In most aspects of our lives, we tend to stick to what we know. When shopping for wine, most of us would much rather buy what we're familiar with rather than run the risk of getting something we may end up hating and being out the money spent on it. There's no question that there are a lot of "weird" wines out there, but most of them are quite delightful and worth a trip out of the mainstream.
Let's take Malbec, for starters. Malbec is one of the five red grape varietals of Bordeaux, but the place where Malbec seems to be showcased the most is South America. Argentina is at the top of the Malbec game, offering both Malbec-based blends and fantastic single varietal wines. One of the tastiest treats out there is the Dona Paula Shiraz-Malbec (about $13) from the Mendoza region of Argentina. This wine is silky smooth, but with powerful black and blue berry fruit character, exotic spice and medium tannin.
And what about Roussanne? This rich and elegant white varietal is grown mainly in the Northern Rhone region of France, but some California producers are beginning to make really great ones, like Tablas Creek Roussanne (about $27) from Paso Robles. Founded by the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel fame, this wine is quite reminiscent of the Roussannes of France. A bit minerally, but rich with honeysuckle, pear and ginger spice, this wine will especially stand out alongside rich shellfish dishes. Think King Crab and drawn butter.
Grenache is another. Its classical growing region is the cool Rhone region of France, where it is somewhat delicate and fruity (for a red) and quite earthy, but my favorites come from Australia. In the hot Aussie climate Grenache becomes a total fruit bomb, with very little tannin and long, long finishes. One of the best I've tried is the new-to-the-market Tir Na N'Og Old Vines Grenache (about $25) from McLaren Vale. You'll find this wine to be wonderfully intense with jammy fruit and spice, with flavors that just go on and on. Steak, please.
Semillon can seem scary, too. More often than not, Semillon is spotted in its syrupy sweet, dessert wine form, known as late-harvest Semillon, but what I want to talk about is the plain ole vanilla form of Semillon in simple still wine form. In this style, Semillon is quite crisp, clean and dry, with very soft fruit character. The Australians seem to be making the most of these wines in single-varietal format. Torbreck "Woodcutter's" Semillon (about $16) is a great one that is very new to our market. It displays lovely floral notes, fresh lemon zest and a slightly nutty quality. It's perfect for hot weather sipping.