Most wine drinkers have a go-to grape or two. For many, it's cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay, the top full-bodied red and white varieties, respectively.
For red-Burgundy fanatics, it's elegant pinot noir. For ladies who lunch, lean pinot grigio often does the trick. But do you sometimes find yourself gravitating away from your go-to grapes in search of something obscure?
It's a gamble, but it can pay dividends.
The name gros manseng is hardly ready for a starring role in wine shops on this continent, where ease of pronunciation counts for much.
But the white variety can dance and sing as well as many more popular grapes. Common in southwest France, notably the Jurançon appellation, it can yield opulent, honeyed wines with floral notes and crisp acidity – just as complex and flavourful as chardonnay, only different. A less-grudging ensemble player than limelight-hogging chardonnay, it's often found trading fours, as they say in jazz, in blends with petit manseng, its often more elegant but similarly styled little brother.
That's the case with the fine first wine listed here.
I'm following with a few other offbeat varieties, include roditis, a Greek white with an attractive herbal-citrus perfume. Roditis is tailor-made for the Peloponnese especially, retaining its lively acidity under a scorching sun that might bake the vigour out of chardonnay or pinot grigio.
Often, obscure grapes play supporting roles in more familiar-tasting blends. Canaiolo adds soft fruitiness to the otherwise rustic, also featured Capezzana Barco Reale from Tuscany, while bonarda brings welcome acidity and raspberry-like charm to the full-bodied Trivento Amado Sur from Argentina. Among the more mainstream selections is a delicious and not outrageously priced Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
And there's a big-value cabernet sauvignon from Chile called Koyle, a fine go-to red for when you're feeling less adventurous.
Domaine Nigri Réserve du Domaine Jurançon Sec 2008 (France)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $19.95
On the lighter side of medium-bodied, this white blend of gros and petit manseng weaves together pear, honey and an intriguing floral note, resolving with crisp acidity and a trace of mineral. It would pair well with a variety of dishes, from roast chicken to pan-seared fish to simply grilled pork chops.
Tetramythos Roditis 2010 (Greece)
SCORE: 86 PRICE: $16.95
Clean, light-bodied and highly herbal, with hints of lemon zest and apple, this Peloponnesian white would be splendid with shellfish sautéed in oil or butter.
Trivento Amado Sur 2009 (Argentina)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $15
A blend of malbec, bonarda and syrah, this intriguing red has a flavour all its own, the sum quite different from its parts. The texture is polished, carrying notes of raspberry jam and cassis along with fine tannins; the finish is juicy and long. It would pair nicely with grilled red meats or not-too-spicy chili. The price in British Columbia is $15.99.
Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano 2008 (Italy)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $15.95
A district of Tuscany near Florence, Carmignano has the distinction of blending cabernet sauvignon with local sangiovese for centuries, long before the French grape became fashionable in new-age supertuscan blends. This sangiovese-led red contains 20 per cent cab along with 10 per cent canaiolo, the latter frequently found in sangiovese-dominated Chiantis too. The flavour is old-school and very dry, with a plum-prune core, wood spice and a kick of saltiness. Try it with herb-crusted steak. In B.C., look for the excellent, super-premium Capezzana Carmignano, $39.99.
Juravinum Côtes du Jura Les Parelles Rouge 2007 (France)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $17.95
The grape composition is traditional to the eastern region of Jura, a combination of obscure poulsard (or ploussard) and trousseau with pinot noir. Very light in colour and body, it shows a pretty, tart cranberry core, crisp acidity and overtones of sweet spice and herbs. Diehard cab or shiraz fans would probably detest it, which should leave more around for intrepid palates. Match it with food the way you would a Beaujolais or delicate pinot noir. Grilled salmon would be nice. Available in limited quantities in select Ontario Vintages stores.
Domaine de l'Arnesque Cuvée Capalane Châteauneuf- du-Pape 2009 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $39.95
Full-bodied and smooth yet lively, this red delivers a fetching, candied-sweet essence joined by savoury herbs, coffee, minerals and spice. Try it with hearty braised meat dishes.
Koyle Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (Chile)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $15.95
A textbook Chilean cabernet with ample complexity and structure for the money, it's full-bodied, with flavours of black currant, dark chocolate and just the right amount of classic Chilean mint. The Manitoba price is $14.86.
Murphy-Goode Sauvignon Blanc The Fumé 2009 (California)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $18.95
An opulent but balanced sauvignon blanc, it's light-medium-bodied and oozing ripe peach, melon and marmalade, with a subtle smoky note on the long finish. Good for rich, meaty fish such as grouper and very nice on its own.
La Ferme du Mont Première Côte Côtes du Rhône 2009 (France)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $16.95
Featuring well-focused, concentrated flavours of plum, cherry and spice, this southern Rhône red is built on a solid acid spine and lightly astringent, chewy tannins. Versatile at the table.
Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2010 (South Africa)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $14.95
A popular entry-level offering from premium producer Boekenhoutskloof, it's full-bodied and succulent, with notes of berry, bitter chocolate and white pepper, ending with a subtle smoky character. Terrific for grilled red meats. The B.C. price is $17.99; in Quebec, it's $17.45.