The practice of changing your preferred wine with the season, just as you change your wardrobe, still meets some resistance. Most of us tend to “like what we like” no matter what the weather or season. But drinking the same wine day in and day out puts us in a rut where we miss out. With warmer temperatures just around the corner, it’s time to look at trading in the heavy reds of winter for one of these unique, refreshing value priced bottles.
Some of the best surprises can be found in the unfamiliar grape varietals lining the retail shelves. Muscadet is one of those wines. Don’t confuse this wine with Italian Moscato or our indigenous muscadine of the South. Muscadet is a dry white wine from the Loire Valley of France made from Melon de Bourgogne grapes. Don’t expect a fruit bomb like many white wines — this wine is lean, green and you can usually pick up a salinelike quality to the taste. This saline quality comes from the muscadet vineyards’ proximity to the sea. Many muscadets are aged on the lees or the suspended dead yeast particles. This wine often appeals to beer drinkers as it can taste almost similar to a lager with a creamy texture and yeast flavor.
- 2017 Chateau de l’Oiseliniere Muscadet, France (about $14 retail)
Just as I have been a cheerleader for rosé in the past, my new mission is as a champion of Picpoul. Another unfamiliar grape to many wine drinkers, this wine will eventually become a staple to the table year-round. Don’t be deceived by the tall slim green bottle often associated with sweet German wine, this is a refreshing bone-dry white wine layered with grapefruit, floral, green apple, lemon and most importantly racing acidity. It’s this high acidity and citrus fruit notes that make this wine an all-around food pairing dream and chilled sipping sensation. This grape has an extensive past as an ancient Languedoc grape variety also known as piquepoul, literally meaning “lip stinger” signifying the high acidity of the wine. Picpoul is the grape variety but look for Picpoul de Pinet when buying. It is one of the named Crus of Coteaux de Languedoc made exclusively from this grape. Another reason this is one of my favorite white wines, the price of most bottles falls under $15 retail.
- 2017 HB Picpoul de Pinet, France (about $11 retail)
Another lesser known low-alcohol white wine is Vinho Verde from northern Portugal. This wine is produced to be consumed young and should not be aged. There is no need to memorize the grapes usually used (alvarinho, arinto, avesso, loureiro and trajudura) just focus on the refreshing taste and lively, zesty acidity. Traditionally producers bottled the wine early and young, giving it a slight detection of fermentation in the bottle. But in most modern versions, winemakers give the bottle a boost of carbon dioxide for the light bubbles. It’s this style of slight fizz, citrus fruit and easy drinking that has given Vinho verde the playful reputation in Europe as “soda pop for adults.”
- 2017 Broadbent Vinho Verde, Portugal (about $9 retail)
Recently, I was giving an exam to some of my first-year wine students. Just before the exam I overheard a group discussing wines they had been enjoying lately. It got my attention because these were obscure grapes rarely discussed.
I was curious as to how they even knew some of these grapes and were they really exploring them for their everyday bottles?
It turns out, these students are part of a growing trend among younger wine drinkers seeking exotic and lesser known grapes. Their buying habits are quite different from the generations before them who sought out the comfort and familiarity of the noble grapes. These young wine drinkers (aka Millennials and iGeneration/Generation Z) are seeking wines that their parents and grandparents likely avoided because they were unpronounceable or from unheard esoteric regions of origin.
Contributing to the emergence of more diverse grapes may be that millennials (ages 23-38) are drinking more wine than other age brackets and more than half have active social media accounts making getting the “word out” much faster and efficient.
In the past most of these “obscure” grapes only came to the consumer’s attention on restaurant wine lists where the sommelier had to steer the diner away from the comfort of the chardonnay and merlot to explore something different. Many restaurants were reluctant to include such so-called exotic, unusual or oddball wines on the list because of consumer confusion, but today more consumers are searching for wines unique and different.
The following lesser-known grapes are good starting points for those wishing to explore beyond the usual. Spain’s mencia tastes much like a cross between pinot noir and syrah. Sicily is home to carricant, similar to the taste of cool-climate chardonnays. Hungary’s Furmint has the aromas of sauvignon blanc and the refreshing acidity of a Riesling. Mourvedre, also known as mataro and monastrell, is known for its earthy rich full-bodied flavors.
