The 8 Best Wines You’ve Never Heard of

Variety is the spice of life, friends! There are more than 10,000 different wine grape varieties out there; 125,000 wineries or more, producing wine in 70+ countries worldwide. In other words, there are literally oceans of wines from which to fill your glass — so why are you still drawing from the same kiddie pool? Bonus: Several of the wines in this story can be found at Big Hammer Wines, which is offering PLUM readers $25 off any order over $100 (use code: PLUM25).

By Devin Parr
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If you like Pinot Grigio, try Soave

And then say it like, “Riiiccccoooo. Soooaaavee.” In all seriousness, if you love a crisp, clean, citrusy white wine, and typically gravitate to good ol’ PG, give this Italian white a try. There are some fuller-bodied versions out there as well, so make friends with your local wine store salesperson and don’t be afraid to ask questions. They should be able to guide you in the right direction.  

A few Soave wines to try:

Prà “Otto” Soave Classico, $19

Inama Soave Classico, $15 

Pieropan Soave Classico, $19

If you like Champagne, try Trentodoc

It may sound like a group of medical professionals, but it’s actually a delicious sparkling wine from Northern Italy, made using the same production method as Champagne itself. It’s also generally a fraction of the price. It even comes in rosé!

A few Trentodoc wines to try:

Ferrari Brut, Trentodoc, $24 

Moser Brut Nature, Trentodoc, $31

Rotari Brut Rosé, Trentodoc, $18

If you like Sauvignon Blanc, try Chenin Blanc

Do you crave the mouth-watering freshness of a crisp glass of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc? Or find yourself loving the fruity, citrusy burst of sunshine that seems to jump out of that glass of Savvy B? Chenin Blanc is often a great and value-driven option if you are looking for a cool glass of a light, fresh white wine. Although South Africa and the Loire Valley in France are best known for the grape, many wine-producing regions make Chenin Blanc. There is also a variety of styles out there, from the classic and citrusy to sparkling, as well as oaked and sweeter styles. 

A few Chenin Blanc wines to try:

MAN Family Wines Chenin Blanc, Coastal Region, South Africa, $9

Durbanville Hills Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa, $15

Champalou Vouvray, Loire France, $21

If you like Moscato, try Viognier

Moscato tends to be a starter wine for many because it is almost always pleasantly sweet and aromatic. If you like the feminine, perfumed quality of Moscato, but want to cross over to the dark side and try dry wines for a change, I encourage you to give Viognier a whirl (in the glass). It tends to be a bit heavier and more luscious than a Moscato, but the rich fruit and floral aromas will have you dabbing that juice behind your ears when no one is looking.  

A few Viognier wines to try:

Yalumba “The Y Series” Viognier, South Australia, Australia, $11

Tinte Cellars Viognier, Columbia Valley, Washington, $27

Doffo Winery Concrete Fermented Viognier, Temecula Valley, California, $36

If you like Zinfandel, try Primitivo

Genetically speaking, it should come as no surprise that Zinfandel is the gateway wine to Primitivo, since the two are both clones of a Croatian grape called “Crljenak.” But no one wants to be stuck trying to pronounce that mess to a sommelier, so if you find yourself buying the same Gnarly Head Zin or 7 Deadly Zins at the grocery store, it’s time to give the Italian Primitivo grape a try. 

A few Primitivo wines to try:

Masseria Li Veli Primitivo, Salento, Italy, $14

Tormaresca Primitivo, Salento, Italy, $20

Andis Primitivo, Amador County, California, $24

If you like Pinot Noir, try Gamay

There are no words for how much I love Gamay. Throw away everything you think you know about Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau (made from the Gamay grape), and Gamay all day with me, friends. Like Pinot Noir, it can be light and pretty, maybe even served with a chill on a hot summer day, or hearty and rich, worthy of an equally hearty and rich meal. No matter how you like your red wine – fruity or earthy, bright or bold – I promise there is a Gamay out there sure to please your palate. Check out selections from France, Oregon and the Niagara Peninsula region in Canada for some stunning examples. 

A few to try:

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Villages, Beaujolais, France, $11

Grocheau Cellars Bjornson Vineyard Gamay Noir, Eola Amity Hills, Oregon, $24

Marcel Lapierre Morgon, Beaujolais, France, $38

If you like Cabernet Sauvignon, Try Tempranillo

This grape, native to Spain (and the predominant grape in Rioja), is a fantastic alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon. It also doesn’t command the same prices as many examples of Cab – in particular if you have a palate for those cult bottlings from California. Tempranillo – grown all over the world – can produce easy-drinking, fruity wines that can pair with a wide variety of food flavors, as well as rich, bold, age-worthy wines that develop over time. They also make great gift wines – if going Spanish, look for something with “Reserva” or “Gran Reserva” on the label to impress. 

A few to try:

Campo Viejo Rioja Tempranillo, Rioja, Spain $10

Pinna Fidelis Crianza Ribera del Duero, Ribera del Duero, Spain, $20

Marques de Teràn Seleccion Especial Rioja, Rioja, Spain, $22

If you don’t know what you want, but you want it to be different, let’s get weird together

If you are really just dying to try something new, there are plenty of obscure but delicious grapes out there, and so many offbeat wine regions worth exploring. Get your hands on a wine from Georgia. No, not that Georgia. The Georgia that sits South of Russia, right where Eastern Europe meets Western Asia. For example, try a bottle of Kisi, a Georgian white wine often made using extended grape skin contact (not typically done with white wines, although there is a growing movement), resulting in a gorgeous apricot hue and tons of ripe peach and apricot flavors. 

If you prefer red wine, and really want to impress your friends with your wine knowledge, find a bottle of Tina Amarela – bonus points if you can explain that it is also known as Trincadeira, depending on what region you are in. This grape variety originated in Portugal but is also popping up in other regions, including Oregon’s Umpqua Valley. Tinta Amarela produces a berry-driven wine with peppery notes that many Syrah lovers enjoy. 

A few to try:

Orgo Kisi, Khaketi, Republic of Georgia, $24

Pheasant’s Tears Kisi, Khaketi, Republic of Georgia

Abacela Tinta Amarela, Umpqua Valley, Oregon, $30

Quinta do Mouro Trincadeira, Alentejo, Portugal, $53

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