While every wine lover has the freedom to sip to their palate’s delight, there are a few unsung wine varieties out there that don’t get as much shine as they deserve.
Wines that are considered trendy (see: natural, orange, clean and/or vegan) can sometimes overshadow the grape varieties that have been around for ages.
But what truly makes a wine underrated? Is it the region from where it comes or how it grows? Or perhaps it’s where and how frequently it should be enjoyed? The answer is quite subjective, but the truth is, there are hundreds of styles from all over the world that can speak to any wine lover. Whether they be made from unique, indigenous grapes or require a bit of time before they are right for consumption, underrated wines do exist, and they are available to be enjoyed all year round.
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We asked nine sommeliers to share their thoughts on the most underrated wines requested by guests. From the dining room to the wine shop floor, here are some styles that these wine professionals think should be consumed more.
The Most Underrated Wine Styles and Bottle Recommendations According to Sommeliers:
- Champagne (Champagne Marguet, Champagne Savart, and Champagne Selosse)
- New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc)
- Grüner Veltliner (2020 Arndorfer Grüner Veltliner ‘Handcrafted’)
- Rosé (Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Rosé)
- Cabernet Franc (Domaine Guiberteau)
- Grüner Veltliner (Manni Nössing)
- Merlot (Emmolo Merlot 2018)
- Dry Tokaji (The Oddity)
- Grüner Veltliner (Weingut Knoll Loibner)
“I believe there is a lack of appreciation for Champagne when it comes to its food applicability. It is often associated with being an aperitif, reserved only for toasts, or paired with dessert at a celebration. Champagne can be a great option throughout a meal, pairing beautifully with a wide range of salty, savory, and crunchy foods. Champagne Marguet, Champagne Savart, and Selosse are all delicious with their own unique expressions of bright citrus, toasted brioche, apple, and white floral notes.” —Kelly Mitchell, sales, Skurnik Wines and Spirits, New York
“People know that they like Sauvignon Blanc, but there are still many people that don’t know how much they’ll love New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. To me, it’s the Super Mario of all Sauvignon Blanc, and there are still many wine shops that don’t have one on the menu or in stock. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is the quintessential expression of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Between the zippy and lively acidity, and the complete outburst of fresh-cut grass, lemon, and lime, it’s going to be a style that you won’t easily forget. When served cold, young vintages jump out of the glass, and the best part is that (most of) the best producers come in at under $30.” —Devin Reed, sommelier, Wine and Culture Los Angeles, Los Angeles
“Austrian Grüner Veltliner. When it comes to an approachable white wine, what guests usually want is acid, freshness, and good fruit, but they have yet to experience a wine that’s a little more refined and with a different flavor profile. 2020 Arndorfer Grüner Veltliner ‘Handcrafted’ from Kamptal, Austria has gingered layers of peach, apple, and citrus with an attractive floral tone holding it all together. On the palate, it mirrors the aroma with verve and energy — call it acidity — and is light-to-medium bodied with everything you want from Grüner, especially in artisanal biodynamic winemaking. Very clean and precise.” —Christopher Sealy, wine director and sommelier, Toronto
“As the author of a book focused entirely on rosé wines from around the world, I have to say rosé. Some of my guests and clients will request a Mourvèdre-dominant pink wine like Bandol or even a slightly harder-to-find option like a Tibouren rosé. I typically will serve them Pascal Jolivet Sancerre rosé from the Loire Valley as an alternative to Provence. Although it’s made from the one grape varietal, Pinot Noir, this pink wine is extremely layered. It has the lovely pale salmon color that people tend to love, and offers up super-refreshing acidity, tart strawberry notes, and great minerality. It immediately captures your attention with its generous hints of berries and leaves a lasting impression on the palate.” —Charles Springfield, certified sommelier, author, wine educator, and founder, The Life Stylings of Charles Springfield, NYC
“I find that people don’t often request Cabernet Franc, but when people start to explore their wine knowledge, they quickly become a staple. A great expression of this variety is made by Domaine Guiberteau, and it’s from the Loire Valley. Aged in natural oak barrels, this Cabernet Franc has bright red fruit with crisp red pepper, earthy notes of potting soil, and spiced herbs. Not as powerful and concentrated as its Bordeaux counterpart Cabernet Sauvignon, but elegant, crisp, and lively.” —Ellyn Cook, sommelier, Chicago
“Lately I’ve seen an uptick of Grüner Veltliner and Grenache requests. I think Grüner isn’t requested often because people are just unaware of both the grape and the regions it is grown in general. Manni Nossing is a stunning Grüner from northeast Italy with just a touch of acacia oak for structure. Great acidity, salinity, and mineral finish round out the delicate tree fruit and spice notes. This wine also ages gracefully and develops further in character.” —Chelsea Young, sales representative, fine wine specialist, Atlanta
“Because of the movie ‘Sideways,’ Merlot has a bit of a tainted reputation, but it truly is a delicious wine. Emmolo Merlot 2018 is a rich, complex example of this underrated variety from Napa. It has ripe black fruit and notes of leather, espresso, and sweet spice. It’s supple tannins and complexity of evolving flavors makes this wine more than the simple, lackluster stigma attached to Merlot. This wine can be enjoyed now or age for further development. However, I recommend buying a few bottles so you can open today and age the others for later.” —Isis Daniel, CEO, The Millennial Somm, Washington, D.C.
“Before the pandemic, I’d been getting some requests for dry Tokaji, which I happen to really enjoy. Tokaji is known as the Hungarian dessert wine, and many don’t realize the Furmint grape makes a lovely dry white that is very food friendly. I’ve poured Oddity for clients, and I really love the fresh aromas of apple and pear. There are also beautiful ripe peach and apricot flavors with a nice zesty finish that make it perfect with spicy Asian dishes or fresh East Coast oysters.” —Lea Williams, educator and owner/founder, Let’s Talk Wine, NYC
“Although many people are aware of Grüner Veltliner, many people still have not the slightest idea of how delicious this variety truly can be. I don’t think that people ask for this due to lack of exposure to this grape variety. I think if sommeliers served it by the glass at a great price point, guests would gravitate towards it more. Weingut Knoll Loibner is an amazing and yet also iconic producer that displays notes of ripe fruit on the nose like white peach, yellow cherries, and fresh nectarine, and partnered with white pepper and wasabi, and peas. It pairs well with any type of raw fish or seafood dishes.” —Ray Sholes, sommelier, Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink, Miami