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Venturing Beyond the Top Five
By Marguerite Thomas
Jan 12, 2016
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Dear fellow American wine drinkers:  Can we resolve to bust out of our all-too-familiar wine drinking habits and try some new varieties in 2016?  According to the Wine Market Council 39 million Americans drink wine several times a week.  And do you know what we’re drinking?  The most popular top five varieties, ranked in order of preference, are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, and Pinot Noir.  Now I certainly have nothing against a good Chardonnay or Cabernet myself, but come on people, let’s be a little more adventuresome here. 

The world offers up a vast universe of lesser-known varieties for us to sip and savor.  For starters, there’s Arneis, Verdelho, Assyrtiko, Mencía, Rkatsitelli and Plavec Mali, not to mention Gamay, Picpoul, Nero d’Avola, Furmint and Garnacha.  And I’m not even talking about truly esoteric grapes such as Aspiran (a light, perfumy offering native to Languedoc); Colorino (a Tuscan red-fleshed teinturier grape); Limnio (an ancient Greek variety); Porkupac (a Balkan grape often made into rosé); or Negramoll (a Canary Island native). 

Many of these, along with dozens of other grapes you and I have probably never heard of, are rare to the point of being on the brink of extinction.  While a few vintners across the globe are striving to preserve native grape varieties, grape diversity is on the decline worldwide as we consumers continue to gravitate sheepishly towards the same-old-same-old. 

So, as an attempt to buck this trend I’d like to begin 2016 by encouraging us all to occasionally stray off the familiar grape grid, and with that goal in mind I’m offering here a very brief (but diverse) list of under appreciated, sometimes unfamiliar wine varieties to serve as a starting point.  Some of these wines may challenge your palate, and some may be devilishly hard to procure, but getting out of our comfort zone and expanding our range of knowledge can only add to our overall enjoyment of wine, right?

Bonarda (a.k.a. Charbono, Corbeau, and Douce Noir):  An Italian variety and the second most commonly grown grape in Argentina (after Malbec), Bonarda wines are generally deep, dark red, with high tannins and gripping acidiy.

Falanghina:  A medium to full bodied white wine originating in Italy’s Calabria region, the best ones exhibit a yeastiness along with minerality and slight herbal qualities.

Godello (Spain) / Gouveio (Portugal):  This white grape, native to Galicia, is making a comeback.  Richly aromatic, the wine is creamy, fresh and fruity.

Négrette:  From France’s Southwestern Frontonnais region, this dry, powerful, supple red wine has recently developed a bit of a cult following. 

Noiret:  Developed at the State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York, and officially released in 2006, Noiret is a red hybrid (a hybrid is the result of two different species being combined, while a cross is when two grapes from the same species are combined).  The dry wine is a rich, red color, with fruity flavors plus hints of mint and fine tannins.

Romorantin:  Once a popular white wine grape in the Loire region Romorantin is now found only in the Cours Cheverny AOC.  Millennial geeks are said to be especially attracted to this tart and fresh white wine. 

Trousseau:  From the Jura region of France, the red wine is intensely flavored and fruity, with a wakeup smack of tannins.  Hipster sommeliers love Trousseau.