Wade Cothran | Oct 09, 2020
Five Unique Wines From Around the World
There’s nothing better than the rush of adventure you get when you try a great new wine! A wine that’s unique and imbued with a sense of history and tradition. With so many different wines in the world and so much variation, it’s always exciting to seek out exciting flavors and aromas and to look for those wines which are out of the ordinary.
Then why are the vast majority of wines on sale at most bottle shops and supermarkets so same-y? We see the same production methods, the same grape varietals, the same big-hitting wine regions, and producers over and over again… and while this is fine 99% of the time, there are those moments when we really want to explore outside the box!
Thank goodness, then, that some of the world’s more unusual and unique wine styles are becoming - little by little - more popular and in-demand than perhaps ever before. Today’s wine drinkers are a younger, dynamic bunch, and keen to discover! Let’s take a look at five unique and beautiful wine styles that break the mold, go against the grain, and have plenty to offer when it comes to flavor and character!
Unique Wine #1: Straw Wine
Straw wine is an ancient wine style, still popular in and around the Mediterranean. It’s a wine made from raisined grapes that have been left to shrivel and dry in the blazing sunshine. Sweet, complex, and boasting an array of surprising fruit and nut flavors, it’s usually served as a digestif or as a dessert wine to accompany fruity puddings and tarts.
Straw winemakers, like those in Sicily and southern Italy, lay out their grape harvest on large, hand-woven straw mats (hence the name), where the dry climate and intense autumn heat dries out and shrinks the fruit. This process concentrates the sugars in the grapes, resulting in an intense sweetness and set of flavors that often lean towards festive spices, honey, and dried apricots. Yummy!
Unique Wine #2: Botrytized ‘Noble Rot’ Wine
Think straw wine sounds a bit strange? Just wait until you hear about botrytized wine! This unusual winemaking style is incredibly old and was probably the result of a series of happy accidents in the vineyards of Hungary, Austria, and certain appellations of Bordeaux.
It involves the cultivation of the botrytis fungus, which is a parasitic mold (delicious!) that attacks the fruit and causes it to shrivel up on the vine. This ‘noble rot’, as it is often known, causes dramatic flavor transformations within the grape, and gives rise to a highly distinctive sweetness and spiciness when vinified.
Yes, we know: it sounds a bit disgusting. However, botrytized wines - such as Sauternes and Royal Tokaji - once enjoyed the reputation of being the finest wines in all of Europe, and were the favorite of the royal houses, kings, queens, and their courtiers. It actually isn’t difficult to see why: the intense syrupy sweetness and complex toasted flavors are a joy to behold and provide a fascinating and memorable taste sensation that really is unlike anything else on Earth.
Unique Wine #3: Eiswein / Ice Wine
We often associate wine with sunny climates - the South of France, Tuscany, California, Australia, etc - but actually, grapes thrive pretty much anywhere in the world where there is enough sunshine and moisture to allow them to grow. Ice wine - or Eiswein, as it is usually known - is primarily produced in colder climate wine regions, such as Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Canada, and New York State, and is the result of the grapes freezing on the vine.
The frost causes excess water to leave the center of the fruit, slightly shriveling the grapes and concentrating the sugars. The result? An intensely sweet and concentrated fruit flavor, which typically contains a level of spiciness and sweetness which makes Eiswein perfect for the festive season. The ideal pairing for Christmas cake and blue cheese, Eiswein has become increasingly popular in recent years.
Unique Wine #4: Retsina
Retsina, it’s fair to say, hasn’t always had a very good reputation. Indeed, speak to wine fans of a certain age about Retsina, and the chances are they’ll tell you some horror stories about wines served at bad Greek restaurants in the ’80s that tasted like toilet cleaner. Needless to say, this unusual wine style isn’t remembered very fondly by the vast majority of drinkers… and yet, recent releases from some of the more respected Retsina wineries have been highly impressive, in a sincere bid to turn this historic wine’s fortunes around.
Retsina has an interesting place in the world of wine, because it involves flavoring to the wine with pine resin. It’s said that the sticky, gummy resin of the local pine trees was used in Ancient Greece as a sealant for cracks in clay amphorae, and its powerful flavor seeped into the wines within the pots. The local population gradually got a taste for this unusual flavor… and after a while, winemakers started intentionally adding pine resin to their wines to capture that unique taste. It’s certainly an acquired taste, but on a hot and sunny day, it can be highly refreshing and is well worth a try.
Unique Wine #5: Slightly Sparkling Wine
We’re all familiar with sparkling wines, like Champagne and well, not sparkling wines, like a Cabernet… but have you explored the wines in-between? Slightly sparkling wines are the refreshing, laid-back cousins of fizzy vino like Champagne and Prosecco, and their fans love the gentle and delicate bubbles in these remarkable and deeply delicious drinks.
The most famous and popular of the slightly sparkling (or ‘frizzante’) wines is Portugal’s ubiquitous Vinho Verde, a gently bubbling wine made from the vibrant Alvarinho grape. With its gentle fizz, this wine really is incredibly refreshing and hydrating on a hot day, and far more comfortable to drink than more aggressively sparkling bottles.
There you have it - five unusual and unique wine styles from all corners of the ever-growing world of wine! No matter what wine you prefer, and no matter whether you’re a committed wine explorer or someone who likes to stick with what you know, there’s no doubt about the fact that an insulated wine glass can take your wine sessions to the next level.