Top 5 lesser-known grape varieties to try now

We’re all guilty of falling into a wine rut from time to time. Whether you’re at our local wine shop or dining out, it’s sometimes easier to opt for what’s known, a Pinot Grigio or Merlot, than explore potentially more exciting options. Admittedly, the plethora of grape varieties and wine styles can be overwhelming. However, with a little guidance, exploring some of the 1,300 vinous grape varieties out there can result in a new favorite wine at a right price point.

Here are a few grape varieties to try now:

  • 1. Chenin Blanc

    Chenin Blanc

    Wine Atelier

    Origin: France’s Loire Valley but now planted in many New Word wine regions

    Aliases: “Steen” in South Africa

    Tastes like: Chenin Blanc is a very versatile grape producing wines ranging from sparkling to sweet. When done in a dry style, the wines are fruity and fresh with aromas and flavors of white peach, orange blossom and honey with a racy acidity.

    Perfect for enjoying: over lunch with friends on a sunny spring day

    Try this wine if you’re a fan of: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, un-oaked Chardonnay

    Pairs best with: oysters, grilled fish, goat cheese and peach salad, spicy Thai or Asian cuisine

    Wine to try: Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc, Swartland, South Africa, 2012 

  • 2. Gamay


    Wine Atelier

    Origin: The Beaujolais district of France’s Burgundy wine region

    Aliases: Do not confuse Gamay with “Napa Gamay” or “Gamay Beaujolais” which are not true Gamay at all. 

    Tastes like: Wines made from Gamay are generally lighter, fruit-driven wines with minimal tannins; however, a wine from one of the ten best villages in the region (also called cru) are deeper and fuller-bodied with aromas and flavors of black fruits, violets and earth. These wines are definitely worth seeking out.

    Perfect for enjoying: at a picnic in the park or any weeknight

    Try this wine if you’re a fan of: Pinot Noir, Merlot

    Pairs best with: Roasted chicken, mushroom risotto, Margherita pizza with basil

    Wine to try:Louis Jadot Chateau des Jacques Moulin-a-Vent, Beaujolais, France, 2011 ($24)

  • 3. Mourvèdre


    Wine Atelier

    Origin: Spain

    Aliases: “Mataro” in Australia; “Monastrell” in Spain

    Tastes like: The Mourvèdre grape produces big, bold spicy red wines with aromas and flavors of red and black fruit as well as significant levels of acid and tannin.

    Perfect for enjoying: at a poolside cookout

    Try this wine if you’re a fan of: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah

    Pairs best with: hamburgers, BBQ, steaks on the grill

    Wine to try: Cline Ancient Vines Mourvèdre, Contra Costa County, CA, 2012 (>6)

  • 4. Tempranillo


    Wine Atelier

    Origin: Spain

    Aliases: Tinta Roriz, Tinto de Toro, Tinto del País, Tinto Fino and Cencibel

    Tastes like: Tempranillo produces wines with primary aromas and flavors wood, earth and leather. Notes of red fruits including cherry and strawberry are secondary as well as sweet vanillin overtones in those wines aged in American oak which Tempranillo has a special affinity for.

    Perfect for enjoying: at a paella party

    Try this wine if you’re a fan of: Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Pinot Noir

    Pairs best with: tapas, roasted meats & aged cheeses

    Wine to try: Cune Rioja Crianza, Rioja, Spain 2010 (>4)

  • 5. Barbera


    Wine Atelier

    Origin: The Piedmont region of Italy

    Tastes like: TheBarbera grape produces medium-bodied red wines with deep color, ample tannins and high acidity. Aromas and flavors of tart red berries are often accompanied by spicy, herbal notes.

    Perfect for enjoying: at a springtime rooftop pizza party

    Try this wine if you’re a fan of: Pinot Noir, Merlot

    Pairs best with: antipasti, Prosciutto di Parma, pepperoni pizza

    Wine to try:Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti “Le Orme”, Piemonte, Italy, 2011 (>6)

  • Stephanie Miskew is a certified sommelier, wine educator and proprietor of The Wine Atelier, an online wine boutique.  She also runs the The Glamorous Gourmet, a website dedicated to wine and entertaining.