Overcoming a Wine Rut

John Mitchell, sommelier and wine director at Stella! in New Orleans, lends advice to those bored with standard sips.


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John Mitchell is a master at piquing guests’ palates in unexpected ways. Last year, the ambitious wine director redesigned his by-the-glass program to feature only Greek options; this fall, he converted his bottle list from French to Spanish. We asked Mitchell for some fresh, esoteric alternatives to crowd-pleasing favorites destined to prevent tongue tedium.

If you sip Chardonnay, try Godello.

Mitchell says Chardonnay lovers will be drawn to the orchard fruit flavors found in this grape native to Galicia, Spain. Oak aging draws out tropical aromas and a rounder mouthfeel.

If you sip Riesling, try Assyrtiko.

Assyrtiko grows in the hot volcanic soils on the Greek island of Santorini, “but still retains all of this beautiful acid and citrus, with shockingly great minerality,” says Mitchell, adding that he’s often amazed at its similarity to classic Riesling.

If you sip Pinot Noir, try Nerello Mascalese.

The high-elevation vineyards near Mt. Etna in Sicily are home to this elegant grape, which shares red fruit characters similar to wines from Burgundy, France. “The aromatics, along with their high acidity, make them incredibly wonderful with food or on their own,” he says.

If you sip Syrah, try Mavrodaphne.

Greece’s Peloponnese region and the island of Cephalonia produce this grape, which is often used to make dessert wines. Mitchell prefers the dry versions, which he describes as dense, with juicy black fruit and Syrah’s peppery, meaty qualities.

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