Looking for a new red to buy? Want to know more about unfamiliar wine-making regions? Read our expert guide, then check out our guide to English pinot noirs, Sancerre and Loire Valley wines and the best albariño wines to buy.
The rise of ancient grape varieties
The gloom of winter has all us seeking comfort, whether it’s a favourite jumper, a snug scarf or familiar food to soothe us. It’s the same when it comes to wine – most of us reach for names we recognise and know that we like.
Malbec, merlot, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon are the UK’s favourite reds, and are among the dozen or so grapes known as ‘international varieties’ because, although most originate from France, they are now grown in most wine-producing countries and account for the vast majority of the wine we drink.
Yet there are more than 1,300 grape varieties used to make wine across the world, and there is a growing trend to revive the fortunes of the less well known, and those indigenous to where they’re grown.
Many of these are very niche and can be hard to find. Supermarkets and large retailers are wary of giving shelf space to wines their customers find unfamiliar, but this is slowly changing as adventurous drinkers seek wines with more distinctive personalities the reflect the places where they are made. Hats off to M&S which this year launched its ‘Found’ range of wines, championing native grapes from around the world and bringing them to shoppers at affordable prices, and others are following suit.
Look to central European countries such as Georgia, Hungary and Romania for reds made from ancient varieties that have names that may be tricky to pronounce but often offer fantastic value for money.
Portugal is also a very good bet, where different native grapes are grown in the same vineyard and vinified together to make wines that are known as field blends; while these days Greece and Sicily are producing really exciting and distinctive wines from grapes that have been grown there for thousands of years.
There’s always a place for favourite and familiar wines but it’s very rewarding to sometimes step out of our comfort zone and discover something new to love.
Best unfamiliar red to buy
The saperavi grape is native to Georgia, where wine has been made for 8,000 years. This is intensely dark, rich with blackberry fruit and a whiff of autumnal bonfires. Try it instead of a cabernet sauvignon with beef goulash.
The país grape was brought to Chile by the Spanish but was usurped by international varieties in the 20th century. Now it’s being championed once more and this is a fine example, fresh and crunchy with a touch of spice, that would sit well with pulled chicken tacos.
If you’re partial to a light pinot noir, you’ll love this frappato from one of Sicily’s best organic wineries. Bursting with bright red fruits, it’s a breezy match with beetroot, orange and feta winter salad.
Native to Romania, fetească neagră sits in a similar register to malbec with its soft dark fruit and gentle tannins. Drink it with comforting dishes such as the venison, mushroom and red wine pie.
Made by Antonio Macanita, one of Portugal’s most acclaimed winemakers, a wonderfully perfumed but robust field blend, floral with a lick of liquorice, that’s best served slightly chilled. Try with the sticky hoisin duck with fried rice.