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wines for an 'Unheardof' tasting

We are hosting a small wine tasting. Our theme is the unheardof wine varietals. We pair small plates with them. Nothing too pricey. Probably about 6 different wines. Any suggestions?

Our first thought is a Torrontes from Argentina, the one we have goes amazingly well with Tuna, ginger and lime and I know my friends have never heard of this varietal. After that I am stumped, because hopefully too, I have not heard of the others yet.


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  1. Hmm. "Unheardof", certainly a subjective qualifier.

    Probably meaning, in the context, not in the following list
    Cabernet Sauvignon
    Pinot Noir
    Pinot Grigio
    Sauvignon Blanc
    Barbera (?)
    Riesling (?)
    Nebbiolo (?)
    Malbec (?)
    Grenache (?)
    Gewurtztraminer (?)
    Muscat (?)
    Malvasia (?)

    If that's the case, some nice and easy to find options could be:

    Grüner-Veltliner ( typically from Austria )

    Chenin-blanc ( typically from Loire Valley )

    Sagrantino ( typically from Umbria region in Italy )

    Poulsard ( typically from the Jura region in France )


    Please keep in mind the actual number of different grapes in wine production at any given time is in the high-3 to low-4 digits. Italy alone counts 500+ varieties. It's a wide world out there, and a pleasure to explore!


    1. How about the Pelaverga grape, grown in Verduno in the Piedmonte. Burlotto is one of the makers and it is available in the NYC area. Not sure where you're located. (It's a red wine with a lighter style than Nebbiolo.) It can be order via DrinkUpNY.com. Costs $15 or so.

      1. Tons of candidates. Here are some obscure varietals we can buy in Quebec for $20 or less. It barely begins to scratch the surface, though. You could easily limit yourself to a region like Sicily, Greece, Portugal, Friuli, etc. and still not exhaust the possibilities.

        Whites: Romorantin (Cour Cherverny in the Loire), Savagnin (Jura), Vermintino (aka Rolle, Vermintinu, in the south of France, Corsica, Sardinia), Inisola (Sicily, aka Ansonica), Torbato (Sardinia), Fiano (southern Italy), Coda di Volpe (Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio in Campagna), Moscofilero (mainland Greece), Assyrtico (mainland Greece and, most impressively, Santorini), Rousette (aka Altesse, in the Savoie), Furmint (Hungary), Viura (Spain), Albarino (Galicia), Verdejo (Spain, especially Rueda), Pecorino (the Marches), Malvasia (Italy, California), Sylvanner (Alsace, Franconia, where it's called Silvaner and comes in squat flasks).

        Reds: Fer Servadou (Marcillac in central France), Poulsard and Trousseau (Jura, though rare on this side of the pond and often running over $20), Nero d'Avola (Sicily, where there are several other worthy Neros too), Frappato (Sicily), Blaufrankish (Austria and Hungary, where it's called Kekfrancos), Negrette (Fronton in southwest France), Tannat (southwest France, especially Madiran, and Uruguay), Bonarda (Argentina, northern Italy), Mondeuse (Savoie), Monastrell (in Spain, aka Mourvèdre in southern France and Mataro in California), Montepulciano (central Italy), Aglianico (southern Italy), Primitivo (southern Italy), Negroamaro (southern Italy), Graciano (Spain, especially Rioja), Touriga Nacional (Portugal, where there are any number of indigenous grapes of both colours often made into good, affordable wines), Agiorgitiko (Greece), Petite Sirah (California), Mencia (Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra in Spain).

        8 Replies
        1. re: carswell

          Amazing. How do you remember all these?

              1. re: zin1953

                You came to mind also, Jason, in the wine-database-in-your-head category...

            1. re: carswell

              +1 for the Spanish Albarino. I discovered it in Spain when I was under-age by US standards. I managed to buy a few bottles after turning 21 in SC before moving to Kansas. Alas, no one in the town where I live has it on their lists. Occasionally I'll see a bottle at the liquor store. I always buy 2 bottles whenever I see it, because its availability is very unpredictable.

              Most of the Albarinos I've had are crisp, citrusy and dry. They tend to be a bit sweeter than most Sauvignon Blancs I've had, and somehow "smoother" - easier to drink. Forgive my bumbling description, but I'm kind of new to the world of wine and this board.

              1. re: Antithesisofpop

                I had a Californian Albarino at Frontera Grill in Chicago a couple of days ago - I quite enjoyed it with the fresh Fanny Bay oysters.

                1. re: odee

                  You don't by any chance remember the name of the winery, do you?

