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Your New Favorite Grape None of these varieties are new, unless they’re new to you. Here are some rising-star grape varieties from around the world that we think you need to know.

May 18, 2022

With reds and whites alike, I’d say that most of the wines we offer come from one of four classic grape varieties. For whites: Chardonnay, Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc. For reds: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Syrah. That’s a lifetime of incredible drinking right there, but as we all know, there’s so much more out there. In my own case, however—and this goes for most sommeliers I know—my eye instinctively travels to the more obscure corners of the wine list. As great as all those 20 white Burgundies might be, I can’t help but wonder what that lone Croatian Malvasia is all about. So, in that spirit (and with a hat-tip to the New York Times’  Eric Asimov, who beat me to it), here’s an annotated (and opinionated) list of the grape varieties that need to be in your glass right now.

Estate Argyros Vines - 2022-05-23
Estate Argyros Vines

WHITES

ASSYRTIKO

This Greek white is not exactly obscure, and we’ve been vocal champions of it for many years, but it deserves a plug nonetheless. Native to the magnificent, windswept island of Santorini—where it barely rains—this variety delivers structured, electric whites that not only ooze volcanic minerality but maintain a level of freshness that most varieties could not in such a hot, dry climate. In the hands of great producers like Hatzidakis, Domaine Sigalas, Koutsoyannopoulos, and Argyros, you’re talking about some of the greatest (and most age-worthy) whites of the Mediterranean.

CATARRATTO

Although most Sicily-watchers would rank Etna’s Carricante above it, I’m fascinated by Catarratto, which is mostly associated with the western end of Sicily but also sometimes factors into Etna blends. For generations, Catarratto’s claim to fame was its vigor and high sugars, making it a workhorse blending grape in Marsala wines. These days, however, it produces some beautifully textured dry table whites with appealing aromas of orange blossom, beeswax, and peach. There are instances when its acids drop out and it becomes a little flabby and tropical, but when picked at the right time it delivers enormous pleasure and plenty of freshness. Although you’ll find Catarratto in a supporting role in many of your favorite Etna Biancos (usually lending some fleshy fruit to the lean, mineral Carricante), check it out in varietal form from producers such as Caruso & Minini, Regaleali, and Feudo Montoni.

ENCRUZADO

Having just returned from a wine-tasting tour of Portugal, this signature variety of the northerly Dão region has catapulted to the top of my personal to-do list. Encruzado is a well-structured variety that produces wines of real substance and complexity. The Dão appellation, like its northern neighbor Vinho Verde, has mostly granitic soils, but it is further inland, with altitudes climbing past 1,000 meters in the Serra da Estrela, the highest mainland mountain range in Portugal. This is a more “continental” climate, with wider diurnal temperature swings, and Encruzado is a noble white variety to complement the region’s equally famous reds. The variety has the structure to undergo barrel fermentation and aging, giving the wines more voluptuous textures relative to the crisp, racy wines of the coast. Most of what we’ve seen from the Dão are red wines, but be on the lookout: There are some amazing, dare I say “Burgundian,” Dão Encruzados being made at Quinta de Saes, Casa de Mouraz, Casa de Santar, and Quinta de Lemos.

FIANO

A must-try. Fiano is part a trio of fresh, mineral whites—the others being Falanghina and Greco—native to the southern Italian region of Campania. It is the most aromatic of the three and has emerged as one of Italy’s noblest native white grapes. Although it is grown throughout Campania, including coastal areas like Cilento, the preferred terroir for the variety is Irpinia, a cool, hilly district about 50 kilometers east of Naples. Irpinia’s dimensions correspond roughly to those of the modern-day province of Avellino, within which are key wine towns like Taurasi, Tufo, and of course its capital city, which lends its name to the DOCG designation for Fiano. Check out examples from Ciro Picariello (perhaps the most celebrated producer right now), I Favati, Luigi Maffini, and DeConciliis.

JACQUÈRE

Do you like crisp, mineral, low-alcohol mountain whites that are as bright and fresh as mountain runoff? Jacquère, the signature white grape of France’s mountainous Savoie region, is for you. Some would argue that another Savoie white, Altesse, has more under the hood, but good luck finding it (look for wines labeled Roussette de Savoie). There’s plenty to love about Jacquère, believe me, and there are some incredible wines from the variety—especially from the Apremont appellation. Check out SommSelect favorites Famille Richel and Mark Portaz and break out the Raclette!

