We all have our favorite, “safe” grape varieties — you know, the ones we buy consistently every Friday night to pair with takeout, or the ones we order when faced with an intimidating wine list. But did you know there are over 10,000 grape varieties out there in the world? That’s right — ten thousand. And yet still we stick to what we know out of comfort and contentment, cutting ourselves off from the abundance of grapes we could potentially love — perhaps even more than our “safe grapes.”
So where do we start? We asked 10 sommeliers around the country to let us in on the most underrated grape varieties in the world.
“Nerello Mascalese, a light-bodied red wine in Sicily. But in general I would say aromatic varieties… people don’t order them because they assume they will be super sweet, but often they’re bone dry and cool. For example, Austrian Riesling is usually completely dry and pairs so well with food.” – Rachael Lowe, Beverage Director, Spiaggia
“The most underrated grape varieties are ones that don’t come from a classic region and are always forced to compare themselves to the Motherland. Arneis from Santa Barbara is delicious, but it will never be appreciated the same as Roero Arneis. How many times have you read about a “Burgundian Chardonnay” from Oregon or an Alsatian-esque Riesling from the Finger Lakes? Grape varieties from lesser established regions are always going to be disrespected and under-appreciated because they will never be able to live up to the “establishment’s” definition of typicity for the varietal which is based on one area of the world.” – Jon McDaniel, Beverage Director, Acanto, The Gage, The Dawson, Beacon Tavern, Coda di Volpe
“Timorasso — an ancient variety indigenous to Piedmont. This grape makes a delightfully complex white wine — it is still quite rare, and only made by a handful of producers. Exceptional examples pair elegantly with aromatic dishes, like risotto with white truffles.” – Ellie Bufkin, Assistant Wine Director, Maialino
“There are plenty. Riesling might still be one of them. I think that Mencia from Galicia is super delicious and very affordable. Fiano from Italy, white Grenache from the Languedoc.” – Michael Engelmann, Wine Director at The Modern & Cafés at MoMa, Untitled and Studio Café at The Whitney
“I mean I love Chenin Blanc and Syrah, but I think both of these have been getting a good deal of credit… perhaps Cinsault? I’ve tasted a lot of delicious single varietal examples recently that are captivating for the elegance and also enjoyable fruitiness. I hope more of these wines will start showing in New York.” – Kimberly Prokoshyn, Head Sommelier, Rebelle
“Xinomavro (zee-no-mah-vro) and Assyrtiko from Greece for sure. I’d also say the Corsican varieties of Nieluccio (a Sangiovese clone) and Sciaccarellu are only just recently starting to gain recognition. And they make for superb rosé!” – Nathan Lithgow, Sommelier, Sauvage