Diversity in life is a beautiful thing. We have styles of music for every mood and occasion. Multifaceted cuisines allow us to savor unique flavors from around the world. While traveling to foreign countries brings new perspectives and growth opportunities. Wine is no different and consumers are catching on. In fact, wine lovers are more curious than ever before, embracing rare wines made from the obscure varieties of the world.
Considering over 6,000 Vitis Vinifera species exist globally, it’s about time wine consumers get curious. As of 2020, an estimated 7.3 millions of hectares of our planet are planted to vines. Thus, there’s bound to be gems beyond the eighteen noble varieties worth seeking out.
I experienced this phenomenal diversity firsthand when I first visited Sardinia in 2018. This Italian island bobbing in the Mediterranean Sea is actually an oasis of quality indigenous wines the world has yet to discover. In such, Sardinian wines are rarely even written about in major wine books and publications. Yet tasting Vernaccia di Oristano, Cagnulari, and Bovale Sardo, I felt as though I had just struck gold!
My experience with rare wines of Sardinia inspired me to launch my Rare Varieties series. My mission was threefold. First, to put lesser-known varieties of the world in front of consumers. Secondly, to inspire wine lovers to seek out these rare, obscure varieties by demonstrating how they offer exceptional quality for price. Lastly, to support the passionate producers working to keep these varieties alive and sustain diversity in the world of wine.
Though I soon realized, I am not the only wine lover interested in the world’s rare wines. I began to recognize a growing trend of consumers seeking out the lesser-known, obscure wines of the world.
Consumers New Taste for Rare Wines
Varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay reigned supreme from the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond. These decades saw many New World countries seeking to establish their reputation with international varieties. While many Eastern European countries under the Soviet Union, like Moldova, saw a complete standardization of wine production favoring the same international grapes.
However, today’s consumers crave something new. Well, new to them anyway. This curiosity-fueled demand has blessed the wine world with a revival of rare, indigenous varieties. From Timorasso in Piemonte to Fiano in Campania to Assyrtiko in Santorini and many others in between. As told to Seven Fifty Daily, importer Anthony Lynch of Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant highlights this shift in consumer interest, “The weirder the better. This sense of curiosity didn’t exist 15 to 20 years ago.”
“The weirder the better. This sense of curiosity didn’t exist 15 to 20 years ago.”
Where To Begin
For wine lovers interested in exploring rare varieties, countries like Greece and Italy offer an ideal place to start. Italy is home to over 500 indigenous varieties. Over 350 of which are authorized for commercial production. While Greece presents unexplored terroirs and countless indigenous varieties of its own. Both countries have long-established their reputations for quality winemaking. Consequently, even the rare wines of Greece and Italy have already made their way to wine shop shelves in America.
Yet these are not the only two countries whose indigenous varieties are worth seeking out. Corsica, the French island just a stone’s throw away from Sardinia, and it’s native wines were recently highlighted by Wine Enthusiast. Armenia is producing fantastic wines from indigenous grapes and ancient terroir which deserve a spotlight on the world stage. High-profile winemakers like Michel Roland, Paul Hobbs, and Alberto Antonini definitely took notice, partnering with various Armenian wineries. Personally, I was very impressed with the quality of the Armenian wines I featured on Rare Varieties.
Georgia, the birthplace of winemaking, continues to produce a myriad of wines from indigenous varieties. Many of which are popular amongst enthusiasts of natural wines and fans of amphora. Then, there’s the wines of Moldova, Portugal, Spain, and beyond. For consumers willing to look a little deeper, the diversity of rare wine gems available today is immense.
Native Varieties Provide High Value at Low Cost
Today’s obscure grapes are producing high quality wines capable of impressing the most sophisticated palates. If you value wine scores, a quick search on Wine Enthusiast demonstrates as much. Check out the high ratings for Greek red wines, Greek white wines, Italian red wines, and Italian white wines.
Since many wines of this minority grape segment are breaking into the market, they’re often available at very affordable price points. Depending on the producer, this can mean an outstanding quality to price ratio at exceptional value for the consumer. Additionally, this segment gives distributors, restaurants, and retailers an opportunity to boost revenue with lower costs and flexible margins.
Benefits of Embracing Native Grapes
For producers, the rising demand for lesser-known wine is a big plus. In today’s ever-expanding, over-wine market, indigenous varieties provide an unmatched opportunity for differentiation. Native grapes have the power to put regions and producers on the map. Alfredo Currado did just that with Arneis from Roero in Piedmont, a once obscure variety now recognized for quality. The wine renaissance currently underway in Calabria offers another example.
Additionally, producers have the chance to preserve ancient varieties, subsequently saving the wine heritage of their homeland. The Timorasso variety is currently experiencing such a revival amongst the hills of Tortona in southeastern Piedmont. In Spain, producers like Viña Ijalba partnered with regional and government organizations to preserve and promote native varieties of Rioja, including Tempranillo Blanco, Maturana Tinta, and Maturana Blanca.
Finally, even restaurants and retailers have the opportunity to make an impact through offering the lesser-known wines of the world. Maria Bastasch, Wine Director at one Michelin star restaurant Maydan, brings obscure wines of Lebanon, Turkey, Georgia, Africa, and more to a broader audience. As she told to AFAR, “I’ve stayed on their farms and worked in their vineyards and developed personal relationships with each of them, and those interactions have allowed me to see the impact that supporting them has on their business and community.”
We all have the opportunity to similarly support producers while maintaining diversity in the world of wine. I am on a mission to do exactly that and have a special project in the works backed by this mission. More on that coming soon!
Now, I’m curious to hear from you. Are you interested in exploring rare, indigenous wines of the world? If so, which countries interest you? Leave a comment below this article or drop me a line at email@example.com.