Grapes being transferred from picking bucket to container during harvest. - 2022-05-23

REDS

BAGA

Back in Portugal again! We can’t get enough! At this point, you will likely hear more talk about this northern Portuguese specialty than you’ll find bottled evidence of its excellence—but it’s a grape to watch nonetheless, thanks in large part to the enduring legend of Luis Pato, whose “Vinhas Velhas,” from the Bairrada region, has been the gold standard for years. Pato’s daughter, Filipa, launched her own Bairrada wine label in 2001 and has made a big splash with her own wines from the Baga grape, dubbed “the Nebbiolo of Portugal” by some. When producers manage the variety’s ferocious tannins, it can indeed be evocative of Barolo/Barbaresco, with long aging potential. In addition to the Patos, check out Lagar de Baixo, Quinta das Bágeiras, Poço do Lobo, and Campolargo.

BLAUFRÄNKISCH (A.K.A. KEKFRANKOS)

On sight alone, the blue/black color of the typical Blaufränkisch wine might lead you to think it’s a bigger wine than it is: Then you sip it and it’s a bright, buoyant, utterly refreshing style of red—dark-fruited, savory, smoky, spicy…but in no way heavy. Primarily associated with eastern Austria’s Burgenland, it’s also found in Hungary (where it’s called Kékfrankos), Croatia (Frankovka), and Germany (Lemberger), among other regions. The seamless mixture of inky fruit and earthy savor is very satisfying, and when you taste examples from producers such as Moric, Paul Achs, and Rosi Schuster, you see the grape’s potential for real ‘nobility’ and longevity.

SCHIAVA (A.K.A. VERNATSCH)

Consider this one part of a personal mission on my part: As you probably know, there’s no place like Italy when it comes to distinctive, regionally specific native grapes. There are any number of them that could be included in this listing—Pelaverga, Piedirosso, Teroldego, Lagrein, Ciliegiolo…the possibilities are endless—but I picked Schiava for three reasons: (1) findability; (2) affordability; (3) drinkability. Grown in Italy’s Alto Adige/Südtirol, especially in the hills around Lake Caldaro, this light-bodied, low-alcohol, delicately spicy, brightly fruited red actually shows up on retail shelves—and is my first choice for icing down in a cooler right alongside the white wines and beers. This is utterly joyful mountain red, redolent of wild strawberries and wildflowers, for sipping alongside speck and other cured meats. Producers to look for: Nüsserhof, Erste & Neue, Mumelter, Elena Walch.

SCHIOPPETTINO

Northeast Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia region has become widely known for its white wines—and, more recently, its “orange” wines—but its reds are not to be ignored! For the longest time, this region, which was long part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, specialized in Bordeaux-style blends from the Cabernets and Merlot. But, of course, I find the native varieties infinitely more interesting—and of these, Schioppettino takes the crown. Its dark hue, violet-scented aromas, and black-pepper savor suggest Syrah from the Northern Rhône; although there’s no genetic link, the resemblance is indeed strong. There weren’t many widely available examples even a few years ago, but the number seems to grow each year lately. Ronchi di Cialla is one of the great interpreters of the variety (sometimes labeling it by its other name, Ribolla Nera), but other bottles worth seeking out come from Adriano Gigante, Petrussa, and Bastianich.

XINOMAVRO

Again with the Nebbiolo comparisons! This Greek native is often called “the Nebbiolo of Greece” for its aromatic complexity and tannic structure. Grown in the northern region of Macedonia, most famously in the Naoussa PDO (denomination of origin), Xinomavro (pronounced ksee-NOH-ma-vroh) is not typically as tannic or alcoholic as Nebbiolo, but shares a similar push-pull of savory and sweet sensations—an aromatic mélange of raspberry, plum, tobacco, leather, warm spices and florals, wrapped up in a firm tannic embrace. Top producers include Kir-Yianni, Thymiopolous, Chrisohoou Estate, Vaeni, and Alpha Estate.