The wine industry’s Great Migration has not only been to the more forgiving prices of the grapes and regions that were once hidden or neglected. More adventuresome imbibers have also challenged their vocabulary with multi-word, syllable-laden wines like Gruner Veltliner and Moschofilero – and to ease off the pronunciation pedal a bit – Vinho Verde, plus Riesling without any gratuitous Germanic adjectives.
Notice a common theme about all these grapes? All produce the golden, sun-shiny juice of bright white wines. Wonderful stuff, too. But what about those obstinate red wine drinkers – the ones who are so insistent on swirling a glass of deep purple or burgundy (note the lowercase “b”), they allow it to flank their plank of Lake Superior whitefish or serving of bay scallops?
The virtues of reds such as Grenache, Carmenère and Tannat have been extolled in this space before – along with the up-and-coming wine regions that produce them. But with so many white grapes holding forth in places like Austria, Portugal, Greece and Germany, shouldn’t it be assumed that some love is being accorded to red wines in these places?
Duh! Of course there’s plenty of red in Portugal – that regal stuff known as Port doesn’t just ooze from tree sap (alas, some do lament a sappy Port). And the Greek and Germanic vineyards are interspersed with red grapes among their heavily exported – and now-shrewdly marketed – whites.
Although not left to languish in the vineyard, this red fruit is like the once-obscure white grapes that are now receiving their due. These red varietals might not produce a lot of juice for the American market just yet, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“The less expensive wines from varietals and areas that produce at a lower case volume is where people can find a lot of value,” says Ivan Diaz of The Wine Discount Center. “Besides, people are not really going for the mass-produced cheap wines in the supermarket.”
And this is where the opportunity awaits for the red wines of Mitteleuropa, non-Port from Portugal and purplish nectar-of-the-gods from Greece. Here are a few options at Chicago-area retailers:
Zantho Burgenland: Made from one of Austria’s native reds, the Zweigelt (gesundheit to all in advance), features a ripe berry fruit and earthy characteristics. However, a notable spice element acts as a foil, so as to prevent a full on, flabby fruit bomb. This balance provides a lot of versatility: Enjoy with roasted poultry or grilled lamb. $14.
Niepoort “Twisted” Douro Tinto: Even though Vinho Verde is a terrific patio sipper for super cheap, this intense Portuguese red is a real indulgence for a sunset barbecue. The “Twisted” moniker is spot on: this wine weaves the smoky muscle of Malbec with the smooth berry and spice that highlights Spanish Garnacha. Light a charcoal fire on one side of the grill, and place a strip loin roast opposite – and have a stash of this delicious red ready. $15.
August Kesseler “Pinot N” Spätburgunder: To create a little more conversation – and spend a little less cash – try this German wine instead of a Pinot Noir Bourgogne. This mélange of fresh blackberry, currant and marzipan makes for an east-of-the-Maginot-Line equivalent to the widely available entry-level Burgundy. There’s something invigorating – even refreshing – about this wine, which is not unlike what people say about French or New World Pinot Noir. Try it with Ratatouille or a beer-can chicken laden with lemon and sage. $16.
Boutari Nemea: This producer has gone to great lengths to promote its Moschofilero – even putting a phonetic pronunciation for the white varietal on its site. But the red Nemea, made with the St. George grape (keeping it Anglo here), is an approachable and versatile red wine. Round and medium-bodied, with an aroma of red fruit and a palate of red currant, cocoa and a nice finish, it’s great with Asian beef dishes. $14