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Best Lesser-known Wine Varietals You Should Try

Go With These Lesser Known Wine Varietals to Look Like a Wine Expert

The scenario: You’re grabbing a bottle of wine to take to a dinner party and find yourself gravitating toward the chardonnays and cabernets. They’re a safe choice, sure, but they’re not exactly groundbreaking. Why settle for something generic when there are thousands of lesser-known wine varietals from around the world bidding for your attention that’ll snap you out of your pinot noir rut

If you’re looking for a bottle of vino that’s a little less discovered (and that will make you look like a true oenophile), there are plenty of exciting grape varieties to sample and share at your next gathering. Here are six sommelier-approved types of wine with under-the-radar spunk, plus some recommended bottles as a great introduction to these likely new-to-you varieties.

Best Lesser-known Wine Varietals

1. Chenin Blanc

What Is Chenin Blanc?

Chenin blanc is like the wine world’s riddle: What can be dry or sweet; white or sparkling?

“This versatile grape can come as lean, mean, and tart as a New Zealand sauvignon blanc or as rich, honeyed, and sweet as a dessert wine, and all the while pair with your friends’ cauliflower casserole at a dinner party,” says Troy Bowen, owner and sommelier at Noble Riot, a hip wine bar in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood.

Look to South Africa or Anjou, France for the dry styles, he suggests, and to Vouvray and Jasnieres in France for richer ones. Or, be a diplomat and buy the crisp, vivacious sparkling version of a chenin blanc.

Best Chenin Blanc to Try:

Champalou Vouvray Brut Methode Traditionnelle [$25.99;]

Sandlands’ Vineyards Amador County Chenin Blanc [$40;]

Domaine Mosse Nova Blanc [$36.99;]

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2. Ramato

What Is Ramato Wine and How Is It Different From Rosé?

Ramato is a peculiar yet classic style of pinot grigio that’s flying under the radar—”for now,” says Ryan Plas, a sommelier at Coquette in New Orleans, LA. You might find this coral-colored bottle among the rosé on liquor store shelves. “It comes from the word ‘rame,’ which means ‘copper,’ in reference to the wine’s coppery hue,” Plas says.

You probably know that rosés are made from red grapes and orange wines are made from white grapes—but ramato is unique because it’s made solely from rosy-grayish tone grapes. “It’s an old-school Friulian style that allows the pinot grigio’s crushed grape skins to spend time with the juice,” says Plas.

“It’s orange enough if you’re going to a trendy wine gathering,” he adds. “And it’s rosé enough if you plan to just leave the bottle in a cooler for people to help themselves.”

Best Ramato to Try:

Field Recordings, Domo Arigato (Mr. Ramato) [$25.67;]

Scarbolo Ramato XL [$56.86;]

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3. Albariño

What Is Albariño Wine Similar To?

A delightfully complex white wine, albariño is an interesting substitute for the more popular pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc, says Erica Ruiz, the sommelier and restaurant manager of The Elderberry House at Château du Sureau in Oakhurst, CA.

“Albariño has such a beautiful and aromatic nose: You get a lot of stone fruit and citrus,” Ruiz says. “On the palate you get some saltiness and it stings you with that acidity, making it a perfect wine with food.”

Best Albariño to Try:

2020 Pazo de Señorans, Rías Baixas, Spain [$20;]

2019 Pazo de Barrantes, Rías Baixas, Spain [$55.99;]

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4. Frappato

What Is Frappato Wine Similar To?

“One of my favorite lesser-known red grape varieties is frappato—a juicy, red-toned grape from Sicily that’s reminiscent of spiced cranberry sauce and crunchy pomegranate seeds,” says Natascha Patterer, wine director at The Bowery Group in New York City.

With relatively low tannins and elevated acidity, “this is a wine that remains light on the palate,” Patterer notes. It’s an easy pairing for grilled white meats like pork or chicken, and can also be chilled and served as an aperitif.

Best Frappato to Try:

Occhipinti Il Frappato Sicilia 2020 [$56.94;]

Azienda Agricola COS Frappato di Vittoria 2021 [$27.99;]

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5. Aglianico

What Is Aglianico Wine?

Cabernet lovers, set your sights on aglianico, a powerful grape native to the volcanic soils of southern Italy’s Basilicata region, recommends Lauren Friel, sommelier and founder of Dear Annie, Rebel Rebel, and Wild Child in Sommerville, MA.

With the same deep black and purple fruit notes as cabernet, aglianico offers a similar depth of expression with a signature Italian edge full of wild herbs and earth.

“It’s the grape up every sommelier’s sleeve when looking for that out-of-the-box pairing,” Friel says.

Best Aglianico to Try:

D’angelo Aglianico del Vulture [starting at $24.99;]

Gricos Aglianico del Vulture DOC 2017 [$22.90;]

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6. Mt. Etna Reds

Is Mt. Etna Wine Good?

With pinot noir holding strong as the most requested red variety, reds from Sicily’s Mt. Etna provide “an exciting alternative for drinkers looking for something lighter and more savory,” says Alex Ring, wine director of the Michelin-starred Sepia and Proxi in Chicago.

“Made from predominantly Nerello Mascalese grapes, the wines feature bright acidity, delicate red fruit flavors, and a distinctive earthiness that directly transports you to Italy’s iconic active volcano,” he adds.

Best Mt. Etna Wines to Try:

Girolamo Russo ‘a Rina Etna Rosso 2020 [$37.99;]

Terre Nere Etna Rosso 2021 [$26.99;]

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