While there is comfort in familiar and tried and true wines, there also are many benefits to trying new wines. Besides the fun of broadening your palate and entertaining friends with new finds, these wines often are good values. Here are some emerging regions and lesser-known grapes to explore.
In southern Italy's boot lies Campania, which includes the cities of Naples and Salerno and the region of Basilicata. It also is home to the underappreciated aglianico grape. This Italian black grape — transplanted from Greece — is used to make deep red, aromatic, dry wines exhibiting one of the most sought after styles from the area surrounding the dormant volcano Mount Vulture.
Aglianico is the main red varietal grown in the province. Many well-made aglianico wines are well-structured with dark fruit flavors, good acidity and firm tannins. The wine has been described as the barolo of the south, a flattering comparison to the Piedmont region's renowned wine. Although the wines have been deemed worthy of cellaring, the 2011 vintage is approachable now, and so is the price.
In central Italy, the village of San Gimignano is known as the Manhattan of Tuscany because of its conspicuous skyline. In the Middle Ages, families of the town demonstrated their wealth by building towers, always striving to build the tallest new marker.
Olive groves thrive in the area's sandstone soils, and so do white grapes such as vernaccia. The grape dates back to the 1200s and may not be related to other Italian varietals using the same name. In recent years, oak aging has been introduced to the winemaking process, which lengthens and softens the crisp aspects of vernaccia di San Gimignano, but its signature acid character continues to be the hallmark of the wine.
Carmignano is a city 10 miles northwest of Florence. It has been a winemaking center since the Middle Ages and is notable as an exception rather than the rule. Long before grape blends were allowed in Tuscany, including now popular Super Tuscan blends, the wineries around Carmignano blended cabernet sauvignon with sangiovese.
When the region aquired a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOCG) designation in 1974, it was decreed that the wines from Carmignano had to contain at least 50 percent sangiovese grapes and up to 20 percent could be cabernet sauvignon or cabernet Franc, with the rest coming from malvasia, canaiolo nero and mammolo. These red wines are good with Italian dishes or by themselves.
In another Old World bastion, picpoul comes mainly from the Rhone region and has also found a home in the Languedoc area of southwest France.
The AOC, or regulated appelation of picpoul de Pinet, features an elegant and seductive expression of the grape, where it is paired well with local game and fish, a rare dual billing for a white wine. It has a citrus character and plenty of acid, which helps explains its suitability for food.
Sometimes the wine-making process defines the character of a wine instead of the grapes. In Galicia in northwestern Spain, the white wine grape godello, a member of the verdelho family, is harvested on steep hills affected by Atlantic influences. Fermentation of 20 percent of the grapes takes place in oak barrels and the rest in stainless steel. The result is a bright, fresh, citrusy wine with hints of ginger and fennel that goes well with food.