As we all get accustomed to altering our lives in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, let’s endeavor to seek out moments of balance. While we are advised against social gatherings, we don’t have to abandon our love of wine. In a responsible fashion, we can still explore and discover new flavors and varietals. In fact, why not use this time as a wine “reset?” With many local retailers offering curbside service, access to the wine world is as unrestricted as ever—so why not broaden your palate and support your local economy at the same time?
School may be out, but wine school—albeit the homeschool version—is just beginning!
Let’s learn about wonderful alternatives to common varietals:
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 lighter 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. Most examples hover around $10 a bottle and are widely available.
Chardonnay, you say? Whatever your preference of this gold standard of whites, you like a medium-bodied white that can be restrained and mineral like a French Chablis, or oaky and round as is common of the Napa version. Explore a Rhone Valley white blend whose combination of Roussane, Marsanne, and Grenache blanc can be just as full-bodied, while attractively more aromatic. To play on your buttery, New World predilection, seek out a California viognier which can be as rich and oaky as your stalwart, but with a little more spice.
If Riesling is your thing--meaning you prefer fragrant, more acidic, fuller-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 Abbazia di Novacella version of this gem. It might just be the right prescription for the coronavirus!
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 from the Morgon appellation will convince any 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. You will discover similar attributes with the Barbera varietal, just one of Italy’s enormous array of medium-bodied, plush textured, ripe fruit-flavored options. Barbera d’Alba is the widely-available, standard-bearer for this wine, and is easily pairable 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 a Petite Sirah from Sonoma if you hanker for black fruit, chocolate, and peppery flavors more akin to a Napa Cab. Looking for an equally intense red-fruit and robust wine? Explore wine from Priorat in Spain’s Catalonia region. These rich and oaky Grenache-dominant blends will compliment grilled meats and mature cheeses.
While we must be cautious and vigilant during these secluded days, we can still explore the world in creative ways. We can discover new flavors intimately, so when life returns to a new normal we can celebrate in glorious communal fashion. Let me know what you are discovering at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow me @thevinicola.com.
Erlinda is a certified wine/spirits educator, columnist, and sommelier who teaches about wine in an engaging and approachable manner. Her wine column #WINEDERLUST appeals to wine enthusiasts and novices alike, while her sold-out #WINESCHOOL classes, held in pop-up locations around our community, are high-energy, engaging and educational. As ABC Columbia's resident Sommelier, Erlinda also teaches #WINESCHOOL on morning TV.
Erlinda earned her Certified Specialist in Wine credential from the Society of Wine Educators and received the Level 3 Award with Merit from the globally-recognized Wine Studies Education Trust. Erlinda also holds the Level 1 certification from the renowned International Court of Master Sommeliers and was awarded the Certified Sherry Wine Specialist credential from the prestigious Regulatory Council of Jerez, Spain. She is an experienced presenter, instructor, writer and taster.
Erlinda Alexandra Doherty, CSW, WSET 3, CMS 1, CSWS
Wine Educator + Sommelier + Columnist
V I N Í C O L A
Wine Consulting + Sommelier Services + #WINESCHOOL