Don’t be afraid to try new wines


A recent study revealed a majority of households in the U.S. consume the same 10 meals for dinner over and over again. With all the food available to us — fresh, frozen or fast — our diets are inexcusably narrow.

It’s even worse when it comes to wine consumption. Most wine drinkers, even those who consider themselves knowledgeable, stick to the same varietal (meaning type of grape) their entire life. Often I hear “I’m a Merlot drinker” and “I only like Chardonnay.” That’s akin to saying “I only eat cereal three meals a day, every day.”

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Wine is made from thousands of different types of grapes from around the world: 13,681 to be precise. Italy is home to the most diverse grape population, with 377, while Peru, Thailand and United Kingdom tie for the least with one each.

I acknowledge, even in today’s global marketplace, it is unlikely most people will sample a small fraction of those. Most will not reach double-digits. Even as a passionate and aggressive student of the grape, I try new wines all the time but I doubt I’ll get to any of Azerbaijan’s 16 native varietals anytime soon.

But it doesn’t require much effort, or cost a lot of money, to significantly expand your wine diet. For the average consumer, adding just a few new grapes each year would increase their palette exponentially. To start, consider what you like about the wines you rely on.

If you like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, you prefer bright, sharp citrus flavors. Try Grüner Veltliner. Foreign, difficult to remember names sometimes intimidates people and prevents them from trying new things. Although Grüner Veltliner does sound like it could be James Bond’s next nemesis, is it really more difficult to remember than other unique names like Troy Polamalu or Nene Leakes? It’s all a matter of what you are willing to pay attention to. 

Grüners are the most widely planted grape in Austria. They grow on the rocky hillsides of the Danube River, where their roots are forced to grow deep for nourishment. The result is a frame of strong and pervasive minerality. Their aromas range from cucumbers to cut grass to honey, with flavors of Asian pear and other sweet citrus fruits. This goes with almost anything, including typically difficult food pairings like asparagus. Grüners are my favorite brunch wine. You don’t have to remember the name of a specific producer, any one at around $15 will be a safe bet.

If you like Chardonnay, you tend to be drawn toward more full-bodied, rounded whites, with softer fruit flavors. Try Chenin Blanc, made famous in the Loire Valley in France. It’s an expressive grape, with notes ranging from pineapple and cantaloupe to chamomile. American producers are starting to grow it in greater numbers, mostly in northern California. Dry Creek Vineyard has produced quality Chenin Blanc since 1972. Theirs is one of my favorite wines under $50 dollars, let alone $15.

There is big world of wine waiting for you to explore it. All you have to do is try something new. And while you are at, look up a few new recipes, too.

Derek M. LaVallee, partner at Kemp Goldberg Partners and certified wine buff, can be reached at 
dereklavallee@hotmail.com