From Albarino to Zweigelt, Alberta’s wine shops offer an entire alphabet of interesting wines to seek out and taste
— by Shelley Boettcher
Don’t get me wrong. I love Chardonnay. Whether it’s a crisp table wine or a toasty Champagne, it’s a staple in my cellar. Always.
But sometimes my palate needs a jolt of something exciting and new — new to me, if not to the winemakers and regions where they come from.
Here are eight wines — all $30 or less — that are well-priced and food-friendly. They’re also all made from grapes that may not be household names, but deserve more attention than they often get in Alberta.
(Txakoli de Alava, Spain)
Pronounced “tcha-ko-lee”, this wine style is typically made of Indigenous Spanish grapes such as Hondarrabi Zuri and Hondarrabi Beltza (believed to have come from Cabernet Franc), found in Spain’s Basque region. Astobiza’s fine example is crisp, zingy and relatively light-bodied. From a small family-owned winery, it’s organic, hand-harvested and single-vineyard, too. Drink it now — it’s not made for cellaring. Gorgeous with smoked salmon, and it’d be a natural with sushi or sashimi, too. Serve chilled. About $24.
This haunting ruby-red wine is made from Nerello Mascalese grapes grown in the volcanic soil of Mount Etna on the island of Sicily. Nerello Mascalese is likely a cross between Sangiovese and another indigenous Italian grape. Its name literally means “the black grape from Mascali,” a village on Etna that was mostly destroyed when the volcano erupted in 1928.
As for this example, there’s a ton going on here: flavours and aromas of wet rocks, freshly sharpened pencils, sundried rosemary, tobacco, overripe cherries. It seems to change in the glass every few minutes. About $28.
The word Lauschen goes back to the Middle Ages and refers to a hidden place, a dip in the land where people could once hide; now it’s a place for fine grapes to be grown. This small, family-owned winery is all organic, with impeccable attention to detail. They certainly know the land, too; the Gruber family has been farming in the region since the early 1800s.
Austria’s most popular red grape, Zweigelt only dates back to 1922, when it was created by one Professor Fritz Zweigelt, who made his eponymous grape by crossing Blaufrankisch and St. Laurent, two other wine grapes grapes that aren’t easy to find outside of Austria. About $27.
(Touraine, Loire Valley, France)
Gamay isn’t an unknown grape to most Canadians; it is the primary grape behind Beaujolais. But Pineau d’Aunis (also a red wine grape) is considerably less known; its roots go back to the Middle Ages in the Loire Valley. The two form the blend behind this refreshing, medium-bodied rosé that will charm pretty much anyone with its fruity, floral notes. Serve chilled, with a variety of appetizers. It’ll also go well with grilled Mediterranean-style vegetables, roast chicken or turkey. About $18.
From the oldest winery in Bierzo, this medium-full-bodied, vegan-friendly unoaked white wine has gorgeous saline and floral notes. The blend contains Dona Blanca (literally, “the white lady,” a white grape popular in Spain and Portugal) and Godello, a white wine grape that dates back to the 1800s in Spain. The label says to pair with chips and salsa, so we did and it was delicious. Serve chilled. About $24.
(Valtenesi, Lombardy, Italy)
You may have heard of Sangiovese and Barbera, two of the grapes in this blend, but do you know Groppello or Marzemino? Groppello is “the premier grape,” according to the Costaripa team, while Marzemino is perhaps most famous for being mentioned in Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni. (The line: “Versa il vino! Eccellente Marzimino!”). Both grapes round out this beautiful rosé, which features notes of tea, pomegranate and cherries. Serve lightly chilled, not too cold, with a plateful of prawns and some opera in the background. About $28.
(Sonoma, California, USA)
Made without pesticides or herbicides, this value-priced white wine comes from the renowned Cline Cellars and is lively, well-balanced and versatile, with notes of grapefruit and lime. It pairs with all kinds of dishes and is just the ticket for casual dinners with friends. It’s made from a big blend of grapes that include Muscat Canelli (part of what gives this wine its mouthwatering aromas), Palomino, Arneis and Marsanne. About $22.
(Okanagan Falls, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada)
Founded in 1995, Stag’s Hollow has long been known for making wine from grapes that aren’t household names to most Canadians. The winery’s delicious Tragically Vidal, made from Vidal grapes, sells out quickly every year, while other memorable creations include their Dolcetto and Teroldego wines, both made with Italian grapes now at home the Okanagan Valley.
Albarino is a Spanish grape that gets compared to everything from Riesling to Viognier, but it has its own distinct beauty. This light, peach and apple-scented example is just lovely on its own, but it really makes its mark paired with seafood. Serve chilled. About $22.m
Want to know more about the fruit behind your favourite bottles? Pick up a copy of the excellent Wine Grapes: A complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties Including their origins and flavours, by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz (Ecco, HarperCollins Publishers, $200.) The book isn’t cheap, but you’ll learn more than you ever imagined possible about grapes and where they come from.