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Wine Doldrums? It's Time to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone
By Miranda Franco
Aug 10, 2021
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Are you in a stale relationship with your go-to wine?  Let’s face it – sometimes relationships go stale.  When that happens, it helps to inject something new and fresh into the routine, especially in a year that limited our possibilities and cramped us within our comfort zones.   Shaking up our usual wine drinking could go a long way toward getting us back to the adventure of life again.  

So, while there is nothing wrong with having favorites, if you’d like to explore wine’s diversity, here are some ideas to veer ever so slightly into new territory and prevent tongue tedium.  You can always go back to the same old, after trying some fresh alternatives, but odds are good that your wine horizons will be broadened.

If you sip Pinot Grigio, try Cortese:

Cortese ("kohr-TAY-zee") is a white grape variety made famous by the Gavi region in the southern part of Piedmont, in northwestern Italy.  Once the darling of the Italian white wine world, Cortese got too popular in the 1980s, resulting in the predictable rise of crop yields and lowering of quality.   However, Cortese is now seeing a resurgence.  It is zesty and faintly floral, similar to Pinot Grigio.   However, I like to think of Cortese as Pinot Grigio with a bit more polish and finesse.  It is noted for its bone-dry character, fresh acidity, and intense graphite-like minerality.  It can range from light and refreshing to rich and layered, making it a grape with lots of potential.

If you sip Chardonnay, try Godello:

For those new to northwestern Spain's Godello grape, it lives somewhere between Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Riesling in character.  Godello-based wines are palate-coating, balanced, and loaded with flavor.   Chardonnay drinkers will most likely enjoy Godello as it can taste slightly creamy but then offer a sharp mineral quality that you don't often find in Chardonnay.  

If you sip Sauvignon Blanc, try Assyrtiko:

Assyrtiko is renowned for its bright flavors.  It grows most famously in the volcanic soils on the Greek island of Santorini.  It has the distinct minerality you’d expect from a volcanic island with a briny edge.   Assyrtiko is seriously thirst-quenching, with pronounced acidity like Sauvignon Blanc, though Sauvignon is a bit more aromatic while Assyrtiko tends to be more mineral-driven. 

If you sip Riesling, try Timorasso:

Hailing from Piedmont, Timorasso is growing as one of Italy's most intriguing indigenous white varieties.   It offers a beautiful combination of energetic acidity and depth.  Timorasso is a grape variety that often improves with age and holds the aromatics of a Riesling but with mouth-filling character.   Like Riesling, it takes on the gunflint and petrol notes with age though it is much weightier. 

If you sip Champagne, try English Sparkling Wine:

While Champagne is famous the world over, English sparkling wine remains unknown or enigmatic to many.  Yet, in the south of England, cutting-edge vintners are making sparkling wine that rivals those from the great houses of France.  Like Champagne, the south of England has a cool climate, with similar chalky soils.  However, rising global temperatures are arguably giving Britain an advantage.  English Sparkling Wine is made in a very similar style (traditional method) as Champagne and is recognized for its bright acidity.   It’s no coincidence some of the most prestigious Champagne houses are now buying or planting English vineyards and selling luxury English Champagne under their Champagne house label.

If you sip Pinot Noir, try Nerello Mascalese:

The high-elevation vineyards near Mt. Etna in Sicily are home to this elegant grape.  For those new to Nerello Mascalese (“nair-rello mask-ah-lay-zay”), it is a light-bodied Italian red wine that offers fantastic value and a taste profile that is often likened to Pinot Noir.  Nerello Mascalese wines are subtle, refined, and aromatic, with tart fruit flavors and soft tannins.

If you sip Syrah, try Mavrodaphne:

Greece’s Peloponnese region and the island of Cephalonia produce Mavrodaphne, which is often used to make dessert wines.   The name itself is Greek for “black laurel.”  The grapes are inky dark, highly aromatic, and powerful.  The dry versions are dense, with juicy black fruit and Syrah’s peppery, meaty qualities. 

If you sip Malbec, try Tannat:

If you want a bold red that doesn’t hold back on sheer power, look no further than Tannat.  Similar to Malbec, Tannat originated in southwestern France but is now primarily grown in South America (Uruguay and Bolivia in particular.)  Like Malbec, Tannat is structured and robust with smoky, dark fruit notes.  The best examples of Tannat wines integrate the variety’s ample tannins with natural acidity and bright fruit.

If you sip Cabernet Sauvignon, try Touriga Nacional or Aglianico:

Touriga Nacional (“tor-ee-gah nah-see-un-nall”) is a full-bodied red wine from Portugal with aging potential like Cabernet Sauvignon.  Touriga Nacional provides depth, structure, and firm tannins that you might expect from a Cabernet Sauvignon with black fruit notes.  Notably, Bordeaux winemakers recently saw fit to include Touriga Nacional among seven "new" grape varieties allowed into blends for Bordeaux. 

For the next Cabernet Sauvignon alternative, try Aglianico (“olly-on-ico"), which is Southern Italy’s most prized red grape variety.  It is grown primarily in the Campania and Basilicata regions and is often overlooked.   It is known for its unique and complex flavor profile of dark fruits, smoked meat, leather, and dried fruit.  Think Northern Rhône Syrah meets Napa Cabernet.   

More wine columns:   Miranda Franco   
Connect with Miranda on Twitter:   @Miranda__Franco