Vivacious Varietals

Some of the finest grapes you’ve never heard of

By Shelley Boettcher

You love Pinot Gris and Merlot. Your cellar is filled with Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays. You can list off the finest Champagnes like a rap star with a never-ending budget.

But when it comes to lesser-known varieties, you don’t know the difference between Arneis and Albarino. Or Rondinella and Refosk.

You’re not alone. Thousands of grape varieties exist, but only about 1,300 are actually used to make wine.

And of that, only a handful are truly popular: Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance. It’s the world’s most planted wine grape, followed closely by Merlot. Chardonnay — the first white wine on the popularity list — is in fifth place.

Compare that to only two decades ago, when Airen was the world’s most widely grown grape. Grown mostly in Spain, this white grape makes boring, relatively flavourless table wines and is mostly used for spirits.

When was the last time you tasted something made with Airen grapes? Unless you drink a lot of Spanish brandy, you probably haven’t. (That said, it’s worth searching out the brandy; Torres has a good one in our market.)

But there are scores of other, interesting and little-known grapes that deserve more attention than they currently get. A new year is a great time to track down and taste something new, and, along the way, learn a little more about the wide world of wine. Here are a handful of suggestions to start your journey.