            2. Carswell mentioned romorantin. It's called the riesling of the Loire. It's got some sweetness countered by good acidity. It's a nice match for mildly spicy pork sausage. The sweetness means the flavors don't get buried in the heat and the acidity cuts through the fat. I've had them from Cazin and Tessier and I hope to try the one made by Puzelat.
              And to add to the unheard of category, get some of the Basque wines, where the grape names are also unpronounceable. I'm a fan of Ameztoi, especially the rose.

              1 Reply
              1. re: SteveTimko

                Oh my god yeah, Cazin Cour-Cheverney rocks.

              2. Müller Thurgau
                Maréchal Foch
                Picpoul Pinet
                [ETA] Arneis, Tocai Fuiliano, Malvasia Bianca, Alisos (blend), Dolcetto, Lagrein, Mattia, Rosso Raro, Savoia (blend)

                1 Reply
                1. re: PolarBear

                  LOL, I am going to have to print off this whole post! I have no chance of memorizing these lists.

                  thanks all!

                2. Some good ideas here, too:
                  Unknown but flavorful wine varietals – Timorasso, Nosiola, Pigato. Others?

                  Love all these ideas -- so many new things to taste!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    How about Auxerrois? I was at the Alsace Varietals Grand Tasting in Boonville yesterday and this little wine from Bel Lago in MI of all places blew me away. Bright, crisp, refreshing and distinct, it made me put away my Navarro Fan flag and e-mail the winery.
                    Hurray for obscure whites!

                    1. re: BigWoodenSpoon

                      You're bringing back memories...

                      Yes, Auxerrois. And I love to say it.

                  2. I'd suggest taking a regional or national approach to doing a tasting of unfamiliar wine. I've done a few tastings of this nature my last being a cru beaujolais tasting. I'd personally probably only tasted four or five cru Beaujolais before that tasting, and never at the same time. It was enlightening. Another idea a friend had in light of a recent NYT article was a tasting of German red wines with suitable pairings.

                    1. I'd suggest a Godello (white) and a Mencia (red) both from Spain. Have also had a couple of really nice Sylvaners lately. Or heck, just grab whatever your local store has from Austria as almost all (especially the reds) are apt to be unheardof.

                      1. Pecorino..not the cheese but the Italian white
                        tannat from Uruguay

                        1. Going back some years, our tasting group did similar. For me, it was Pinot Meunier with pork and star anise plus pomegranate was the dish. Our theme was "Varietals that no one has ever heard of," but obviously, someone has heard of them. Piont Meuiner is the most planted varietal in the Champagne region, but few know of it.

                          Some others were Zibibbo and some GR variations on other varietals.

                          Loads of fun!



                          1. To the earlier responses, I would add: cinsault, carignane, petit verdot and
                            charbono. Cinsault tends to be a soft wine which is used in Rhone valley blends.
                            It does not stand up so well on its own. On the other hand carignane (Southern
                            France, Priorat) is perfectly fine as a stand alone wine. Petit Verdot is used in
                            bordeaux blends, but it is all right on its own. Charbono is grown in California
                            but originates from France. It is robust, and slightly rustic.

                            On Carswell's list, Mourvedre is a great wine which deserves to be better
                            known. Tannat has the highest concentration of resveratrol (the antioxidant
                            behind the "French paradox") and men/women from the Madiran production
                            area have a reputation for great longevity.

                            11 Replies
                            1. re: bclevy

                              Unrelated to the OP, but if you ever consider having a party with wines
                              from unexpected locations, I recommend Chateau Musar, made in
                              Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

                              1. re: bclevy

                                Good call. Ch. Musar is quite nice, and should not be missed. When I see it on the sommelier's tasting list, I smile, as someone has likely done his/her homework.


                              2. re: bclevy

                                Mourvedre, cinsault and carignane are unheard of grapes?
                                Fricke makes a nice cinsault.

                                1. re: SteveTimko

                                  I guess it depends on who you are. I have heard of them, but my guests would not have.

                                  1. re: SteveTimko

                                    Yeah, I was just at Frick on Sunday and picked up his Cotes-du-Dry-Creek (Syrah/Grenache blend) and would've gotten the Grenache Blanc if it wasn't so spendy ($27). I love that he doesn't fine or filter and glad I was able to do my part to support his efforts.

                                    1. re: BigWoodenSpoon

                                      Did you try Bill's current release of Cinsault? Had one several years back that was wonderful, a year or two later, not so much. Sorry don't recall the vintages.

                                    2. re: SteveTimko

                                      What is unheard of depends of course on the audience, but I don't think
                                      there are too many cellars stocked with stand alone cinsault or
                                      carignane. I never had Frick's cinsault. Black Sheep which is based in
                                      Murphys in Calaveras County makes a cinsault. When I tasted it at the winery, it was
                                      the best of their lineup, so I decided to buy two bottles to drink with friends
                                      at a later time. But at home, I thought it tasted rather dull and soft. I may
                                      give Frick's a try but at this point my impression is that it should remain a
                                      blending wine.

