The universe of wine is full of once-revered regions or styles that ceased to be celebrated. Many deserved to fade from the spotlight as consumer palates matured (RIP Cold Duck).
Yet others were simply overshadowed by shinier emerging regions or became victims of their strong association with past generations. (In Madeira’s case, that would be the Founding Fathers.) Certain wines are unfairly dismissed as one-dimensional archetypes: Rieslings are all sweet, Chardonnays are all oaky.
Wine Spectator asked 11 wine professionals to share their favorite out-of-fashion wine and explain why it deserves to reclaim its rightful place at the cool kids’ table.
Wine Spectator: What “out-of-fashion” wine do you hope returns to the spotlight?
Chris Dunaway, wine director at The Little Nell, Grand Award winner in Aspen, Colo.
Fortified wines. With the modern trend towards dry table wines, fortified wines have not only taken the back seat, but are all too often left on the shelves gathering dust, shrouded in obscurity.
One of my fondest food and wine memories this past year took place at Côte Korean Steakhouse in New York City when Mia Van de Water served a 1968 D’Oliveira Bual Madeira and paired it with an incredibly scrumptious glazed cut of wagyu. I’ll never forget that experience; it confirmed that these wines belong at the table and should be in rotation more often.
Grayum Vickers, sommelier at Longoven in Richmond, Va.
Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine. Why this isn’t everyone’s first choice on restaurant wine lists is baffling to me. These wines are salty and creamy, balanced by fresh, bright acidity—really the perfect wine for pairing with everything from seafood to vegetables to anything fried. The only caveat is that I hope they don’t get too popular. They are always undervalued and underpriced for how amazing they are.
Paula de Pano, sommelier and owner of Rocks + Acid in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Chianti is oftentimes looked at as ‘not cool,’ or something that was only in vogue during our parents’ time, in the same vein as Sherry or Madeira. These days, there are many producers whose wines can go head to head with Brunello di Montalcinos. When I have guests who are interested in Brunellos but don’t want to pay that much for the bottle, I recommend some solid Chianti producers like Corzano e Paterno, Castello di Volpaia, La Ginestra and Poggiosecco.
Lindsey Fern, wine director at The Inn at Little Washington, Grand Award winner in Washington, Va.
Riesling. Too often people shun it as a sweet wine, but Rieslings are bright and racy because of their innate acidity, and they are spectacular accompaniments for so many different cuisines. In reality, if the residual sugar content of a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or an oaky Chardonnay from California was listed on a wine label, people would be shocked to see that the sugar content of a GG [Grosses Gewächs, from top vineyard sites] German Riesling is actually lower.
Mark Tarbell, chef-owner of Tarbell’s in Phoenix, Ariz.
There are two wines from Portugal that I would like to see come back into the spotlight. The light, effervescent white, Vinho Verde, and rare, prestigious Vintage Port. Vinho Verde is a lip-smacking wine made from indigenous white grapes. Vintage Port is diverse, rich and the national treasure of Portugal. Fortified and sweet, these are great dessert wines to pair with your favorite dessert or drink alone as a dessert.
Luc Trottier, wine director at Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler, B.C.
Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley is one of the most underrated wines in the world. It’s a versatile white that you can pair with a wide range of food. It’s available as a sparkling wine, or as a dry still wine called sec, and it can also be a richer and fuller half-sweet wine called demi-sec, as well as a lush and delicious dessert wine called moelleux. At the restaurant, we like to use Vouvray Sec on our tasting menus, and it is often our diners’ favorite discovery of the night. It will take you on a fascinating journey with flavors of honeysuckle, quince, beeswax and pear.
Suzanne Geisz, owner of Village Tavern Restaurant and Inn, Award of Excellence winner in Hammondsport, N.Y.
Vinho Verde! The slight spritz and crisp flavors make this an anytime go-to wine. I’ve been pouring it by the glass for a few years now, educating customers and finally it has developed a following.
Chip Croteau, manager and wine director at Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle
Chardonnay has become so polarizing, and it shouldn’t be. Many people seem to only associate this grape with very specific regions or styles. I point them to Oregon, where so many wineries are producing stunning Chardonnays in the Willamette Valley: Brick House, Big Table Farm, Elizabeth Chambers, Willamette Valley Vineyards. It’s a treat to introduce guests who have a very strong opinion on this famous grape to some very different and incredible styles of domestic Chardonnay.
Zsombor Mezey, beverage director at Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, Best of Award of Excellence winner in Québec
Classic method sparkling wines. I love Champagne, but I do believe there are so many other offerings from other parts of the world that we easily overlook. Many volcanic soils deliver amazing, high-quality sparkling wines using the traditional method. We have poured a special Château Frontenac cuvée, a blanc de blancs, from Megalomaniac Wines in Niagara, Ontario.
Cara de Lavallade, wine director and manager at Enchantment Resort, Best of Award of Excellence winner, in Sedona, Ariz.
Madeira hasn’t been in fashion since the 1800s, but at that time it was among the most coveted wines in the U.S. The Sercial and Verdelho styles can be wonderful aperitifs, perfect with oysters or chestnut soup (a Portuguese specialty). Richer Bual and Malmsey styles are striking dessert wines, often paired with passion fruit and chocolate desserts on the island of Madeira. They are indestructible wines that can age for centuries retaining remarkable flavor and acidity. Centuries! What other wine can do that? I recently tasted a Sercial from 1903 with winemaker Ricardo Freitas of Barbeito; it was gorgeous, alive and just singing. Most sommeliers have a passion for Madeira, but I would love for more everyday consumers to become familiar with it.
Kristin Estadt, wine director, Bones Restaurant, Best of Award of Excellence winner in Atlanta
For centuries, wine consumers all over the world highly prized sweet wines, and today they have fallen out of fashion. It’s time we admit that Americans ‘talk dry but drink sweet’ and move toward having open conversations with our guests about what they actually want without the stigma that can come from ordering a sweet wine. Who doesn’t love Prädikat Rieslings from Germany, traditionally made off-dry Chenin from Vouvray, and gloriously rich demi-sec Champagne? They are great with so many of the foods that we love.