Hey, sometimes it’s nice having a routine. You know, get home on a Wednesday night, put on some PJ’s and pop the same old merlot while you cook dinner. It’s comfy, cozy, familiar, and for sure it’s going to taste great.
But you only live once, and there are so many delicious grapes out there that you could be missing out on (#grapefomo - it's real).
I’m here to issue a challenge: Try A New Grape
Find your usual go-to grape below (they’re listed in order from light to more powerful flavour-wise), and check out the alternate I’ve suggested for you.
Next time you find yourself in the shop or at the wine bar, I double dare you to try something new!
If you usually drink: Pinot Grigio Try: Pinot Gris
Yes, these are absolutely the same grape. I’m not trying to trick you! There is a stylistic difference between the more acidic, crisp and neutral Italian Pinot Grigio, and the softer, fuller bodied but still racy Pinot Gris. You’re going to find the Pinot Gris has riper flavours of lemon and peach, and will often carry a whiff of honey. PG is such a food wine, it’s going to go great with everything from cheeses to spicy take-out. The regions to look out for are Oregon (I LOVE Willamette Valley) and Alsace in France.
If you usually drink: Sauvignon Blanc Try: Gruner Veltliner
When you think of Sauvignon Blanc, do you picture New Zealand? I know I do. The classic NZ Sauv is distinctly grassy and herbal, sometimes with green pepper, elderflower and gooseberry flavours, and is deliciously juicy. OK, so now I totally feel like a glass of the stuff. But I want you to try something new, a funny little grape called Gruner (pronounced “groon-er”). Gruner’s had a hot moment among sommeliers, so you should be able to find one by the glass no problemo. Expect a fuller bodied white, with citrus flavour and a little white pepper spice. The country to look out for is Austria, and make sure you ask for a dry Gruner as some have residual sugar (aka are off-dry).
If you usually drink: Chardonnay Try: Semillon
Where my ABC’ers at (Anything But Chardonnay)? Keep moving, peeps. For those who love the Chard, you know it can make everything from refreshing un-oaked lemony goodness, all the way to buttery vanilla bombs. I personally don’t mind a distinct oak flavour, although wine snobs will rue my lack of sophistication! I want you to try Semillon, which produces ripe, fuller bodied wines with honeyed citrus flavours. The home base of Semillion is Bordeaux, France, where it’s often blended with Sauv Blanc (and makes the cult sweet wine Sauternes). Look to Australia (Hunter and Barossa Valleys, and Margaret River) for lusher, quaffable dry examples.
If you usually drink: Riesling Try: Chenin Blanc
If you’re a true Riesling evangelist, nothing I say is going to make you jump ship to another varietal. Heck, it’s my favourite white grape. I love that it can produce incredibly refreshing, zesty wines with a distinctive white flower andpeach/nectarine aroma, but with it’s high acidity is also capable of making some of the best sweet wines in the world. Think mouthwatering honey, orange peel, and a distinct petrol smell when it ages. I’m putting forward Chenin as an alternate. Look to France’s Loire Valley for Chenin, from Savennieres for a dry style or from Vouvray for sweet. Chenin has bracing acidity, and can have a pleasing minerality. Let me know if you like it!
If you usually drink: Gewurtztraminer Try: Viognier
Gewurtz (‘guh-werts-tra-meen-er’) is one of those grapes that I pray is on a blind tasting exam. It’s got a lovely rosewater and lychee perfume that is unmistakable. However, it can be an acquired taste, as its strong aroma and full body can be overpowering for some. If you love the Gew, I want you to try Viognier, also a full bodied wine with pleasing bouquet. Viognier also has this incredible waxy texture that I adore, and flavours of nuts, stone fruits, and honeysuckle. Both Gewurtz and Viognier tend to have lower acidity (that mouth puckering effect), and can have higher alcohol than other whites. Viognier’s classical home base is Condrieu in France’s Northern Rhone Valley, but that area can be a bit spendy. Look to British Columbia, California, Australia, and Argentina for thriftier options.
If you usually drink: Pinot Noir Try: Tempranillo
Pinot, the darling of the movie “Sideways”, totally has my heart. If there was a perfume I could buy that accurately captured its enticing strawberry, cherry, forest floor and leather scent, I would bathe in it. Pinot can range from the elegant and “restrained” reds of Burgundy, to the riper and more accessible wines of New Zealand (Central Otago) and Oregon. Not that it will replace your beloved Pinot, but Tempranillo (“tem-pran-ee-yo”) can also claim an intoxicating perfume of cherries and tobacco. Look for luscious examples from Ribera del Douro or Rioja in Spain (watch out for these aging terms on the label: Crianza are youthful and riper, the Reserva/Gran Reserva have less overtly fruity flavours).
If you usually drink: Merlot Try: Carmenere
Ahh, plummy, ripe and plush Merlot, why do people neglect you so? Nothing goes so well with a pleasant evening as a nice glass of easygoing Merlot. That being said, why not give Carmenere a try? Both of these grapes call Bordeaux home, they’re like kissing cousins, really. Chile is where you’ll find the Carm, some of it from very old vines, where it produces a deeply coloured wine with smooth, plump red and black fruit flavours.
If you usually drink: Syrah/Shiraz Try: Mourvedre/Monastrell
Syrah and Shiraz are two sides of the same coin, the same grape done in different styles. Syrah can be lighter in colour, more restrained, with more chewy tannins, and finds its home in the Rhone Valley. Shiraz, the fruitier, riper, chattier of the two is famously produced in Australia and California. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone dislike a Shiraz, they’re just so unrepentantly jammy and tasty. I want you to give Mourvedre/Monastrell a try. Again, these are different names for the same grape. Mourvedre calls Southern Rhone home, and Monastrell lives in Spain. They’re stylistically closer to Shiraz, with peppery, meaty, mocha, and blackberry notes. Look for approachable examples from Eastern Washington State, Valencia, Yecla and Jumilla in Spain, and the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France.
If you usually drink: Cabernet Sauvignon Try: Pinotage
When I picture Cab Sauv drinkers, they’re in a cozy, masculine den, a roaring fire, smoking cigars after dinner. This powerhouse, known as the “King of Grapes, makes some incredible wines, with good acidity, full body and noticeable tannins. It has black fruit flavours, and sometimes you can catch a whiff of mint or eucalyptus on the nose. Cab’s often blended with Merlot to soften it up, and if you’re in Napa Valley and hear someone say “it’s a Bordeaux blend” that’s exactly what’s going on. Cab lover, I want you to give Pinotage (“pee-no-taj”) a try. Although Pinot Noir is Pinotage’s parent, they are very different, which you’ll learn as soon as you encounter it’s bold tannins. This grape finds its epicentre in South Africa, and makes dark, spicy, black fruit, and mocha wines that can have a neat licorice finish.
If you usually drink: Zinfandel Try: Nero D’Avola
Zin, you’re another one of those grapes where I’ve never had a bad glass. Perhaps it’s because you thrive in hot sunny climates, where getting ripe is not a problem. Zin has smooth velvety tannins, bold black fruit flavours, and mocha and tobacco notes. It’s home is Lodi, California, and is also found under the name Primitivo in Puglia (heel of the boot), Italy. I want to steer you towards Sicily, where you’ll find Nero D’Avola (“the black grape from Avola“). This is another full-bodied, heat loving grape that’s going to give you soft plummy spice flavours of with a little more acidity than your Zin.