Obscure Red Wine Grapes


  • Carignan: This high yielding grape resides primarily in the Languedoc Roussillon, but also travels abroad to Spain, Italy, and even as far as California. It can usually be found in Rhone style blends where it contributes acidity and tannin. 
  • Cinsault: Another sturdy workhorse from the Languedoc Roussillon, which can make exquisite wines when yields are low. It also holds a special place in South Africa as one of the proud parents of Pinotage.
  • Gamay: Best known in Beaujolais just south of Burgundy. This grape was actually banished from Burgundy in 1395, by Duke Phillip the Bold for lacking the prestigious pedigree of Pinot Noir. Kind of for the best however: Cru Beaujolais are stellarly underrated, with vibrant acidity and an almost candied cherry fruit. 
  • Petit Verdot: One of the five grapes used to make Bordeaux blends, in its native France and also in Meritage blends in the new world. It contributes a lovely velvetty texture and violet aromatics to finished wines.
  • Tannat: So high named for it's super high level of tannins. This baby rocks in the Madiran in Southwest France, and in the new world, Uruguay.


  • Aglianico: Famous in Calabria and Basilcata in southern Italy, and historically known as one of the blending grapes in Falernia, the 1st growth of Ancient Rome. The modern incarnation is rich in plum fruit, tannin, acid and body. Definitely not for beginners when young (unless you like punk rock wines) but with age comes refinement.
  • Barbera: The lone easy drinking stalwart in the otherwise challenging region of the Piedmont. The best Barberas hail from Alba, where it is expressively fleshy, or Asti, where is leaner and more mineral driven. They are consistently juicy, fresh and delicious!
  • Brachetto: A grape that produces sweet, sparkling reds in the Acqui region of the Piedmont. 
  • Dolcetto: Dolcetto means sweet little one in italian, a stark contrast to the challenging austerity of Piedmont's Barolos and Barbarescos. The quality of the fruit might be sweet, but the tannin is still high - consider yourself warned.
  • Freisa: beautifully, light fresh and delicious, with an effervescence that positively dances on the tongue (kinda like adult pop rocks).
  • Gaglioppo: The primary grape in the Ciro DOC of Calabria, these wines offer dark brooding fruit, dark chocolate and earthy minerals.
  • Lagrein: Rich, herbal and a tremendous value for wine geeks. High in acidity and tannin, this is another wine that ought to be consumed with food, preferably red meat.
  • Marzemino: This Trentino's red claim to fame, is a shout-out in Mozart's Opera Don Giovanni (and it's really fun to say!). Oh, and the fact that it is smooth, ripe and delicious.
  • Negroamaro: This name of this southern Italian grape means black and bitter in its native Italian, but don't like that unfriendly moniker fool you - these wines are loaded barrels of dark brambly fruit, while the "bitterness" adds complexity. 
  • Nero d'Avola: One sip demonstrates why this is Sicily's predominant red wine: smoky, fleshy and ripe.
  • Sagrantino: Meaty, rich and tannic, this wine can age for years. Definitely decantable and awesome with red meat.
  • Schiopettino: The Italian translation is "gunshot," an apt description if ever there was one! These Friulian wines are flinty, smoky, and bursting with red berries and pepper.


  • Dornfelder: This is another Frankengrape (eg created by mad scientists in pursuit of something special) like South Africa's Pinotage. It was created in order to create a fuller bodied alternative to the traditional lean and light Pinot Noir based reds: full bodied, rich, velvetty and tough to find. Ping us if you can find some good examples. 


  • Aghiorghitiko: Meaning St George, this Greek's most famous red wine, renowned for its wild aromatics and soft, easy drinking structure. A super hot weather red!
  • Xinomavro: Similar to its Italian cousin Negroamaro, the name of this Macedonian grape means sour black in Greek. The wines are renowned for their savory flavor profiles and age worthy tannic structure


  • Kadarka: Hungary's most widely planted grape prior to World War II, is sadly a bit of rarity today. We hope to see an upswing in production as traditional winemaking techniques have made a resurgence throughout the country. It posesses the freshness of Beaujolais with a darker fruit and little more tannic bite. 
  • KékfrancosSee Blaufrankisch below. When made well, this wine's naturally high acidity underscores loads of brambly blue and black fruit, and a sweet pepper spice.
  • KékoportóAKA Blauer Portugeiser in Germany and Austria, or simply Portugieser. The name is a bit of a misnomer as it has nothing to do with Port or Portugal, but the Kék prefix, meaning "blue," is definitely indicative of the blue fruits which are indicative of this variety. This variety can produce super high yields, but often at the expense of quality, so keep your eyes peeled for good producers.


NB The family of grape vines native to the US and Canada, Vitis Riparia and Vitis Labrusca, are notgenerally suitable for making wine (there are exceptions, so Baco Noir and Scuppernong fans please just settle down). However, there are some vitis vinifera expats that have truly made a name for themselves in the new world, and they deserve a shout-out.   

  • Petite Sirah: Don't let the name fool you: there is nothing petite or small about this wine! Although this cross of Syrah and Pelourisan was created in France (where is goes by the name Durif), Petite Sirah is most at home in California where it produces bold, inky tannic wines, loaded with rich plum, berry fruit and sweet herbs
  • Zinfandfel: Its parentage is an obscure Croatian grape, and it has an awesomely agreeable Italian cousin, Primitivo. Although its reputation has been sullied by it's trampy sister, White Zinfandel, the pure, true undiluted wines from this grape can be stellar, loaded with brambly black and red fruit, cracked pepper, anise and silky tannins. The down side is that it is prone to naturally high alcohol and overzealous use of oak from wine makers. So find one that's delicious, but be sure to sip slowly.


  • Blaufrankisch:(AKA Kékfrancos in Hungary and Lemberger in New York's Finger Lakes) When found in Austria this wine is reminiscent rich ripe blueberry jam and is almost velvetty on the palate in the best examples.
  • St Laurent: A backwater cousin of Pinot Noir that produces silky, easy drinking cherried wines. 
  • Zweigelt: Although this grape is actually the offspring of the two grapes listed above, one sip makes us fantasize that the uber jocks Merlot and Syrah had a baby with Pinot Noir's profile: slim, elegant, sleek and with an insousciant touch of pepper. Pretty good for a Franken-grape!