A Guide to Lesser Known Grape Varietals

This week we’re here to help you with a little inspiration. We’re here to save you from yourselves, from having to stare at the same bottles over and over again.

We know how it is. You get the same wines time after time because you’ve got a million and one other things to do.

Well we’re guilty of it to. To make things a little easier we’ve knocked together a list of our top six.

Roussanne/Marsanne

For people who like: Chardonnay, Viognier.

The northern Rhone valley is the home of Roussanne, along with it’s blending partner Marsanne. These two varietals are the key components in the Northern Rhone’s whites.

Around the world they have taken on a life of their own. Roussanne is coming to prominence in California, and Marsanne has made it’s way around the world to Australia.

France, however, is still their heartland. Roussanne arguably makes the better single varietal wines, with it’s aromatic intensity of pear and honey.

Marsanne is great in blends, adding lots of weight and complexity to the wine. If you’re interested in trying them out keep an eye out for french wines that say Hermitage Blanc or Crozes Hermitage Blanc on the bottle.

Fiano

For people who like: Vermentino

Fiano originated in Campania, Italy where it has been grown for centuries. While Italy is still it’s main stronghold there has been a surge of plantings in Australia.

This is partly due to it’s versatility. Fiano can be very heavily influenced by terroir (ter-wah i.e. area) meaning it can exhibit anything from a steely minerality to a rich nuttiness.

People who generally go for old world wines should look for an Italian Fiano, often from Sicily. If you tend to favour new world wines, maybe an Australian example would better suit your needs.

Bacchus

Bacchus God of Wine

For people who like: old world Sauvignon Blanc

With parentage coming from Muller-Thurgau and Reisling, among others, Bacchus is named after the Roman god of wine. Although it originated in Germany it is rapidly becoming a cornerstone of English wine-making.

Historically Bacchus has been used in German blends, as it’s high sugar level and low acidity left structure lacking. Nowadays, however, it accounts for 10% of UK plantings where it is fresher and more acidic due to lower temperatures.

These wines have a herbaceousness to them along with the floral, almost Sauvignon-esque flavours of elderflower and citrus. If this sounds like something you want to try, check out some English whites.

Susumaniello

For people who like: Malbec

Onto the reds now. Susumaniello is still only grown in Italy, and predominantly in Puglia at that.

This varietal is still quite rare, despite a recent resurgence. Traditionally it’s deep ruby colour is matched with rich plum and red cherry.

Offerings at the higher end of the price spectrum tend to display more pepper, spice and dark chocolate. Definitely worth trying if you come across any.

Nero D’Avola

For people who like: Syrah

This one is considerably easier to get hold of in the UK. Nero D’Avola is the most widely planted grape varietal in Sicily.

Historically Nero D’Avola was a wine used in blending, with single varietal wines seldom released. Since the 90’s however, more and more have started cropping up.

Due to it’s many similarities to Syrah/Shiraz in regards to growing preferences, Nero D’avola is now seeing some experimentation coming from Australia. These wines compliment the fruity character that a young Nero D’Avola shows.

When young the wine is juicy, with lots of red fruit and black cherry to plum flavours. As oak is introduced the medium-high tannins soften and give a vanilla and cedar character.

Aussie Shiraz lovers should try an Australian Nero. If you prefer a French or Spanish Syrah, a decent Italian Nero could be a nice change of pace.

Dornfelder

For people who like: Pinot Noir

97% of the world’s Dornfelder comes from it’s home in Germany.
With flavours, reminiscent of Pinot Noir, namely a delicate floral note and red fruit flavours, what sets it apart is it’s deeper red colour.

It is also becoming increasingly popular in England for use in rosé. The grape itself is hardy and resistant so it’s nice and reliable for winemakers.

In England it is often blended with Pinot Noir when making red wines, however it lends itself well to single varietal rosé. This is down to Dornfelder’s natural acidity and touch of sweetness.

New world Pinot Noir lovers should love a rich German Dornfelder. If your tastes range more towards lighter rosés, a Dornfelder rosé is a good starting point.

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