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4 Wines Way Better Than Their Reputation

- Updated

Underrated Wine Varieties in 2016

A bad reputation is hard to fix. Even after things have changed, the rest of the world still makes judgements based on the past. This kind of thing can happen to anyone, and it also happens with wine. It can take an entire generation before people rediscover a wine.

Here are some wines that deserve a second chance.

4 Wines Way Better Than Their Reputation


There are a handful of winemakers near Athens who are pushing Savatiano to new levels including Papagiannakos, Sokos, Mylonas, and Vassiliou

Life beyond Retsina.

Savatiano is the most planted white wine of Greece and it’s most commonly known as the grape of Retsina–a pine sap wine. If you can imagine the stuff, most Retsina tastes something like the drinkable version of Pine Sol cleaner. However, when Savatiano is left to shine on its own, it offers up subtle flavors of sweet green melon, green apple, lime, and flowers; tasting very similar to unoaked Chardonnay. To make matters more interesting, the grapes grow in and around the city of Athens, which makes it an amazing regional backdrop. Recently several producers have taken a serious focus towards making great Savatiano wines–and there are even 2 making great-tasting Retsina!


One producer instrumental to bringing outstanding new interpretations of Lambrusco to the US is Cleto Chiarli

Bring on the secco.

Lambrusco isn’t a single grape but a grouping of 15 unique varieties indigenous to the province of Emilia-Romagna. Despite the rarity and uniqueness of Lambrusco grapes, the wines have a bad reputation from years of being made into cheap, sweet fizz. The answer with this wine is coming with producers who are crazy enough to respect the unique fruity, floral character natural to the grapes and let the wines be dry (or Secco as they say).

Finding Lambrusco: If you’re looking for a bottle, you’ll want to note that Lambrusco di Sorbara produces the lightest style, with more strawberry and rhubarb flavors. Lambrusco Grasparossa and Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce make bolder styles with more blueberry, plum and blackberry flavors supported with a textural tannin that feels similar to black iced tea on the palate.


Wine Spectator rated the 2010 Neyers Carignan from Contra Costa County the highest rating (93) they’ve ever given this grape variety.

Old vines, all the time.

The problem with Carignan is it grows too well. This vine has been known for nearly 40 years as the rot-gut wine of the Mediterranean. In fact, the EU started paying farmers in Languedoc-Roussillon, France to tear out vineyards. Remarkably, some of the vineyards survived and this is where you’ll find Carignan’s true potential. As the vines age they become less productive and make much more concentrated grapes. With Carignan, old vine wines reveal rich, candied red fruit with a dusty, meaty cinnamon note. You can find Carignan dotted throughout the Mediterranean including France, Sardinia and Spain. In Spain, Carignan is one of the key grapes blended into the remarkable wines of Priorat.


Rijk’s is one of several consistent top-performing producers of Pinotage wine from the very rugged and remote Tulbagh region in the Western Cape of South Africa

Let it live.

Pinotage was birthed from the botanist craze of the early 1900’s when a South African scientist by the name of Abraham Perold crossed Cinsault with Pinot Noir. He was hoping to create a red wine with the same beautiful aromas of Pinot Noir and the fortitude of Cinsault. The result was Pinotage, a deeply colored, robust red wine that grew very well in South Africa’s hot climate, but was very hard to make into a good wine. Since its birth in 1925, Pinotage has struggled to gain appreciation from wine aficionados because of the challenges in winemaking (and the focus on quantity vs quality). In the mid-1990’s, producers started to push for quality and created the Pinotage Association to help encourage quality winemaking with a wine competition. Surprisingly, producers continue to discover Pinotage’s potential as a fine wine for aging. You can find the winners of the past competitions on the Pinotage Association’s site.

Last Word

The wine world is changing rapidly, so before ruling something based on hearsay, get the full story – you might be surprised what you discover!

Have you had your mind changed by a wine? Tell us about it!

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AboutMadeline Puckette

James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly

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