By Courtney Walsh, West Coast Editor
With over ten thousand wine grapes in the world, it is quite a shame that many restaurants include only a handful of varieties on their wine lists. With the modern diner taking more and more risks in their dining choices, perhaps it is finally time for restaurant operators to allow customers to step outside their comfort zone by featuring some unfamiliar options.
Here is our list of some of the most underappreciated wines that would make stellar additions to any wine list.
Why people don’t drink more Chenin is one of life’s greatest mysteries. Oregon’s Division winemaker Kate Monroe sums up the magic of Chenin Blanc best: “It’s as if Chardonnay and Riesling had this beautiful little baby and called it Chenin.” For fans of either variety, Chenin Blanc offers much to please. A round, creamy mid-palate weight, Chenin Blanc can be vinified in a variety of levels of dryness making it an incredibly versatile offering.
For pristine examples of Chenin Blanc, seek out wines from the Savennieres and Anjou regions in France; from South Africa, where it known locally as Steen; and domestically in both California’s Central Coast from local producers such as Storm and Lieu Dit, as well as Oregon-based Division Villages Winery that sources from both Southern Oregon and Washington.
Too often confused with the similar sounding Muscat variety, Muscadet is unfortunately avoided by many consumers for fear the wine will emulate Muscat’s signature sweetness. Yet this misconception couldn’t be further from the truth. Muscadet, made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape in France’s Loire Valley, is a wine high in acid with a crisp, somewhat salty profile.
Lean and mineral driven, Muscadet’s signature briny quality has secured its status as the perfect oyster pairing, but the crisp, mouthwatering wine would in fact make a perfect accompaniment to a host of dishes. For consumers who gravitate towards refreshing whites such as Albarino and Chablis, Muscadet is a worthy, and often less expensive, substitute.
Typically incorporated as a blending component, Mourvedre is generally overlooked as a single varietal wine. Winemaker Christian Tietje of Cypher Winery in Paso Robles refers to Mourvedre as “the emo kid in the corner” for the variety’s dark, slightly funky and at times off-putting nature. And while the wine can sometimes be a bit rough around the edges, when done right, Mourvedre offers an intriguingly savory, rustic style of wine with aromas of fresh herbs and an animal element that can please even the most devout Cabernet drinkers.
To enjoy classic examples of Mourvedre, seek out wines produced in the Bandol region in Provence; Spain’s Jumilla region, where it is known locally as Monastrell; or domestic offerings from California’s Central Coast, such as those coming out of Ballard Canyon’s Larner Vineyard.
Sometimes referred to as the “Barolo of Greece,” Xinomavro is one of Greece’s most noble varieties, producing wines of elegance and distinction. Known for their superb aging potential due to the variety’s rich tannic structure and high levels of acidity, wines made from Xinomavro tend to display complex aromas of strawberry, sour cherry and tobacco, with a signature tomato note.
With a long history of growing in Macedonia’s Naoussa region, Xinomavro is still relatively obscure in the United States, boding well for consumers looking for more budget-friendly alternatives to Nebbiolo. And with Xinomavro’s flexibility, allowing the variety to be vinified in a range of styles ranging from dry to sweet, alongside still, sparkling, rose and even Blanc de Noir versions, the variety’s versatile nature would benefit any wine list.