The Wide World of Obscure Wine Grapes

By Dan Berger
Dan Berger
Dan Berger
To find out more about Dan Berger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at
September 6, 2021 Updated: September 6, 2021

Someone recently sent me a sample bottle of a Kalecik Karasi. It was excellent, and I’d be happy to suggest that you buy it, but I couldn’t find out anything about it. Or where to buy it.

One of the problems with trying to cover this industry, whether as a reporter or simply as a wine lover, is that it’s nearly impossible to find out what’s happening in this world of wine.

Among other issues, getting unsolicited samples can be maddening. As much as I liked this wine, I had no idea what it was supposed to sell for or how to get any.

This didn’t happen as much decades ago, when maybe 10 different grapes dominated to the exclusion of dozens of others. But today, we are seeing all sorts of alternative grapes aimed at appealing to the adventuresome.

The above wine, which reminded me slightly of zinfandel, was very tasty. What was surprising was that the Kalecik Kalasi grape grows in Turkey!

It’s widely known in the U.S. wine industry that eastern Europe and western Asia are loaded with such varieties that are obscure to us, and in addition, they have literally tens of thousands of acres of grapevines to supply local wine industries that make an awful lot of wine, most of it for local consumption.

As a result of this trend toward obscure grape varieties being introduced to the U.S. market, it now boils down to if retail wine shops are geared toward selling this stuff. One thing is certain: Most of these new wines will never be available in supermarkets.

The majority of supermarket wine aisles are staffed by clerks, some of whom aren’t even old enough to consume the beverage. And chances are they don’t know anything about cabernet, let alone Kalecik Karasi.

Indeed, some lesser-known grapes that are made into wines in this country aren’t only very fine alternatives to the commonplace, but generally, they don’t need an explanation on how to pronounce them. Among these would be chenin blanc, riesling, gamay, petite sirah, and gruner veltliner.

Most relatively obscure grapes show up near wine country regions where the varieties grow best. This is probably one reason you will not encounter madeleine angevine anytime soon. Unless, that is, you live in Puget Sound. It’s a fascinating grape: a cross variety that has some of the floral qualities of riesling, and it’s delicately spicy.

Nor will you confront marselan, a red variety so new that most of what’s planted in this country was put in the soil within the past two years and has yet to bear any fruit.

Moreover, one of the world’s most prolific white wine grapes, airen, is planted mainly in Spain, where it produces a white wine so uninterestingly neutral in aroma that you can find examples of it sailing in Spain for about one euro for a liter package (a box). It isn’t available here.

To be sure, this trend to import truly abstruse grapes isn’t widespread, but it does offer a chance to branch out and try something a little different for those who find chardonnay to be boring.

Wine of the Week

2020 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, “Earth Garden” ($15): hints of green tea, grass, and fresh red bell peppers mark the distinctive aroma, and in the middle, it has a grapefruit-like tartness. This wine is specially made for people who want an assertively flavored SB.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Villa Maria)
Dan Berger
To find out more about Dan Berger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at