NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- With the start of the new year, it's time to try new and unfamiliar wines.
That can mean wines from different regions or producers, but most fundamentally it means wines made from less common varieties of vitis vinifera, the grape species from which virtually all wine is made.
Most drinkers know Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, but there are hundreds of less familiar varieties that yield excellent wines. Many come from Italy, where wine has been made since Roman times and which has a stunningly diverse array of varieties, many of which are cultivated in only one region. Three of the five varieties we highlight come from that country; the other two are French. You can try examples of each from European and American producers.
Picpoul is grown in Languedoc and the Rhone Valley in France and forms the base wine for Noilly Prat Vermouth. It's also used to make a light, crisp white that pairs well with oysters and other shellfish.
Picpoul de Pinet, Dom. de Cantagrils 2012: $13.96
Chris Brocway, a Nebraska native who fell in love with wine and moved to California for college in the 1990s, has been making wine in Berkeley, Calif. since 2008. His lighter, fresher style of winemaking has justifiably developed a cult following. Broc's Picpoul has the same citrus flavor profile but a little more body than its French cousins tend to.
Picpoul Blanc, Broc Cellars Luna Matta Vineyard 2012: $29.99
Paso Robles, California
Teroldego comes from Trentino and Alto Adige in northern Italy, near the Alps. Like Pinot Noir, it's low in tannins and high in acidity, which makes it a good food wine. Teroldego has blackberry notes and and would pair well with cured meats or rabbit stew. This one comes from one of the leading producers of the grape.
Teroldego, Foradori IGT Vigneti delle Dolomiti: $24.99
Nancy Irelan and her husband Mike Schnelle first planted Teroldego on their Finger Lakes property in 2006, and they've done well enough with it that Juliette Pope, who runs the wine program at Gramercy Tavern in New York and is one of the city's best sommeliers, has it on her list. The grape "maintains its woodsy, gamey, wild-dark-berry intensity even in the new world in the right spot," says Pope, who pairs it with grilled duck breast, wild rice and Swiss chard. "I like the way the richness and full body of the red supported that of the duck, while also bringing out the gamey-ness of both."
Teroldego, Red Tail Ridge Winery 2010: $35
Finger Lakes, New York
Piemonte in northwest Italy is most famous for Nebbiolo, from which Barolo is made, but for simpler drinking the natives consume other varities, including Grignolino. The name derives from the Italian for "many pips" or seeds, which give the wine tannin and acidity. But it's light in color and body, a combination that makes it a great pizza wine.
Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese, Oreste Buzio, 2013: $14.99
Heitz is one of the great names in California wine, famed for its Cabernets. But founders Joe and Alice Heitz found Grignolino vines on the property when they bought it in 1961, and the family continues to make wine from the variety. The red is a delicate, beautiful wine that smells like fresh strawberries with a little orange peel and by comparison to a Piemontese Grignolino shows the effect of climate on wine. They also make a Grignolino rose that is also lovely.
Grignolino, Heitz Cellar: $17.99
Napa Valley, California
Puglia, the province that forms the heel of the Italian boot, is hot and dry, and that climate shows in wine made from Primitivo. This example is spicy with notes of sour cherry and dried fruit, but the warmth of Southern Italy and the structure of the grape itself means the wine made from it is much lower in acidity than Grignolino or Teroldego.
Primitivo, Cantele 2012 IGT Salento: $11.99
Primitivo came from Croatia, where is known as Tribidrag, and Italian immigrants brought it to California, where it was called Zinfandel and became a mainstay of the wine industry. It's often derided for being jammy, overly alcoholic and not worthy of aging, but those clichés do not apply to the work of top producers. Instead, the best Zins can be bargains compared to many California cabs and do have aging potential. Seghesio's Zins fall into that category.
Zinfandel, Seghesio Sonoma, 2012: $24.99
Sonoma County, California
The Jura region in France is best known for its whites, but its reds are starting to get more attention, especially because the good ones are reminiscent of red Burgundy at a fraction of the price. Jacques Puffeney, the recently retired "Pope of the Jura," makes good ones; so does his neighbor Michel Gahier, whose style is a little more polished. In either case, you can't go wrong.
Trousseau, Michel Gahier Les Grands Vergers 2013: $33.99
Trousseau somehow made its way to the Douro Valley in northern Portugal, where it's one of the grapes that goes into Port. Young winemaker Rita Ferriera offers a rendition that has more alcohol than the average Jura Trousseau thanks to the significantly warmer temperatures in Portugal but shows the same good acidity and cherry notes, if in a deeper key. The single varietal wine is hard to find in the U.S., but Ferriera's blends give a sense of her style at a great price.
Conceito Contraste Tinto 2009: $16.98
Douro Valley, Portugal
Grapes commonly undergo genetic mutations; Pinot Blanc, for example, is a mutation of Pinot Noir. Trousseau Gris is a mutation of Trousseau, and as its name suggests its berries are white (literally, gray). It was common in California in the early 20th century, when it was often confused with Riesling, but has steadily fallen in popularity. Veteran California winemaker Pax Mahle makes a version with lemon notes and moderate acidity.
Trousseau Gris Wind Gap Fannuchi-Wood Vineyard 2013: $24.00
Russian River Valley, California