The best wines you've never heard of

As with all areas of life, it's easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to trying new wines. After all, once you've found a bottle or two you enjoy, why rock the boat? The trouble, of course, is that there are quite literally thousands of wineries in the U.S. alone, not to mention the international options lining the walls of grocery retailers. You could try a new wine every night for years and still barely scratch the surface of the industry. So rather than going it alone or sticking to your tried-and-true favorites, check out the following 14 wines. Some of them are high-end, unusual varietals, while others are affordable options from interesting or unusual regions.

Los Pinos Ranch Texican

Napa Valley may be the perennial wine-making region in the United States, but the rolling hills of Texas are no slouches when it comes to producing fine wines, especially from grapes that thrive in the dry, scorching heat. The Los Pinos Ranch Texican wine is an award-winning lighter red made from Montepulciano and Sangiovese grapes that came away with a gold metal and a GrandStar award in the 2013 Lone Star International Wine Competition. This dry wine features flavors of red fruits and raspberry jam, and it pairs perfectly (in true Texas tradition) with grilled fajitas, like these perfect Texas fajitas from Sustaining the Powers.

Little Black Dress rose

When you want something fruity and slightly sweet, look no further than the newly released Little Black Dress rose. This Mendocino Valley blend features mostly Gewurztraminer and Muscat grapes that offer a fruit salad of aromas ranging from white peach and strawberry to grapefruit and apple. Available nationwide at just $12, this versatile wine is the perfect accessory for holiday parties and girls' nights in. Pair it with appetizers — the classic cheese and cracker platter always works — or light salads, such as the Greek nicoise salad.

2013 Glatzer Blaufrankisch

Michael Soderstrom, the founder of Stem + Vine, a boutique online wine retailer focused on helping customers discover wines from different regions around the world, points to the reds of Austria as a frequently overlooked treasure trove. He says, "Perhaps it's the overly Germanic grape names, or being overshadowed by the excellent Gruner Veltliners and Rieslings that Austria is most known for, [but] these wonderful wines never get their due. They have great fruit and nice acidity. They are great values and sing at the table." Specifically, Soderstrom points to the 2013 Glatzer Blaufrankisch as an excellent choice, "Only its name is holding this grape from wider adoption. ... This wine shows darker fruit with a thread of spice with more tannic structure. This a perfect wine for richer meats as well as pizza night." Know what I think? Combine them. Try this Austrian red with the ultimate meat lover's pizza recipe.

2014 Teleda Rkatsiteli Orgo

Never heard of orange wines? Well, it's only a matter of time. Peter Nelson, the Wine Director at Puritan & Company in Cambridge, says, "I love the orange wines that are getting more popular. These 'skin-contact' wines, made with white grapes as though they were red grapes, are incredibly versatile with food. ... We currently offer a wine by the glass, the 2014 Teleda Rkatsiteli Orgo from the Kakheti Region in the Republic of Georgia." What makes this wine special isn't just its color or the region of the world it comes from, explains Nelson, "While the rest of the world stopped fermenting white grapes on their skins a long time ago, the Georgians kept at it, as they have for eight thousand years. Furthermore, this wine is fermented and aged in qvevri, giant clay pots buried underground, for six months on the skins." In other words, enjoying the 2014 Teleda Rkatsiteli Orgo is a real treat, steeped in thousands of years of tradition. It pairs perfectly with fall and winter dishes, and Nelson suggested maple, rosemary, squash, marjoram, sweet potatoes, apples, and turnips for great complementary flavors.

Sindicat La Figuera 2015

The next stop on this grape-fueled international wine tour is Spain, where James Blick, the founder of the food- and wine-focused tour company, Devour Spain, points to the Sindicat La Figuera 2015 as his top pick. "This delicious grenache from the town La Figuera in the [Montsant] region has a very special story. One day, a group of local grape growers were sitting around a table and began wondering why the wine these days didn't taste like the wine from their youths, back in the '70s." You can probably see where this is going, as Blick continues, "They began making Sindicat La Figuera using the same rustic methods of yesteryear, including several months aging in subterranean granite vessels. ... The result is a yummy, juicy, and fresh, without any pretensions and plenty of kick." Blick also says the wine pairs well with roasted meats.

Premieres Grive from Domainedu Tariquet

Although you may be familiar with many French wines, chances are you haven't heard of the Premieres Grives from Domainedu Tariquet. The wine's name translates roughly to "first thrushes," inspired by the birds that arrive in the Gascony region when the wine's Gros Monseng grapes must be harvested in late fall. As a full-bodied white wine with flavors of yellow fruits, pineapples, and mango, it pairs surprisingly well with Thai cuisine, I say grab a bottle and whip up some pad thai — it's the perfect combo for a little Netflix and chill.

Lula Cellars 2013 Costa Vineyard pinot noir

When you have a special occasion you want to celebrate, plan ahead and order a bottle of Lula Cellar's 2013 Costa Vineyard pinot noir. As a small production, ultra-premium label vineyard located near Mendocino, California, winemaker Jeff Hansen prides himself on producing world-class pinot noir made entirely from grapes grown in Mendocino County. According to the vineyard, the 2013 pinot noir "is delightful with any beef dish," and is often thought of as a steak wine, but you shouldn't limit yourself. Hansen offered the following recipe from his vineyard's tasting room as a pairing option.

