The New Power Players: Five Wines to Watch For
There are literally hundreds of different kinds of wine being produced around the world, made from hundreds of different varieties of grapes. Throw in the blended wines (made from more than one type of grape) and that number multiplies even more. However, when people think of wine, only a few names are frequently bandied about: Cabernet Sauvignon. Chardonnay. Sauvignon Blanc. Pinot Noir. Shiraz. These wine varietals are some of the mainstays of wine festivals, best-sellers at wine auctions, and perennial favorites of wine critics.
But fashion is a fickle mistress. Today’s vibrant global wine culture is rapidly expanding into new markets, with converts to the vine eager to seek out the Next Big Thing. Here are some of the wines consumers, collectors, and investors would be well advised to keep an eye on in the near future:
*All examples of most popular wine varietals taken from wine-searcher.com. All prices USD.
Beaujolais is a lovely light red wine made in the Beaujolais region of Burgundy; made from the Gamay Noir grape, it is a low-tannin, high-acidity wine with primary overtones of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, and cranberry, with occasional hints of banana.
Its most famous form is Beaujolais Nouveau, a very young wine designed to be drunk as soon as it is bottled. Beaujolais Nouveau reached the height of its popularity in 1980s America, but sheer market demand ran the quality of the wine into the ground and for most of the ’90s and early ‘aughts the Beaujolais brand was tarnished. Today, there is a small but steadily growing appreciation for Beaujolais, especially the more high-end types such as Beaujolais-Villages AOC and Beaujolais Cru—darker, deeper variations on standard Beaujolais that are dependent on the terroir in which they were bred.
As it is quite light and fruity, Beaujolais is best paired with simple, casual dishes: finger food, light white meat, delicate pasta, soft cheeses like Brie and Camembert; and oddly enough, Chinese food. It’s also great for sangria.
Most popular Beaujolais: Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages (avg price $11).
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What is Merlot doing on this list? Merlot is traditionally one of the great classic varietals of fine wine, mentioned in the same breath as Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir. However, Merlot fell out of fashion ten years ago after Sideways became the surprise Oscar-winning runaway hit of 2004. The main character’s disdain for Merlot translated into a record fall in sales figures, and only recently has it started to recover.
Merlot is one of the most widely-planted grape varieties in the world, originating from the Bordeaux region in France and spreading to Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and as far away as the Americas and Australia. Merlot is frequently blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Tempranillo, and is considered a great starter wine for beginners. Given its light to medium tannic touch and overtones of blackcurrant, black cherry, and plum, it is generally smooth, full-bodied, and well-rounded, and its acidity does not repel wine novices. The wine works best with French and Italian cuisine, matching well with a wide variety of meats such as chicken, steak, and lamb. It is a great favorite with chocolate and blue cheese.
Most popular Merlot: Petrus (avg price $2,842)
While the Riesling has long been considered the finest white grape in the world, its sometimes sweet, sometimes dry white wines have acquired more of a niche, yet steadfastly loyal following compared to that of the other great noble grapes. In the ’70s Riesling was quickly supplanted by Chardonnay, which to this day remains as the gateway white for wine novices. However, like Beaujolais and Merlot, Riesling is also making a comeback.
Riesling is the signature grape of the Rheingau and Mosel, the wine-producing regions of Germany, but it is also now produced in Australia and New Zealand, as well as South Africa and Canada. It is generally a light and aromatic sweet wine, given enough time to age; young Riesling has been known to be somewhat spare and austere in its taste. Citrus is the dominant tone, with notes of lime, apricot, lemon, and nectarine, giving forth an impression of crispness on the palate. Critic Jancis Robinson describes Riesling as “the wine to drink while writing or reading; it refreshes the palate and sharpens the brain.”
Reisling is quite versatile when it comes to food pairings; spicy Asian cuisine like Thai and Vietnamese work remarkably well with this.
Most popular Riesling: F. E. Trimbach Riesling Clos Sainte Hune ($210)
The Sangiovese grape is a decidedly Italian grape, used almost exclusively in Italian wines and specifically in Chianti. It is grown mainly in the Tuscan region of Italy, with a few pockets in Corsica, Argentina, and the United States. While Sangiovese has been in style for the past decade given the romantic associations of Tuscany, Chianti has been experiencing a recent resurgence in popularity. There are also the “Super Tuscans”—Italian wines that blend Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah/Shiraz, in a move to upgrade and sophisticate the rustic character of the Italian grape.
Sangiovese wines are high in tannin and quite acidic—leaning more on the dry rather than sweet side. They have a savory character and are quite fruity with tones of strawberry, cherry, plum and fig, with a floral hint. They are best paired with dishes heavy on the herbs and tomatoes, and the acidity will work well with roasted meats.
Most popular Sangiovese: Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve Colli della Toscana Centrale IGT ($101)
Viognier has an unusual history—half a century ago the grape was all but extinct, reduced at one point to only 30 to 40 acres of vines in France as more room was needed for the more popular reds. After its rediscovery by Californian wine growers, it has grown by leaps and bounds but compared to the vast growth of other, more climate-friendly grape varieties, the number of Viognier vines is still quite small.
Viognier is a temperamental grape to cultivate; it requires a delicate balance of sunshine and heat to achieve an optimum flavor akin to stone fruits such as apricots and peaches, with a floral hint of honeysuckle and orange blossom. It is soft and full-bodied, is usually paired with soft cheeses such as Brie and complements Chinese and Japanese cuisine as well as spicy Thai and Mexican. While various Viogniers have won awards at wine festivals from the United States to Australia, it still remains a niche wine. But its exoticness may just be the key to draw curious customers in.
Most popular Viognier: Château-Grillet ($158)
Do you think there are other varietals wine lovers should watch out for? We’d love to hear your thoughts.