Opinion: Learning the Language of Exotic Wines

To ignore these wines because of the language barrier is to miss some of the most interesting, affordable and surprising wines on the market.


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Growing up with a surname that inevitably baffles everyone outside of Poland (I’ve learned to answer to pretty much anything at this point, including “Susan Kossserrrr, huh?”), I know how difficult names and words can frighten even the most worldly Americans.  Perhaps it’s fitting then that some of the wine regions I cover as a taster for Wine Enthusiast are grappling with the same issues I have since I can remember. Emerging areas such as Greece, Hungary and South Africa are keen to put themselves on the domestic map, but often the producer names and/or variety names are so strange or seemingly unknown to the average U.S drinker that they pause for a moment, consider adventure, and move on to grab a tried and true Cabernet or Merlot that doesn’t pose as much of a “risk.”

I understand that in a time when everyone is watching wallets, risky purchasing doesn’t make a lot of sense. But I also know that to pass by these wines because of the language barrier is to miss some of the most interesting, affordable and surprising wines on the market. So consider these exotic sips the next time you shop–you’ll broaden your palate’s horizons while at the same time enjoying wines that match your taste:

Greece: Assyrtico. Gravitate toward crisp, dry whites like Grüner Veltliner or Sauvignon Blanc? This clean, lively native variety has a minerally character and high acids, with citrus and honeysuckle nuances. Pair it with grilled, fresh seafood and lighter fare. Once the weather heats up, this is a great and affordable go-to wine that’s both refreshing and food friendly. Also from Greece, consider the lovely Moschofilero. Similar to a dry Muscat, it’s delicious with stronger, richer seafood flavors. Think oysters, lobster.

Hungary: Kekfrankos (also known as Blaufränkisch in Austria and other countries in Europe; Lemberger in the U.S.): Often used in blends with Merlot, this light- to medium-bodied red has a lush fragrance, balanced flavors of anise, black pepper and blueberry and pronounced acid. Hungary’s best Kekfrankos comes from come from the southern Hungarian areas of Villány and Szekszárd. A lively wine that’s great with cheese, game and pork.

South Africa: Steen (also known as Chenin Blanc in France). South Africa’s Steen, made from a clone of Chenin Blanc, is a rich, elegant white known for its sophisticated food pairing ability. Styles vary: young and aged, unoaked and oaked, and dessert South African Chenin yields very dry to sweet results, but overall, the wine offers refined floral aromas, tropical fruit and citrus flavors and a crisp acidity. It’s known for its balance and delicate power. Pair with chicken, fish and spicy Asian cuisine.

This is just a taste of the countless alluring wines available on the market that are unknown (or seemingly unknown) to many. Embrace the unknown and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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