Like most wine drinkers, sommeliers love the classic greats of Bordeaux, Napa, Burgundy, Piedmont and other A-list regions. But they also love to discover new grapes, terroirs and styles, and to expand their horizons of what "fine wine" can mean.
Whether it's wine from an unexpected locale, from an underrated grape or made using unconventional methods, these off-the-beaten-path pours are what eight wine experts from Wine Spectator Restaurant Award–winning spots pop when they want to drink on the wild side. As a bonus, many represent terrific value.
Wine Spectator: What's an unconventional or "weird" wine you enjoy and recommend?
Nicole Cheon, head sommelier at Best of Award of Excellence winner Hakkasan New York
Vitovska from Vodopivec. This wine is made from an indigenous white grape from the Friuli region of Italy, specifically from Carso, which is on the border between Italy and Slovenia. Vodopivec makes a few different wines from only one grape, Vitovska. Their wines are made entirely organically, often using amphorae, with extended skin contact. It is truly mesmerizing to taste the complex layers of ripe fruits, dried herbs, spices and saline minerality with pure texture in a glass, by itself or with food.
Rafael Sanchez, beverage director at Grand Award winner Addison in San Diego
We are currently featuring something that is a bit outside of the box: a 1991 Luis Pato Vinha Velha, an old Portuguese white wine made from Bical, Cerceal, and Maria Gomes. This wine has a beautifully developed bouquet from the long bottle aging and a bright, mouthwatering palate. It is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but for those looking for something different, weird or unusual, this is perfect. We have served with it baked Hokkaido scallops with shellfish consommé, a Turbot with vermouth sauce, and even our potatoes croustillantes.
Joo Lee, wine director at Grand Award winner Saison in San Francisco
Superpremium wines from great regions, coupled with great vintages, are expected to deliver amazing wines, and oftentimes they don’t disappoint. But sometimes, it’s the least-expected wines that convey the most charming surprises. They're difficult to find, but Alsace Muscats with 10-plus years of age are absolutely delicious and unusual. The terpenes responsible for Muscat’s fresh aromatic profile begin to decay into something remarkable. “Decayed” may not be the most pleasant description, but just imagine walking through a garden of cherry blossoms after they have fallen to the ground, withered, and it rains a few days later. The combination of something decaying and old, but still fresh and new, is an unconventional and weird bouquet I wouldn’t mind having in my glass every day.
Château-Grillet. This minuscule, single-estate Viognier appellation in the Northern Rhône makes one of the most intriguing, original and obscure wines on the planet. Sneaky longevity coupled with an incredible interpretation of the grape usually leaves the guests [tasting] really rare flavors. With such a small winery, it is really hard to track down vintages enjoyed in the past, making the experience of tasting them truly unique.
Catherine DiGennaro, sommelier at Best of Award of Excellence winner Jungsik in New York
A region a bit off the beaten path that I like to recommend is the Savoie region of France. The Jacquère grape produces dry, refreshing white wines that are more mineral-driven, with notes of tart lemon and crisp pear that are easy to enjoy with seafood and lighter fare. The reds produced from Mondeuse (especially when blended with Gamay) can have great tension and vibrancy on the palate as well, with ripe raspberry and plum notes, and are not too tannic, making them easy to pair with a variety of dishes.
In particular, I really like Marie & Florian Curtet's Savoie Autrement Rouge, a biodynamic and organic wine which is primarily Gamay with Pinot Noir and Mondeuse in the blend, coming from Chautagne and Cellier des Pauvres. They use whole-cluster maceration and only a tiny bit of sulfur dioxide at bottling, so the wine has great concentration and complexity, with great energy and deliciously ripe and fresh fruit.
Wendy Heilmann, wine director at Pebble Beach Resorts and its three Best of Award of Excellence winners, in Pebble Beach, Calif.
I’m not sure this qualifies as weird, but a wine that I love to recommend for summer is Huber’s rosé of Zweigelt. It’s mouthwateringly delicious, with great acidity, complemented by stone fruit flavors and vibrant minerality—a perfect pairing for anything from barbecue to fried chicken, or just for sitting on a porch swing.
And even though I feel there are only few of us out there, I do also enjoy a good Pinotage on a dreary winter night. Paired with an earthy cassoulet, there’s something about the Pinotage “funk” that I find warming and comforting.
Carrie Lyn Strong, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Casa Lever in New York
Caduceus Cellars Lei Li Nebbiolo Rosé: Provence-style, Italian grape and Arizona vineyards equals rock-star rosé!
Adam Petronzio, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Porter House Bar and Grill in New York
I try not to call a wine "weird"—I find that word brings up negative thoughts. But as for unconventional: Mondeuse from Lagier Meredith Mount Veeder Napa. I am currently in love with the 2014. Mondeuse is not a grape you see very often on a label from Napa.
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