Unique Wine Finds & Uncommon Grape Varietals

Trying to find a new and exciting wine can be fun and adventurous. Once you’ve decided to go beyond your normal selection and comfort zone, there are hundreds of great wines to choose from, along with new and different grape varietals to discover. These wines can offer quality for a serious wine collector as well as for shoppers looking for value with over-the-top gratification. With the warm weather upon us, a white wine would be a great place to start. In this category, there are two grape varietals that set the bar for outstanding new finds: malvasia and viognier. The malvasia grape has a long history with origins that can be traced back to its beginnings in ancient Greece. It’s most often grown in cooler climates, most notably in the island of Madeira, northern Italy in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region and just across the northeastern border of Italy in Slovenia. It’s also found in Croatia, Australia and Brazil. Most wines from these regions are made and aged in stainless steel to preserve their crisp acidity, bright fruit flavors and gentle aromatics.

The Bastianich winery, which produces a stunning malvasia, is located near Udine (pronounced “oo-din-aye”) in the Friuli region of Italy, close to the Slovenian border and with climatic influences from the nearby Adriatic Sea. The Adriatico malvasia from Bastianich is one of the most unexpected great finds of my wine discoveries in recent months. The wine embodies balance, precision and a seamless integration of beautiful floral and fruit nuances. This elegant malvasia offers aromas of white flowers that include jasmine, daffodils, hawthorn and white rose petals, combining with passion fruit, pear and a sweet ginger note. On the palate, an orchestra of tropical fruit flavors interplays with a unique earthy pear and tea leaf further enhanced by floral notes. Wines are characteristically impacted by the soil and climate that surround them, and the Friuli region is no exception. The calcareous marl soil from this area imparts a mineral element to the wine, and as a porous soil, provides good drainage. Additionally, there is a passive presence of a seashell-like component to this malvasia, along with traces of the sea breeze that gently drifts in from the Adriatic. If you are a fan of pinot grigio, this wine would be a great next step in developing your palate and trying something new.

The beauty of this wine is further enhanced when paired with a seafood-rich cuisine such as a scallop ceviche, calamari, clams or any light- to medium-weighted fish. Perfect menu pairings include risotto with shrimp, basil, fennel and pear jus. Another option would be grilled mahi-mahi over pear-infused citrus couscous with a pear mango beurre blanc reduction sauce. To add to the list of great wine finds, viognier is one of the best-kept secrets, although it is a complex grape varietal that can vary widely in styles. Viogniers are known for their soft floral and delightful honeysuckle aromas. Some are flat and sugary sweet with a heavy syrup on the palate, so caution is the key when choosing a viognier. The best viognier is a multidimensional one that offers balance, complexity and layers of flavors, such as the Charles Smith K Vintners viognier from Columbia Valley, Washington. It’s a 100-percent viognier fermented in neutral French oak barrels, boasting aromas of peach, orange zest, acacia flowers and spice that fill the glass — a wine that is distinctive in character with flavors of Asian pear, mandarin orange, spice and the essence of wisteria blossoms. With only 1,400 cases produced, the wine sells out every year but can be found at local fine wine shops in the San Antonio area (on the shelf at Twin Liquors Marketplace on Highway 281 near Bitters Road).

For pairings, try grilled shrimp and scallops with a simple chive butter sauce. Or get a bottle of the K Vintners viognier and a take-out order of Orange Peel Shrimp from P.F. Chang’s, an unbelievable explosion of flavor and a beautiful wine and food marriage. If you are a chardonnay drinker and looking for something a little lighter for the hot summer days, this would be a keen option. At last, red wine drinkers need not feel left out, as there are hundreds of intriguing red grapes planted throughout the world. Nero d’avola is a hearty and rustic grape that is best known from the island of Sicily, just off the west coast of Italy. The Poggio Anima nero d’avola is a hearty wine without a hearty price tag, an unpretentiously solid wine with intense and rugged black fruit and a bit of dirt and earth. Poggio Anima can be translated as “hill of soul.” This wine is produced with the concept of Poggio Anima in mind, capturing the soul of each individual vineyard and grape. No manipulation, no water or sugar, just the pure expression of the fruit and the site. Sourced from 32-year-old vines, with three months in French and American oak barrels, 1,800 cases were produced.

Most nero d’avolas are heavier than merlot, but lighter than a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. The pairings for this wine can be as simple as baked rigatoni and meatballs with red sauce. Also try a grilled coffee-and-black-pepper-crusted pork tenderloin with a rosemary demi-glaze, potato scallion cake and tarragon-glazed carrots. For a full-bodied red wine, seek out the Mas de Daumas gassac rouge from France. The fruit is considered the grand cru from the south of France, and although it is a blend of obscure red grapes, the main fruit of this wine is the very common and well-known cabernet sauvignon. It’s a full-bodied, intensely structured red wine, aged in oak up to 16 months, which adds to the cellar life of this wine. Drink now for all the concentrated fruit and full-blown tannins, or cellar for 15 to 25 years.

This wine is produced in a traditional cabernet sauvignon style with flavor profiles that include dark cherry, ample plum and black coffee bean — rich and juicy with spice and tobacco notes accenting the dark berry fruit flavors. For this food pairing, think beef. Try smoked beef tenderloin with garlic potato mashers, steak au poivre or a hearty burger topped with melted Roquefort cheese.

These are just a few suggestions to help get you get started on a journey to find your newest favorite wines. Remember that wines always drink better when shared with friends and family. With plans to visit wineries throughout Italy and France later this year, I am eager to bring home a collection of new wines and food favorites to share. Cheers to the boldness and fearlessness in finding your new wine discoveries!

By Denise Easdon

Denise Easdon is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine.

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