Getting many wine drinkers to leave their comfort zone can be just as challenging as getting kids up for their first day back at school. We know what wines we like and don’t want to risk the money--or calories--on the unknown. Completely understandable when good bottles of wine are creeping upwards of $25 a bottle!
As a wine educator, however, my mission--and passion-- is to encourage you broaden your palate. Your first assignment will be to “research” some lesser-known varietals. But fear not--your homework will be to try grapes that are similar to your current taste profile.
Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc fans love the light-bodied, zesty, and refreshing qualities those wines display. Versions from Northern Italy and Australia respectively, pair easily with summer fare. To expand your palate try a Verdejo. Grown almost exclusively in Spain’s Rueda region, it’s a subtle yet delicious wine with flavors of lime, grapefruit, and grass. Easily affordable at $9.99 from Vino Garage, Las Dos Marias, pairs well with your fish tacos.
Chardonnay, you say? Whatever your preference of this gold standard of whites, you like a full-bodied white that shows off the winemaker’s talent. In that vein, explore the world of Rhone Valley white varietals which can be just as full-bodied while attractively more aromatic. For a counterpart to your unoaked Chardonnay, try Oregon’s White Sky blend (Vino Garage, $12.99). To play on your buttery, New World predilection, seek out a California viognier such as Miner’s 2014 (Morganelli’s, $19.99). It’s as rich and oaky as your stalwart, but with a little more spice.
If Riesling is your thing--meaning you prefer fragrant, more acidic, full-bodied wines--discover the Kerner grape. Named after a German doctor who prescribed wines as natural medicine, this superstar varietal from the Trentino-Alto Adige in Northern Italy will cure all your ills. Spicy, full-bodied with a well-balanced acidity try the 2015 Abbazia di Novacella version of this gem (Bottles, $17.99).
Convincing a devout Pinot Noir enthusiast that there are other varietals as elegant, complex, and food-friendly as this Burgundian grape may be the most challenging assignment yet! However, a cru Beaujolais made from the Gamay grape such as 2016 Julien Sunier Morgon (Morganelli’s, $24.99), will convince this zealot. With delicate floral aromas, subtle earth notes, and equally refreshing acidity, Pinot Noir’s light-bodied cousin pairs well with most foods for a much better price!
Merlot is the way to go for those who prefer a fruit forward, less-tannic, smoother finish wine. A better companion with meals than some bolder reds, Merlot is an approachable, crowd-pleaser. Discover similar qualities with the Barbera varietal, just one of Italy’s enormous array of medium-bodied, plush textured, ripe fruit-flavored options. Try Vietti’s 2015 Barbera d’Alba (Morganelli’s, $17.99) and pair it with your rich salads and pastas.
The bastion for drinkers preferring bold wines with a lingering finish, Cabernet Sauvignon is so popular it’s now the world’s most planted grape variety. But despite being widespread, it’s become surprisingly difficult—and more expensive—to find a decent bottle. Fortunately, several lesser-known, more affordable varietals offer the same rich, full-bodied characteristics. Try Seven Sinners 2012 Lodi Petite Sirah (Morganelli’s $12.99) if you hanker for black fruit, chocolate, and peppery flavors more akin to a Napa Cab. Looking for a more savory and meaty Cab counterpart? Try 2013 Terredora di Paolo (Bottles, $16.99) made from the Aglianico grape in Southern Italy. Both wines will stand up to your grilled meats and mature cheeses.
I will be grading your work on a curve, so no pressure here. But be the teacher’s pet and let know what you think of these wines at firstname.lastname@example.org. Salúd!