Many of us play safe with wine purchases – we stick to what we know we like. So that means more Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz and most other grapes never get a look in. But if you’re feeling adventurous, here’s a few other suggestions to try.
Like Merlot? Try… Zinfandel (zin-fan-dell), from California.
Sadly we have grown used to seeing this grape name plastered all over mass and cheaply produced summer roses (White Zinfandel?). In fact it is a black grape and in warm places like California it can make a really spicy, smoky wine full of raspberry and forest fruit flavours with aromas of violets and leather. It can vary from soft and light to big and beefy and goes well with lamb and beef casseroles, sausage, pizza and pasta. It doesn’t ripen evenly so wine makers have to be careful when they pick it and it is best not bought in overly hot climates. Bonterra Zinfandel (£12.49, Waitrose), Scotto Zinfandel (£9.99, Adnams Cellar and Kitchen)
Like Cabernet Sauvignon? Try… Carmenere (car-man-yeah), from Chile
For years wine makers in Chile thought they were growing Merlot, but in fact it was Carmenere. Originally from France, the grape variety didn’t do so well in cooler European conditions and most winemakers abandoned it, but not before it had made its way to much hotter Chile. In 1994 a visiting wine professor identified many Chilean vines that had assumed to be Merlot as Carmenere and now you’ll find the grape proudly acknowledged on the front labels of certain Chilean reds. A typical easy-drinking Carmenere has relatively high alcohol with a ripe and plumy flavour and hints of chocolate and green pepper when you sniff it. If the wine has been aged in oak barrels it is likely to be lovely and rounded with some smooth blackberry flavours and clove. So if you like a lot of black fruit (take it from me you do if you like Cabernet Sauvignon) then this is definitely one you should try. Good alongside meat dishes with gravy, casseroles, grilled meats and steak and kidney pie. Tabali Reserva Camenère (£9.99, Majestic), Casa Rivas Reserva Carmenere, (Adnams Cellar and Kitchen, £12.99)
Like Shiraz? Try… GSM – grenache (gren-ash), shiraz (she-raz) and mourvedre (mor-ved-ra), from Australia
If you like the peppery bramble and blackcurrant flavours of Shiraz, you are well on the way to enjoying GSM already. It’s a mix of three grapes that adds the ripe plum of Grenache (which also produces spicy, peppery and sometimes leathery character) and seasons in some Mourvedre for added structure, inky blackness and a touch of tobacco. I suppose it’s a bit like building a recipe by adding different flavours, but these three grapes are in fact a tried and tested mix with a long history in the Rhone valley, southern France. Grenache and Syrah can also develop a ‘gamey’ smell and flavour, meaning the wine can taste meaty, and I love that so long as it’s not overpowering. Good with picnics, grills and meatier types of fish like sea bass. Native Goose Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre (£13.99, Adnams Cellar & Kitchen), McGuigan Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre (£9.99, Sainsbury’s)