Up-and-coming regions, obscure varietals, eclectic aperitif and dessert selections: Adventure is the name of the drinking game these days, thanks to the rise of the sommelier-driven (as opposed to distributor- or even strictly demand-driven) wine list. Grape geeks, of course, relish the increased opportunity to explore—so long as they can squeak out the sometimes-daunting pronunciations. Here are a few terms to practice, because you'll be seeing lots more of them in the near future.
Like Elvis fans discovering the blues, Malbec devotees have finally caught on to the fact that Argentina's famous grape comes from Southwest France, where the best bottlings serve as textbook illustrations of the differences between Old World and New World tradition (read: Old World wines are earthier and bramblier).
What's a German name doing on an Italian wine? One, reflecting the complicated political history of the South Tyrol, aka Alto Adige, on the Austrian border. And two, proving that confusing nomenclature doesn't trump deliciousness: With intense notes of plum and dark chocolate, licorice and even mint, red Lagrein is an Italophile's darling to watch.
Not to be misconstrued as "Sauvignon." This high-acid white grape's star has been rising sharply along with that of its home, France's Jura region. Whether alone or blended with Chardonnay, it's at its most fascinating when done in a funky oxidative style that adds nuttiness galore to its flinty, lemon-custardy core.
Now that the whites of Northeastern Italy's Friuli-Venezia Giulia have proven their worth, the reds are gathering steam, too. Besides being super fun to say, this one's easy to drink, bursting with berries and dusted with cocoa and pepper.
Tokaji Aszú: TOH-kai-ee AH-soo
It sounds like a karate yell followed by a sneeze, but it's actually one of the world's most celebrated dessert wines, made in Hungary primarily from white Furmint grapes dried on the vine by the fungus botrytis, aka the noble rot, to yield an intensely rich, honeyed palate freshened by apricot and tropical fruit flavors.
Touriga Nacional: Too-REE-gah NAH-syo-NAHL
Okay, as Portuguese goes, that's relatively easy to sound out. Get used to doing so, because since the extraordinary 2011 vintage, Portugal has been on fire. And this red grape is key to the structure of both its table and legendary fortified wines.
Usually, a lightly spritzy, exhilaratingly citrus- and mineral-toned white from Spain's Basque country—although the bottling that has really put this wine on the U.S. map, Ameztoi Rubentis, happens to be a rosé.
You'll remember to vocalize the "s" at the end if you picture it as a single dollar sign. Many a sommelier has begun to rely on this Southern Rhône appellation's blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and occasionally Cinsault or Carignan—spice streaked and strewn with wild berries and cherries, flowers and herbs—as a budget-friendlier substitute for Châteauneuf-du-Pape (pronounced "$$$").
The newfound popularity of Greece's island whites has raised the stakes for other Greek wines—among them a monovarietal red as bold as its name, literally "acid black," suggests. High in tannin, as well as acid, the pride of northern appellations is prized for its age-worthy complexity, with savory notes ranging from leather and tobacco to olives and sundried tomatoes.
As its Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings go mainstream, Austria's reds are ready for the prime time, too. Marked by lively fruit (blueberries, cherries), an array of spices and balanced tannins, Zweigelt is as genial to wine novices as it is friendly to food.
Please check your inbox to verify your email address.