it is reminiscent of other great, interesting white wines, like Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. However, unlike these two, Albarino has a lightness and an elegance that lifts the flavors and aromas, and brings to mind blossoming Spanish orchards of soft, ripe fruit. The tartness and acidity are still there, however, but they act as complementary features in this thoroughly refreshing wine. Albarino is also cultivated very successfully in the Vinho Verde region of neighboring Portugal, a region which is finally being recognized as one of the finest in the Old World. The grape varietal is also getting a lot of attention from American and Australian vintners, too, so you can expect to see it popping up a lot more frequently in your local wine store, and on menus where it pairs wonderfully with a range of light, grilled fish> and vegetable dishes. 4. Agiorgitiko It could be effectively argued that Greece is one of the true spiritual homes of wine. The Mediterranean archipelago has a wine history that stretches back into antiquity, and for over two thousand years, the Greeks have been wine pioneers. The classical viticulturists were among the first to experiment with grape varietals and production techniques, which led to wine being the drink we know and love today. It is perhaps because of this proud history that modern Greeks are ferociously protective of their native grapes, and have been exceptionally resistant to the cultivation of popular French vines on their hallowed soils, and as such, varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, which is grown extensively in every wine producing country on earth, is hard to find in Greek vineyards. The classic grape varietal of Greek red wines is the noble Agiorgitiko, a fruit which takes its name from Saint George, and which produces full-bodied, strong red wines which are highly perfumed and bursting with flavor. Agiorgitiko is a versatile grape, though, and is used for wonderful rose wines, too. It is also a great grape for aging, and is aged extensively and blended with other varietals to make highly sophisticated, complex and mellow wines which are a world away from the cheap Greek fare that generally passes the borders and ends up at your local Greek restaurant.