                                      1. re: bclevy

                                        You're probably right that Cinsault/Cinsaut is best thought of as a blending (and rosé) grape but some 100% Cinsault reds from France's Midi are far from dull. Before giving up on the grape, try to find:
                                        - Capitelle de Centeilles, Minervois
                                        - Domaine d'Aupilhac, Les Servières, VDP de l'Hérault
                                        - Domaine La Terrasse d'Elise, Pradel, VDP de l'Hérault
                                        - Domaine des Terres Falmet, VDP d'Oc
                                        - Domaine La Combe Blanche, VDP des Cotes du Brian
                                        - Château de Rieux, VDP d'Oc

                                        Bonny Doon used to sell some pretty good Cinsault under the DEWN label. Dunno about now.

                                        Not to imply that you are, but no one should write off varietal Carignan without having tasted Clos Manyetes (Priorat), Rouge Gorge's two bottlings (VDP des Côtes Catalanes), Clos du Gravillas's Lo Vièlh (VDP Côtes du Brian) and Aupilhac's Le Carignan (VDP du Mont Baudile), among others. See: www.closdugravillas.com/carignanrenai...

                                        1. re: carswell

                                          Jessie's Grove from Lodi made what it called ancient vine carignan from vines about 115 years old that was tasty and sold for about $12 a bottle five years ago.
                                          Last fall I bought carignane bottles from Porter Creek and Ridge.

                                      2. re: SteveTimko


                                        So much of this will depend on the guests, and their knowledge of varietals. Obviously, if one has wine in a bottle, it cannot be claimed as "the varietal that no one has ever heard of." Of course, someone has heard of it - they made wine from it. It is very relative.

                                        I've seen groups where Riesling was virtually unheard of. You and I both know of it, but some others do not. Same with many "somewhat obscure" varietals. When one only knows Chard, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, much outside those are considered obscure, even if many millions drink it daily. Relative, my friend, relative. How many speak of Ugni Blanc?


                                    3. Nerello Mascalese from Etna (Sicily)

                                      1. I know the thread is old but
                                        Charbono one of the very few grapes that have a red interior. I believe it is orginally from Europe but if I am not mistaken it is grown in Cali also and if memory serves me correct Parducci used to make one. As I remeber it it was med complexity, grapey, full and fruity.

                                        7 Replies
                                        1. re: wineman3

                                          Yeah, had one from CA at the SF Chocolate Salon and it was yummy.

                                          1. re: wineman3

                                            Picchetti Winery, http://www.picchetti.com/, Santa Cruz Mountains, does a great Charbono, though I am not sure where that vineyard is located. Going to be hard to find, but worth the search.

                                            Good call, and good luck,


                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                              Both Shypoke and Summers make one that I've had.

                                              1. re: maria lorraine


                                                You have me on both of those. However, coming from you, I now feel compelled to find them (probably like Picchetti, in CA), and try them. I will keep my eyes out, as my lovely wife is talking about doing a long weekend at Meadow Wood.



                                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                  Please let me know when you'll be here. Would love to meet raise a glass together.

                                                  1. re: maria lorraine


                                                    That would be a great pleasure. I'd also like to introduce you to my long-suffering wife, as I know that you and she would have something in common - having to each deal with me, though at different levels!!!!

                                                    I will contact you, on the next visit up the Coast. Right now, we have a donor event for the PHX Symphony in Del Mar, but nothing up north - as of yet. Wife will be in SF for a quick meeting, but no time to actually enjoy life beyond SFO and the China Basin area, for a brief meeting. Gotta' be something worthwhile in the future, so we can get "out of town," and up-state.

                                                    It would be a distinct pleasure, and I promise to not be THAT big of a problem.


                                                  2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                    Wine Access offers the Shypoke Charbono to its subscribers
                                                    one a year. The Summers Charbono is available in some NorCal
                                                    grocery stores (like Nugget Markets), but it is probably difficult to
                                                    find in Arizona.

                                            2. Did a little research on Charbono.........only 80 acres left in California. UC Davis studys says that it comes from the Savoire sc region of France. Foot hills of the Alps and is used mostly for blending. The grape there is called Corbeau or Charbonneau it is not the same as Dolcetto which most thought it was and it is not Bonarda, however, Bonarda from Argentina is sometimes Charbono.........called Bonarda. If you look for pics of the Charbono grape on the net they look luscious.

                                              Wineman out.

                                              1. Since it's now asparagus season, I'll add my favorite wine for white asparagus: Bacchus, a German white from Franken. It also has a great name.