As I was adding a host of obscure grape names such as pelaverga, areni noir, and bovale sardo to some tasting notes recently, I was struck by the extent to which our experience of wine is circumscribed by a tendency to complacency. Like sticking to the same old newspaper, washing-up liquid, car or, as often as not, wine, brand loyalty may well be a virtue in the eyes of the marketing industry but it's as often as not the refuge of unadventurous consumers. A continually expanding wine universe challenges us to peer our from under the shell of our comfort zone and stick noses into an expanding array of new flavours and experiences.
Something similar must have occurred to Julia Harding MW when, tasked with finding her 50 top Portuguese wines, she decided to stick to wines made only from native Portuguese grape varieties. The result was a group of surprisingly good dry whites, among them the 2010 Quinta de la Rosa Branco, £14.95, Berry Bros (0800 280 2440), slurp.co.uk, a refreshing Douro blend of viosinho and rabigato grapes with smoky undertones and crisp, appley fruit enveloped in a swirl of smokiness, and finishing nuttily dry. Looking at her selection, Portugal's whites could well be one of wine's Next Big Things.
Crossing from Atlantic to the Mediterranean, Italy's northern region of Friuli has long been recognised for its brilliant whites such as the wonderful 2009 Vie di Romans Flors di Uis, £25, Laithwaites (0845 194 7720), a fragrant bright and exotic rich peach and pear blend based on malvasia istriana and friulano with a pithy grapefuity freshness. It's to Italy's South, though, that we now turn to increasingly for fine new wave whites such as Sicily's 2011 Planeta Carricante, £16.95-£18.95, Great Western Wine (01225 322810), Swig (0800 0272 272), Valvona & Crolla (0131 556 6066), a fragrant white whose apple- and lime-zingy aromas are complemented by a deliciously full-bodied stonefruit richness with a bone-dry finish.
Like carricante, the Mediterranean's vermentino grape also retains a natural refreshness, a factor Laithwaite's winemaker Mark Hoddy has taken advantage of in the 2011 Un Vent de Folie, Vin de France, £9.99, Laithwaites. It's an accomplished, richly-concentrated white with a lightly toasty note underscored by honeyed notes and a crisply refreshing lemony aftertaste. My most recent reminder of the new reach of obscure grape varieties was an encounter with the 2010 Zorah Karasi, £22-£23.50, Philglas & Swiggot (020-7924 4494), Shaftesbury Wines (01747 850059), Swig. Made from areni noir, this Armenian red from Zorik Gharibian is aged in traditional amphorae with fresh, fragrant cherry and pepper spice, stylish polished oak and a soft and juicy mulberry-like quality whose savoury acidity recalls northern Rhône syrah.