It’s hard to pin down exactly how many different vine varieties are currently used across the vast world of wine. 10,000 is thrown around by some, others claiming that Italy alone is home to over 2,000 varieties for winegrowers to play around with. I’d be more inclined to trust the oracle that is Janis Robinson MW and her incredible publication ‘Wine Grapes’ which has the number at a rather more conservative, but still rather lofty 1,368 vine varieties that are currently being used to make wine for commercial purposes.
It’s tough to look past great Cabernet, Shiraz , Pinot Noir , Chardonnay and Riesling when you’re selecting a bottle for the dinner table, but by pushing the boat out a little, thinking outside the box and trying something a bit different, you’ll be sure to be surprised at just how many delicious, exciting and different aces the wine world has up its sleeve!
For those who like to quench their thirst with crisp lively whites, try swapping your Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio for something along the lines of Albariño. Traditionally found in the north-west corner of the Iberian Peninsula, Albariño is one of those varieties often touted as the next big thing, but for some reason it hasn’t quite made the breakthrough into the consciousness or wine glasses of most wine lovers. Alba Albariño is produced by the fabulous Martin Codax co-operative in the Galicia region of Spain’s north-west and is a textbook example of the variety. It’s loaded with stone fruit freshness and finishes with a tangy, salty kick that is perfect for sipping by itself but really comes into its own when matched up with BBQ prawns.
Bringing things back closer to home, a trend that is gathering pace amongst winemakers is a new sense of appreciation and appetite for blends. If you’re thinking about rustling up a Thai inspired feast you could do worse than reach for a bottle of the wonderfully aromatic Chaffey Brothers ‘Dufte Punkt’ from the Eden Valley. It’s an intriguing blend of Riesling, Gewürztraminer and the exotic sounding weiβer herold (also known as Kerner) and with a touch of residual sugar retained, it’s the perfect spoil for spice-infused dishes.
The bright and the light
We’re seeing more and more light to medium-bodied, pretty and expressive wines gracing our shelves which can only be a good thing as we start to match our drinking habits to our climate and lifestyle. As memories of winter are banished and we leap towards spring, experimenting with lighter, juicer reds should be high on the list of all wine lovers priorities. If you normally lean towards Pinot Noir then two wines to look out for that deliver spades of drinking pleasure (and that can even benefit from a slight chill before pouring) are the silky, perfumed Henry Fessy Beaujolais Village (made from Gamay) and the crunchy, juicy Pizzaras de Otero Mencia (Mencia being the grape variety) hailing from Bierzo back in Spain’s north-west. Both wines express perfectly what is so fun about drinking outside the box. They are loaded with lovely crunchy fruit flavours and are at the same time interesting and simply delicious to drink.
Medium-bodied and moreish
If you like your reds to have a little more body and weight sticking with Spain isn’t such a bad idea. Perhaps better known than some of the grape varieties above, Tempranillo is one of Spain’s real success stories and is the grape variety responsible for some of the country’s most revered wines.
Tempranillo makes up the backbone of the lovely earthy, yet juicy black fruited Cosme Palacio Rioja. Made for good time drinking, it’s surprisingly complex and hits the brief right on the head if you’re looking for a complex yet cheerful bottle of red.
And last but not least, if you’re cranking up the BBQ early and the evening still carries a bit of early spring chill then maybe crack open a bottle of Wente ‘Beyer Ridge’ Zinfandel. ‘Zin’ as is it is affectionately known, is to California as Shiraz is to Barossa, and this particular bottle from one of America’s oldest family owned wineries (130 years and counting) is a cracking introduction to this sometimes polarizing variety. It’s rich and warming and is the perfect partner for grilled steaks that have been nicely charred on the BBQ.