By Leslie Sbrocco
When the weather warms, I ache for the exotic. As a Chardonnay lover and Sauvignon Blanc devotee, I like to sip the familiar, but I know there’s more to explore. Heard of Torrontes, Roussanne or Albarino? Each of these grape varieties will widen your wine horizons.
Not sure what to try? Just like you have styles of clothing that you mix and match for a desired ensemble, think of swapping out wines by style. If you choose Chardonnay because you like a richer, fuller style of white, then you might enjoy another wine like Grenache Blanc with some of the same characteristics.
Use my style guide and recommended wines to try as a shopping list. Go ahead -- take a springtime sip on the wild side.
If you like Chardonnay…try Roussanne or Grenache Blanc
Chardonnay is generally a rich white with tropical fruit flavors and creamy texture. Roussanne and Grenache Blanc are white grape varieties that can offer similarly styled dry wines. Both grapes hail from the Rhone region of France (along with sister grapes Viognier and Marsanne) and offer aromas of ripe fruit and often a hint of nutty smoothness. These grape varieties are planted from Spain to Australia and France to California so enjoy the journey.
Wines to try:
- Yangarra Roussanne, McLaren Vale, Australia $22
- Zaca Mesa Roussanne, Santa Ynez Valley, California $25
- Tablas Creek Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles, California $25
- Bonny Doon “Le Cigare Blanc” Arroyo Seco, California $22 (a blend of both Grenache Blanc and Roussanne)
- Perrin & Fils “Les Sinards” Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, France $40 (mostly Grenache Blanc)
Wine expert Leslie Sbrocco challenges TODAY's Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford to pick the better wine deal in a taste test.
If you like Pinot Grigio…try Soave and Orvieto
Though there are world-class producers of Pinot Grigio, the majority of bottles are simply light and lemony. For a similar style with more intensity, look for Italian whites named Soave and Orvieto. Both are named for places in Italy -- Soave in the north around Verona and Orvieto in central Italy in Umbria -- and both made not with Grigio grapes but other G’s – grapes named Garganega and Grechetto. These wines are crisp, zesty and often complex.
Wines to try:
- Inama Soave Classico, Italy $15
- Pieropan “La Rocca” Soave Classico, Italy $35
- Ruffino Orvieto Classico, Italy $10
- Antinori Santa Cristina “Campogrande” Orvieto Classico, Italy $12
If you like Sauvignon Blanc…try Albarino
Sauvignon Blanc is a grape known for its mouth-puckering freshness and touch of herbal aromas. It’s sassy and classy at the same time. Another variety you might love if you’re an SB fan finds its home primarily in Spain. Albarino is a juicy, succulent white from an area named Rias Baixas (pronounced ree-ahsh bi-shus) situated on the west coast of Spain just above Portugal. Its seaside location makes Albarino-based wines the ideal partner for all types of fish, salads, and fresh-from-the-garden fare. (There are even a few versions from California to sample.)
Wines to try:
- Martin Codax Albarino Rias Baixas, Spain $13
- Fillaboa Albarino Rias Baixas, Spain $18
- Vionta Albarino Rias Baixas, Spain $19
- Terras Gauda “O Rosal” Rias Baixas, Spain $24 (blend of Albarino and other grapes like Loureira and Caino Branco)
- Tangent Albarino “Paragon Vineyard” Edna Valley, California $17
If you like Viogner or Gewürztraminer…try Torrontes
Aromatic wines such as Viognier or Gewurztraminer are like perfume for the palate. Spicy, floral aromas mix it up with ripe fruit flavors in usually dry-styled whites. If you enjoy drinking these types of wines, add Torrontes to your list. With peach blossom scents wafting from the glass, Torrontes fools you into thinking its sweet. Most, however, are dry and lusciously fruity. Crisp yet creamy these wines are produced in Argentina from areas such as Mendoza and the high valley of Cafayate.
Wines to try:
- Acordeon Torrontes Cafayate, Argentina $9
- Familia Zuccardi “Santa Julia” Torrontes, Mendoza, Argentina $10
- Dominio del Plata “Crios de Susana Balbo” Torrontes, Cafayate, Argentina $14
- Bodega Tamari, Torrontes, La Rioja, Argentina $15
If you like sweeter Riesling…try Moscato
What is one of the fastest growing categories of wine? Moscato. It’s slightly sweet, often bubbly and always delicious. The explosively aromatic white is appealing to just about everyone. It pairs with a wide range of foods, too, from spicy Kung Pao chicken to apricots dipped in dark chocolate. Lower in alcohol than most other whites, it’s a quaffer to quench your thirst. Most Moscato hails from Italy but Californian versions are coming on fast as the grape rises in popularity.
- Saracco Moscato d’Asti, Italy $16
- Caposaldo Moscato, Italy $14
- La Badia Moscato d’Asti, Italy $20
- Middle Sister “Sweet and Sassy” Moscato, California $12
- St. Supery Moscato, Napa Valley, California $20
Leslie Sbrocco is the author of "The Simple & Savvy Wine Guide" and founder of ThirstyGirl.com.