Posted on | December 23, 2013
Written by | W. Blake Gray
When setting out to showcase underrated wines, we didn’t want to pick individual brands or vintages. Instead, we wanted to highlight regions and varieties that don’t get their due from the press, the public and sometimes from the trade. Some of these wines are extremely well-known, yet still taken for granted. Others, you might not have thought of in a while—and that’s the point.
WHY IT’S UNDERRATED: Most Burgundy just keeps going up in price, but for some reason Chablis is left behind, despite being the most consistent high-quality wine in the region. Might have image damage from decades of California bulk producers calling cheap white blends “Chablis.” Also might suffer because its lean, minerally taste doesn’t fit the richer profile of more acclaimed Chardonnays.
BEST USAGE: Chablis goes well with the kind of dishes people commonly enjoy with Sauvignon Blanc: white-flesh fish, salads, mild pork dishes. It can go from appetizers deep into the menu. It is not, however, well-suited to drinking without food.
GOOD EXAMPLE: Domaine Billaud-Simon, Domaine Laroche, Les Temps Perdus.
SELLING TIPS: A map of France highlighting Chablis will show that while it’s part of Burgundy, it’s a cool-climate region all its own. Chablis wines are truly unique—nobody calls other wines “Chablis-like”—and using the word “unique” in shelf talkers will appeal to younger buyers. Also, make sure to highlight Chablis’s signature absence of oak.
WHY IT’S UNDERRATED: Albariño went through a brief spell as the “it” wine in New York restaurants, but never completely caught on with the public. But the wine remains full of character and flavor, and great with food. Its home is Spain’s Rias Baixas region; across the border in Portugal it’s called Alvarinho.
BEST USAGE: Albariño is one of the world’s greatest shellfish wines. Try it with steamer clams or pasta with clam sauce. Or shrimp. Or scallops. You get the idea.It’s also great with pork ribs.
GOOD EXAMPLE: Bodegas del Palacios de Fefinanes, Santiago Ruiz, Martin Codax (Spain); Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos (Portugal).
SELLING TIPS: Use a shelf-talker that says “This is the white wine California is trying to make—still.” It’s true; there are plenty of plantings of Albariño in California but not a lot of successful wines, yet.
3 GERMAN RIESLING
WHY IT’S UNDERRATED: A hundred years ago, wines from Germany’s Mosel region sold for more than any other wines in the world. Today, you can have the best wines in the region for less than the price of an ordinary Napa Cabernet made from purchased fruit. American wine critics generally don’t understand light-bodied German Rieslings, and few today realize that, while delicious on release, they can age gracefully longer than any white wine in the world. Also, the Germans sell us the sweet stuff, but in Germany they like their Rieslings dry (trocken).
BEST USAGE: Few wines go better with Thai food or spicy Szechuan cuisine.
GOOD EXAMPLES: So many! Try Müller-Catoir for dry Rieslings, St. Urbans-Hof for sweet ones.
SELLING TIPS: A Wine Opinions survey showed that people who don’t know Riesling don’t want to try it, so don’t waste your effort on them. More promisingly, the survey also showed that people who say they love Riesling drink it less often then people who say they love Sauvignon Blanc drink Sauvignon Blanc, for example. So focus your efforts on reminding Riesling lovers that they are, in fact, Riesling lovers. Maybe write them a little love note: “I miss you. Signed, Riesling.”
WHY IT’S UNDERRATED: The light-bodied nature of Beaujolais keeps it from getting attention in an era of muscular red wines, but that’s precisely what makes it exciting. And it doesn’t help that many people associate it only with the juicy-juice flavors of Beaujolais Nouveau. But in a time of increasing international sameness, Beaujolais is a red wine of long pedigree that’s different in an exciting way.
BEST USAGE: Beaujolais is the wine to reach for when you want a red wine with white-wine food, like fish or chicken or vegetarian fare.
GOOD EXAMPLES: Jean-Marc Burgaud, Pierre-Marie Chermette, Jean-Paul Thévenet.