Chicken with Mushroom Cream Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients:


  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, stemmed, cleaned

  • 2-3 garlic cloves, chopped

  • ½ cup brandy

  • 1½ cups heavy cream

  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme


Directions:


  1. Chop cleaned, dried mushrooms into quarters and set aside.
  2. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Coat the bottom of a large saute pan with olive oil and bring to medium heat. Add the chicken and cook, turning once, until just brown, roughly 3-4 minutes per side. Remove chicken to a platter and cover. You will finish cooking it later.
  3. Add a few more swirls of olive oil to the pan and reduce heat to medium-low. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir often to prevent the garlic from burning.
  4. Add the mushrooms to the pan and stir to coat with the oil; season with salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium and cook until tender, 5-8 minutes.
  5. Add the brandy, increase heat to medium-high and cook until the liquid is fully absorbed. Taste the mushrooms and add seasoning as needed.
  6. Add the heavy cream and thyme bundle to the pan and reduce heat to medium. Return the chicken breast with any accumulated juices to the pan. Cook on medium-high for 5 minutes then turn chicken and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 5-6 more minutes until sauce has thickened and chicken finishes cooking. (Use your food thermometer to be sure your chicken is cooked properly.)
  7. Discard thyme and serve chicken and mushroom sauce over your favorite cooked pasta or rice.
  8. Enjoy with a bottle of Lula Costa Vineyards Pinot Noir!

2012 Frank Family Vineyards sparkling rouge

When you think of sparkling wines, you probably think of white or blush-hued numbers poured with gusto at weddings and New Year's Eve parties. But what if I told you there are sparkling wines that are almost ruby in color? Take, for instance, the 2012 Frank Family Vineyards sparkling rouge, which combines pinot noir, chardonnay, and petite sirah grapes from Napa Valley. Frank Family presses the grapes for a longer time than its lighter-hued cousins to give the wine a deeper color and fuller body, making it perfect for festive occasions like Christmas and Valentine's Day, appropriate considering the wine features aromas of pomegranate and red roses. Why not try it with chocolate-dipped strawberries for the ultimate romantic dessert?

2015 Priest Ranch grenache blanc

You've probably never heard of grenache blanc, a white Rhone grape variety that's rarely seen in the U.S. In fact, the Priest Ranch grenache blanc is the only estate-grown grenache blanc from the Napa Valley region. When you uncork a bottle, expect a crisp, full-bodied flavor that's ideally paired with fall dishes, like roast turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. In fact, you may have just found your perfect Thanksgiving pairing!

Spartico

For anyone sensitive to sulfites or worried about pesticides, look no further than the USDA Certified Organic Spartico, available at Whole Foods. At just $11 a bottle, this entirely affordable red is a blend of 50 percent tempranillo and 50 percent cabernet, delivering a light, slightly sweet flavor with hints of cherries and strawberries that pairs perfectly with paella, Spanish tapas, Spanish cheeses, and other spicy dishes.

Biokult Gruner Veltliner

If you want an organic white wine to pair with your favorite seafood dishes, look no further than another Whole Foods favorite, the Biokult Gruner Veltliner made with 100 percent organically grown grapes. The Gruner Veltliner variety is considered the "queen" of white grapes in Austria, known for a citrus-y, spicy flavor with scents of lemon, lime, and white pepper. If you're looking for a shake-up from a more traditional sauvignon blanc, this is the wine for you. Try a bottle with your favorite tilapia or white lasagna recipe.

Contadi Castaldi Saten

Next time you want a little bubbly, skip over France's champagne and opt instead for Italy's Franciacorta sparkling wines, commonly known as Italy's best kept secret. The Contadi Castaldi Saten, in particular, offers a typology unlike any other sparkling wine with a silky smooth texture. It's made with 100 percent Chardonnay grapes and is aged for a minimum of 24 months. The flavor is pleasant, but not sweet, with hints of bread crust, apple, and dried figs. Contadi Castaldi Saten is available in many states for $34. Enjoy it with pasta or your favorite mushroom risotto recipe.

Vynecrest Cherry Divyne

Get ready for two surprises. First, this wine comes from Pennsylvania, not exactly the most widely recognized wine-producing region in the country. Second, this wine isn't made from grapes, but from cherries. Yes, the Vynecrest Cherry Divyne is a dessert wine made from 100 percent Montmorency sour cherries from an established Pennsylvania orchard. The cherries' red skins and white flesh create a brilliant red wine that offers a sweet-tart flavor. Marnie Old, a sommelier speaking on behalf of Pennsylvania Wines, suggests you pair this standout with chocolate mousse, vanilla ice cream, or poached pears. It really is the perfect after-dinner treat.

The Prisoner

In a macabre bow to Halloween, every year on October 31st, The Prisoner Wine Company releases its newest vintage of, you guessed it, The Prisoner, one of California's most coveted under-the-radar wines. The wine is inspired by the "mixed blacks" made by the Italian immigrants who originally settled the Napa Valley region, and uses zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, petite sirah, and charbono to set a benchmark for high-end red blends. The result is a wine with aromas of cherry, espresso, and roasted fig that make it perfect for fall and winter drinking. You can't go wrong pairing this wine with a steak, but if you're the type who loves a good wine in any setting, I say serve it up with a gourmet homemade hamburger, because really, who doesn't love a great burger with a great bottle of wine?