How do you know what you like if you don’t try new things? Our third rule of Reverse Wine Snobbery is Experiment With New Wines.
Up next in our Ten Tenets of Reverse Wine Snobbery is our third, and perhaps most fun, rule – Experiment With New Wines! While at first glance it may seem to be at odds with Tenet #2 (Drink What You Like), read on to find out how these two rules can go hand in hand to increase your enjoyment of wine!
My wife and I love to experiment with new wines. Some of our favorite finds have come from the most unexpected varieties and from the most unexpected places. One of the best things we’ve learned over the last several years is that with wine, as with much else in life, the journey is where most of the fun is.
The basics like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are not the only drinkable varieties out there. In fact, in many cases these popular varieties are being forced to grow in places ill-suited for them, precisely because wineries think this is what people want – it’s simple supply and demand. Unfortunately, this often means that wonderful old vine indigenous grapevines are torn up and replaced by the popular varieties because that is what sells, even though it makes vastly inferior wine.
Variety and diversity are good. The varieties that will grow and generally taste the best are the ones that are native to that area. There’s a reason why each variety developed and remain in a certain place. Don’t be afraid of wines made from varieties you’ve never heard of!
Take for example the Quinta De La Rosa Douro Red from Portugal. It’s a blend of three grapes that are likely only familiar to Port drinkers: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Roriz. All three grapes are native to Portugal and are typically planted together in the vineyard in proportions that have been honed over the decades to produce wonderful wines and Ports. Big, rich, and silky, this is one of the first wines that opened my eyes to the amazing value coming out of Portugal.
Unfortunately, when most consumers are faced with the decision between something unknown and a tried and true variety like Cabernet Sauvignon, most people fall back on the tried and true. Of course, the silver lining in this for Reverse Wine Snobs is that prices stay low on some of these lesser-known gems.
Another example is Spanish Garnacha. The Altovinum Evodia Old Vines Garnacha was one of our very first eye-openers. This wine routinely sells for $8 or less, which is amazing considering that it comes from vines that are up to 100 years old.
If you’ve spent any time in the wine section at your liquor store you’ve probably seen wine labels loudly proclaiming “Old Vine,” “Old Vine”! There’s actually a great reason for this — the older a vine gets the deeper and more complex its root system becomes, which allows it to thrive even in adverse conditions. This leads to more consistent grape production each year. In addition, as vines age they tend to produce less fruit, but the grapes that remain have a higher concentration of flavor — perfect for making flavorful wine. (See more on this in our recent Ask The Expert question: Do Old Vines Make Better Wine?)
One hundred years old is really old for a vine and in many parts of the world wines made from vines this old command a huge premium. However, this is not always the case in Spain, which has more land planted to vineyards than any other country. Old vine Garnacha is actually pretty routine and abundant in a lot of areas. Those old vines impart deep, rich flavors to the wine that can’t be replicated any other way, and vintage after vintage the Evodia continuously delivers tons of savory fruit and spice. (Unfortunately there’s no standard agreement on how old is old, so you may want to do a little fact checking into those “old vine” claims you see on the label.)
In addition, regions love to tout marquee varieties (think Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, Pinot Noir from Oregon, Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, or Malbec from Argentina). These are all great and I don’t blame regions for promoting these varieties as their specialties, but let’s be real. If one variety grows well enough to be a marquee grape, there must be other varieties that grow well there too. Experiment with new wines and explore the other varieties that regions have to offer beyond just the marquee varieties! A side benefit of this is that you can often save money. Lower demand for lesser-known grape varieties often translates into lower prices.
An example of a wine that completely changed my perception of a region was the Craggy Range Te Kahu Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Proprietary Red from New Zealand. New Zealand is known for its excellent Sauvignon Blanc and really nice, inexpensive Pinot Noir. But not many wine enthusiasts know that New Zealand can also produce a great Bordeaux-style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec like this one. This wine blew me away with its enticing aromas of plum, blackberry, spice, and a little vanilla. The wine tastes smooth and rich with luscious fruit flavors and an almost dusty texture that really enhances its complexity while still maintaining its easy-to-drink nature.
Another example is Malbec from Argentina. We love the great selection of Malbec wines from Argentina that are on the market. But Malbec is a grape that originally came from France and is still grown there. There are a number of excellent, nearly forgotten Malbecs from all over France, but the Cahors area is definitely the spot to check out.
And speaking of Argentina, as much as we love Malbec, there are other wines made there too! The delicate and very aromatic white variety of Torrontés is a great wine to explore. And on the red side, Bonarda is a widely planted and very underappreciated grape that sells for next to nothing in this country.
Closer to home, everyone knows California for its Cabernet Sauvignon but our very favorite variety from this diverse region is Petite Sirah. It’s the variety that is routinely added to other wines (especially Zinfandel) to give them more structure and boldness, but it’s also fabulous on its own. There are tons of really excellent California producers of this wine out there from Dry Creek Valley to Livermore Valley to Clarksburg to Lodi. I encourage you to seek them out, give them a try and experiment with new wines!
Find our complete Ten Tenets of Reverse Wine Snobbery in summary form here with links to each as they are detailed.