- 2017 Triton Mencia, Spain (about $17 retail)
- 2017 Cline Ancient Vine Mourvedre, California (about $20 retail)
Wine in a can is slowly but surely making its way onto retail shelves. Canned pinot grigio and chardonnay are showing up in coolers alongside beer. This trend, which is making wine more approachable, convenient and inexpensive, is often referred to as the “beerification” of wine.
Experiments with wine packaging have generally been met with resistance from purists; consider screw tops, boxed wines and wine on tap. And the can is no different. How will the can affect the taste of the wine? And what about wine serving etiquette? Will the “woosh” of a can opening have the same romantic appeal as the pop of a cork?
But there’s one time when the can may reign supreme.
Most consumers are aware of the adversity when it comes to wine and outdoor adventure. Glass is prohibited in many locations but, even where it is allowed, wine drinkers are still faced with the challenges of lugging the bottle in their gear and remembering to pack a corkscrew — not to mention the difficulty of packing fragile glassware and dealing with an opened or empty bottle.
Canned wine avoids almost all of these obstacles. The cans are lightweight, won’t break into dangerous shards and require no special openers.
One of the main concerns with consumers is whether wine tastes different in cans. Will canned wine have a metallic taste?
In the wine I tried straight from the can, I could not detect any metallic or unclean taste. Because it was served very well-chilled in the can it wasn’t unpleasant, but could be best described as one-dimensional. When I tried it poured into a plastic cup it was much more fruity and in a wine glass it was very similar to any wine at this price point. The only issue with the can to glass transfer is it seems to defeat the purpose of having a travel-friendly option.
The other problem is can size.
A typical bottle of wine is 750 mL, considered to be about 5 glasses.
Cans are available in 500 mL (3.34 glasses); 375 mL (2.5 glasses); and 250 mL (1.67 glasses). With these ranging sizes consumers should keep in mind that one can contains more than one glass of wine, so be careful not to overdrink.
A potential con for consumers is that once the can is opened, it can’t be resealed. So be prepared to drink it all or pour it out. But, overall, if you need a grab and go wine for outdoor places, the cans are a great alternative.
- 2014 Underwood Pinot Grigio, Oregon (about $7 retail for a 375 mL can)
- 2014 Underwood Rose, Oregon (about $7 retail for a 375 mL can)
When you walk the long aisles of a wine store, you’ve probably had moments of discouragement. This discouragement is not because of an inadequate or perplexing selection of wines but from the mundane feeling you experience reading the same labels one after another — cabernet, cabernet, merlot, merlot, chardonnay, chardonnay. Of course every once in a while an unfamiliar grape is in front of you and for a split second you consider the exploration but are quickly drawn back to the familiar bottle descriptions of cabernet… cabernet … cabernet.
We all seem to get comfortable buying the recognizable wines, but there are many regions, grapes and styles worth a little homework and the benefit of tasting. It’s good to try out intimidating wines. Quality and reliability may have been the most important question in the past, but it is rare to produce an inadequate bottle of wine in modern winemaking. (Rare, not impossible.) This modern change means giving an unfamiliar bottle a try will often result in a pleasantly rewarding experience.
As I look for something out of the ordinary I think of it as an adventure. While I have a staples list of everyday drinking wines that I stick to, I always keep an open mind to explore wines that may seem intimidating because of a complex label or an unfamiliar grape.
On each trip to the wine store, I try to buy one bottle of wine I want to explore and learn about. Some of the best wines I have tasted ended up being from this adventure. Of course there were a few misses, wines that didn’t appeal to my particular tasting palate, but I enjoyed the experience of learning about the style of wine and its taste.
So when you have those humdrum days finding the same too-familiar labels on the shelves and yearning for something different, remember, it’s all about the quest.
- 2014 St. James Winery Cynthiana, Missouri (about $10 retail)
- 2013 Meli Carignan, France (about $12 retail)
- 2014 Marichal Tannat, Uruguay, (about $14 retail)
- 2014 Tenuta Rocca di Montemassi Vermentino, Italy (about $22 retail)
- 2014 Force of Nature Tempranillo, California (about $24 retail)
- 2014 Pierre Sparr Gewurztraminer, France (about $24 retail)
- 2006 Martin Codax Albarino, Rias Baixes Spain, (around $17 retail)