If you’re a fan of wine, varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, and chardonnay likely sound familiar. However, there are more than 10,000 types of grapes used to make wine today, many of which are worth a taste despite not having name recognition just yet.
White wine fans should consider sampling Sterling Vineyard’s 2021 Malvasia Bianca ($35, SterlingVineyards.com). The Malvasia Bianca grape is highly aromatic, and this particular vintage seduces the senses with its bouquet of tropical fruit and delicate white flowers, followed by flavor notes of green apple and pear.
Another outside-of-the-box option is the Wilson Creek NV VariantSeries White Cabernet Sauvignon ($34.99, WilsonCreekWinery.com). Surprise! Cabernet can be made to be nearly translucent. This wild take—both visually and to the taste—offers strawberry, melon, and peaches, but without being overly sweet.
Looking for something bubbly? Schramsberg boasts a 2019 Crémant Demi-Sec ($46, Schramsberg.com) that will tickle all the taste buds. French for creamy, Crémant differs from traditional Champagne in that it is not made with pinot noir or chardonnay grapes, pulling from a variety of other options instead. At Schramsberg, it is made with flora, a cross between Sémillon and Gewürztraminer. Off-dry, it has a lovely blend of minerality and fruitful spice.
And then there are the hidden gem reds.
Ever heard of Pinot Meunier? This dark grape dates back to the 16th century, and Chandon has a tremendously smooth vintage that offers bursts of dark berries and black cherry in its 2017 Pinot Meunier, Carneros ($55, Chandon.com).
Like the Pinot Meunier, the Mourvèdre grape also dates back thousands of years, predating even the Middle Ages. Cass Winery features a nuanced take with its 2020 Damas Noir 100% Mourvèdre ($90, CassWines.com). Big and full-bodied, it offers brambly berries, leather, earth, and even some vanilla bean on the nose and palate.
Even bolder, but far more earthy, is cabernet franc. A parent grape to both merlot and cabernet sauvignon grapes, cabernet franc is known for its dark spice flavors with herbaceous notes of tobacco, both of which are ever-so-present in Rodney Strong Vineyards' 2019 Reserve Cabernet Franc ($60, RodneyStrong.com).
Finally, there is Meritage. The American-born varietal gets its name from “merit” and “heritage,” and it is a California blend of traditional Bordeaux-grown grapes using Old World techniques. Cast Wines has a wine called 2019 Incantation ($65, CastWines.com) made from cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc, with dizzyingly delightful notes of red fruit, tobacco, black currants, and a variety of spices.