New World winemakers have made us, the wine buying public, so comfortable with grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio, amongst others; we forget there are thousands of grape varietals to explore. While much of the wine world has succumbed to the pressure of growing and producing what is popular, I for one am thankful for some diversity. Much of the Old World has done a great job of weathering the pressure to uproot classic local grapes in favour of international favourites. With the widespread use of modern winemaking techniques and viticulture practices throughout the Old World we are really beginning to see how great some of these lesser known grapes can be. Here are two wines utilizing less familiar varietals that are well worth exploring.
Everyday: Brumont Gros Manseng Sauvignon (France) (Port of Wnes, $15.79)
This wine is made by Alain Brumont, who is one of Southwestern France's most celebrated winemakers. Brumont crafts engaging wines from classic grapes from traditional growing regions. He is most famous for his Tannat based wines from the remote Madiran appellation. I've always loved the wines made from the Manseng family of grapes (there is a Petit Manseng as well which is responsible for some very luxurious, rare and expensive wines). Gros Manseng provides this wine with some aromatic intensity while the Sauvignon component provides crisp, green fruit flavours. This is a really enjoyable dry, light to medium-bodied white wine. It is the type of fresh, modern white wine that will get consumers to try inexpensive French wines again.
Serving Suggestion: Angel hair pasta with pesto and shrimp
Gourmet: Sogrape Callabriga Dao (Portugal) (Select NSLC*, $28.29)
The quality of dry Portuguese wines has never been better. Portuguese wines were once known for being rustic, oxidative and rather brawny but now they are gaining a reputation for being much more polished albeit not losing the distinctiveness of their indigenous grapes and rugged terroir. A case in point is the fine wines bottled under the Callabriga label by Sogrape. Their Callabriga from the Dao region, which is a blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional and Alfrocheiro (the latter two grape almost exclusively grown in Portugal), is an age worthy red wine that delivers herbal, mineral, spice and plumy fruit flavours and ample tannic structure in the finish. Give this one a few years in the cellar.
Serving Suggestion: Osso Buco with rosemary, truffle scented polenta
* Check mynslc.com for availability
Mark DeWolf is the Food & Drinks Editor of Occasions Magazine, a sommelier instructor and owner of By the Glass.