SELLING TIPS: Remind people that Beaujolais is Burgundy (it is). Grand Cru Burgundy for $25! Can it be true? Yes it can!
WHY IT’S UNDERRATED: We asked sommeliers what regions in the world were underrated and more answered “Campania” than anywhere else. This region south of Rome, which includes Naples, makes great white and red wines, but they aren’t household names. Americans love to travel to Italy, but they don’t generally visit Campania so they don’t form the relationship with its wines that we have with wines from Tuscany and Piedmont and even Sicily. And there’s a critical vacuum with respect to Italy right now, with no major wine writers writing authoritatively about it.
BEST USAGE: These are tremendous food wines. Falanghina is a fruity, floral white that’s great with appetizers. Greco di Tufo is minerally and excellent with fish. Fiano di Avellino is full-bodied and good with chicken and pork. On the red side, Taurasi is a superb value, with some of the character of Barolo at a fraction of the price. Aglianico is a ripe, rich wine that calls out for steak.
GOOD EXAMPLES: Mastroberardino, Feudi di San Gregorio.
SELLING TIPS: A map of Italy with Campania highlighted will situate the wines in people’s minds. You might point out that because of its proximity to Rome, these wines are popular in both Rome and Naples, two of Italy’s great cities.
6 MENDOCINO COUNTY
WHY IT’S UNDERRATED: Many of Mendocino’s best grapes have gone into Napa Valley and Sonoma County wines for years. The wineries in Mendocino are mostly small, family-run and more than a little on the hippie side. The region doesn’t do a good job of promoting itself and recently dissolved its vintners association. There aren’t many good accommodations and restaurants in the main part of Mendocino County wine country, so it has never become a destination for the thousands of tourists who visit nearby Napa every year.
BEST USAGE: Mendocino County offers wines that are as good as those in the more famous counties to the south at a fraction of the cost. The Pinot Noirs from Anderson Valley are particularly good.
GOOD EXAMPLES: Black Kite Cellars, Handley, Navarro.
SELLING TIPS: Mendocino County has what might be the highest percentage of certified organic grapes of any county, though most of the wines aren’t labeled that way. The “eat healthy” niche is a growing one, and pointing this out reaches that Whole Foods crowd.
WHY IT’S UNDERRATED: Portugal makes fabulous, reasonably priced table wines from native grapes that nobody has heard of. The country is smaller and poorer than neighboring Spain and has not done a great job of publicizing anything beyond Port. When wine publications notice Portugal, they praise it, but it doesn’t have any flagship table wines to bring constant attention to the country. Vinho Verde is probably the cheapest good white wine in the world, and while it is reasonably well known in the U.S., it doesn’t do much for the rest of the country’s image.
BEST USAGE: Portuguese white wines are mostly simple, thirst-quenching and good value. The best reds tend to be blends. They’re getting more New World, but still tend to have the balance and character that makes them go well at the table.
GOOD EXAMPLES: Quinta do Noval, Niepoort, Esporão.
SELLING TIPS: Shops have been sliding Portuguese wines on the bottom shelves of the Spanish section for years, without much success. At this point, with the exception of price-driven Vinho Verde, Portuguese wines are handsells. Explain to Old World-friendly customers about Portugal’s unique wine culture and distinctive native varieties. In-store tasting will help; the wines sell themselves if people get a taste of them.
WHY IT’S UNDERRATED: Malbec is the hottest red wine in the U.S., but most people have never heard of Bonarda, the variety that Argentinians prefer to Malbec for its juiciness and gentle tannins.
BEST USAGE: Bonarda is between
Pinot Noir and Malbec in body and richness and thus goes well with a wide range of meat dishes. It’s also a delicious fireplace wine.
GOOD EXAMPLES: La Posta, Tikal.
SELLING TIPS: It has delicious fruit-driven flavors like Malbec, and it’s hip and different. That may be all you need to say.