As nature starts to wake up from the slumber of winter, our senses are delighted by the rediscovered aromas of blooming flowers, fresh grass, and that indescribable zip in the air. This feeling of renewal and energy brings about the perfect opportunity to engage our palates in new ways. While we all have our tried-and-true favorites when it comes to wine, spring is a great time to discover delicious new options. Using your favorite everyday bottles as a jumping off point, here are some alternative wines to try the next time you’re ready to pop a cork.
Chardonnay is an incredibly versatile white wine; styles run the gamut from crisp, mineral-driven Chablis to full-bodied with buttery flavors often associated with California. Similarly, chenin blanc shows the same range of crowd-pleasing styles. The varietal is highly aromatic with good acidity, and like chardonnay, it has a lot of delicious orchard fruit flavors. In South Africa, chenin blanc is becoming somewhat of a signature varietal; there is more chenin blanc planted there than in the rest of the world combined, and winemakers are finding ways to put their personal stamp on this adaptable white grape.
Wine to try: Kloof Street, Swartland Chenin Blanc, Swartland, South Africa
Like chardonnay, pinot grigio, with its easy-going nature, is often a go-to white wine for many drinkers. The grape hails from Italy’s Friuli region and usually shows nice mouthwatering acidity and inviting apple and pear flavors. If you’re seeking something that fits that fresh, lively profile of pinot grigio, try grüner veltliner. The varietal, which is native to Austria, has both orchard and citrus fruit flavors with a balanced minerality. Many top producers also make grüners that can age, which offers a different expression of the grape.
Wine to try: Rudi Pichler, Reid Hochrain Smaragd, Wachau, Austria
Sauvignon blanc is often prized for its aromatics, from the tropical fruit notes of a New Zealand sauvignon blanc to the more savory, stone-y, and citrusy aromas of Sancerre. Like chardonnay, many drinkers have a preferred style of sauvignon blanc, but all prize sauvignon blanc’s versatile and refreshing qualities. Albariño, from Rias Biaxas in Spain, is similar in personality, with bright fruit and zesty freshness on the palate.
Wine to try: Granbazán, Etiqueta Verde Albariño, Rías Biaxas, Spain
In Bordeaux, sémillon is the third most planted white grape after sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. It’s often used as a blending grape, lending body, floral, and spice notes to a wine. Viognier, with its similarly rounded texture and mouthfeel, can also exhibit the same lovely floral aromas, plus hints of white peach and other orchard fruits. If you enjoy fuller-bodied whites, this is one to taste.
Wine to try: Stags’ Leap Winery, Viognier, Napa Valley, California
Who doesn’t love a good glass of bubbly? While Champagne is famous the world over, many other regions, such as Anderson Valley, Sonoma County, and Carneros in California, have also carved out a niche for quality sparkling wines, using the same method perfected in the fabled French region. Even better, these high-quality alternatives are often priced less than Champagne, making them an affordable luxury.
Wine to try: J Vineyards and Winery, Cuvée XB, Sonoma County, California
Arguably one of the world’s most beloved grapes, pinot noir is highly revered in both Old World and New World regions. Burgundy producers such as Domaine Romanée-Conti are considered the gold standard, but great examples of pinot noir can be found all over the West Coast, from Willamette Valley in Oregon to California’s Anderson Valley, Russian River Valley, and Central Coast, just to name a few. If you’re a fan of pinot noir’s light body, red fruit, and spice, give cinsault a try. A large-berried, juicy varietal, cinsault was frequently used as a blending grape, but some winemakers are putting it into the spotlight as a single-varietal bottling. Pro tip: try it slightly chilled.
Wine to try: The Scholium Project, 1MN Cinsault, California
Malbec’s bold, assertive flavors make it a favorite among red wine drinkers. For an equally powerful red, try tempranillo — but one with a twist. While tempranillo is most closely associated with Spain, New World areas like Argentina and California also produce delicious versions. However, Texas — one of the U.S.’s most exciting new wine regions — is becoming a source for high-quality tempranillo. Deep red fruits and luscious spices show how winemakers in the state are excelling with this full-bodied red wine.
Wine to try: Bending Branch Winery, Newsom Vineyards Tempranillo, Texas High Plains, Texas
The U.S.’s — and possibly the world’s — most widely planted grape, cabernet sauvignon has brought fame to many California winemakers. Long before there was cabernet sauvignon, however, there was zinfandel. Considered to be America’s heritage grape, this cousin of primitivo was planted as far back as the 1800s. Many vines survived Prohibition and today, these old-vine zinfandels are producing full-bodied, luscious red wines with soft yet structured tannins and a lot of finesse.
Wine to try: Dry Creek Vineyard, Somers Ranch Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, California
Famously known as one of the parent grapes of cabernet sauvignon (the other being sauvignon blanc), cabernet franc’s red-fruited, herbal, and spice qualities also stand out when the grape is bottled on its own. Pinot meunier exhibits many of these traits in an even lighter-bodied style. If pinot meunier rings a bell, that’s because it is one of the main grapes used in Champagne, but in the U.S. it’s possible to find a few unique single-varietal still wines. Bonus tip: try it lightly chilled.
Wine to try: The Eyrie Vineyards, Pinot Meunier, Dundee Hills, Oregon
Quietly elegant, the peppery, black-fruited syrah — especially from the Northern Rhône and Washington State — often reveals silky tannins and a long, lengthy finish. Nebbiolo, the varietal behind Piedmont’s famed Barolo and Barbaresco, exudes a similarly refined sensibility while still expressing the same balance of fruit and savory notes as syrah. This time, the dance is between roses and tar, but lovely red fruits shine throughout.
Wine to try: Vietti, Langhe Nebbiolo, Piedmont, Italy