When feeling adventurous, varietals are the spice of life

One of the greatest joys of appreciating wine is trying something new and different.

Maybe you love Chardonnay and really enjoy trying the big oak-flavored Chards of California and then comparing them to the lighter stainless steel-aged wines of France.

Or maybe you like the bigger red wines and like to compare the fruit-forward Syrahs versus the peppery finish of a big Zinfandel.

Here’s a challenge to be more adventurous. There are thousands of documented varieties of wine grapes. Most fine wines come from about 230 grape varietals. There are hundreds more pressed and aged into wines in all corners of the world.

So instead of trying the same wine from another country, how about trying a grape you’ve only heard of or, better yet, one you’ve never heard of at all?

Let’s start with some red wines. If quizzed on the most widely planted grape in the world many would probably guess Cabernet Sauvignon. But it’s believed Grenache is the most planted varietal of all wine grapes. The heart of Grenache (or Garnacha in Spain) is the Spanish countryside along with western and southern France, though it is grown around the world.

Grenache is often used in blends and is the key grape in many of the fabulous French wines such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Those wines are usually more expensive juice, starting at around $40 a bottle and going up. But I’d suggest buying a bottle of Spanish Garnacha to try something different. There are many great Spanish Garnacha wines in the $12 to $20 range.

Grenache will often have something of an herbal nose with raspberry and peppery notes. The wines can range from super smooth to big robust wines. It’s a very easy-to-drink wine you’ll enjoy by itself or with food.

How could you not like a wine when the grapes are known as “little sweet ones?”

Dolcetto D’ Alba is an Italian grape and wine from the Piedmont region of Italy meant to be consumed when young. If you buy much red Italian wine the odds are you’re buying Sangiovese. The Dolcetto grape makes a wine which is dry with some acidity. You’ll taste the fruit and it will go down smooth. Try it with your next plate of pasta instead of Chianti.

You’ll have an easier time finding Grenache than you will the Dolcetto, but both are worthy of your palate. And both are usually quite affordable.

Other reds worth your effort which are relatively smooth, easy to drink and affordable: Malbecs and Bonarda from Argentina, Carmenere from Chile and wonderfully affordable Tempranillo or Mencia from Spain.

Some of the best white wines you will ever drink come from wineries and grapes you’ve never heard of out of Italy and Spain. One of the easiest to find is Soave, a dry white wine from Italy’s Veneto region. Soave wines will sometimes include more than one but always includes the Garganega grape.

The wine will be crisp and at least slightly acidic but pair it with seafood and you have a great wine-food experience. The wine will have a bright and fruity nose and perhaps a touch of mineral to the taste.

Other whites to consider include: Gewürztraminer, an aromatic and spicy wine that is awesome on a summer evening. Gewurtz’s hybrid brother Traminette is grown and made into great wine by many Indiana wineries, great Pinot Gris from Oregon and a great French or American Chenin Blanc are all good choices.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about wine every other week for more than 20 newspapers. Contact Hewitt at hewitthoward@gmail.com.