Wine is an endlessly fascinating world to explore. With each bottle, we get the chance to uncover unique flavour combinations, unexpected aromas, and levels of tannin and acidity which vary from year to year, region to region, and winery to winery. This vast array of characteristics is a major part of what we adore about wine and wine drinking - there’s always something new and exciting to encounter, and there are new favourites waiting to be sampled.
However, despite the massive range of wines and grape varietals out there, it’s interesting how the vast majority of the wines we see on our wine store shelves generally only fall into a small handful of categories when it comes to style and production methods.
As we all know, the vast majority of bottles we come across are the ‘table wines’ - red, white, or rosé, made according to the standard vinification methods, and combining the typical flavour profiles of fruit and spice. On top of these, there are the sparkling wines we tend to save for celebrations and events, and then there are the fortified wines, which come in and out of fashion every couple of years or so. For many wine drinkers, this trio of wine styles will represent the sum total of all the wines they ever get to drink. But what if we were to tell you that there are plenty of wines out there which go against the grain, and are made using production techniques which vary from the unusual to the downright bizarre?
While the wine styles we’ve compiled on this list are unlikely to ever truly hit the mainstream, they each have something fascinating and valuable to offer to wine fans, and demonstrate the sheer breadth and creativity of the global wine industry. For true wine lovers, sampling these ‘unusual’ wine styles is a fantastic way to explore the ever-changing world of wine… and who knows? Maybe one of the following is to become a new favourite, or even the next big thing on the scene. Check them out below, and maybe keep your eyes peeled for one of these unusual wine styles next time you’re looking for a new bottle to try.
Eiswein / Ice Wine
Made predominantly in the cold-climate wine regions of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Canada, and New York State, ice wine is produced using a fascinating process which supposedly dates back to Roman Europe. It essentially involves allowing the grapes to freeze on the vine, which dramatically reduces the amount of water within the fruit and concentrates the sugars and fruit flavours. The result? A sticky, sweet, and complex dessert wine which pairs - appropriately - very well with Christmas pudding and other spicy, sweet, and festive treats.
If you’ve never heard of botrytised wine, it’s probably because you’re living in the wrong century. In Medieval Europe, this particular wine style was heralded as the finest wine on earth, and was a particular favourite of the crowned heads of France and Austria, and even became the wine of choice for the court of Elizabeth the First. However, nowadays it’s nowhere near as popular on the international scene, despite having a fervent following among those who have discovered its unique charms.
Botrytised wine is made from grapes which have been allowed to wither and rot on the vine, after being attacked by a particularly vicious type of fungal mould. While this sounds disgusting (wine made from rotten grapes - really?) the wine which it produces is remarkably delicious, and quite unlike any other. Deep, honeyed notes of complex sweetness, dried and candied fruit flavours, and aromas or roasted nuts abound in these types of wines, which are most commonly associated with the Royal Tokaji region of Hungary, and with Sauternes in France. Pair them with a strong blue cheese, and you’ll discover heaven on your palate. Trust us on that!
Blue and Orange Wine
Who said wine had to be only red, white, or pink? Orange wine has been popular for over a century in the French alpine region of Jura, and in Slovenia, too (where you’ll even find several Orange Wine festivals), and is made using an unusual method which involves keeping white wine grapes in contact with their skins and no additives - not even yeast. It experienced something of a boom in popularity in 2017, and this year is expected to become even more widespread across the wine drinking word. And whyever not? With its nutty, crisp, and complex flavours, it’s a delicious addition to the canon which deserves to be more widely enjoyed.
Whether the same can be said for blue wine is, as yet, anybody’s guess. So far, only one company in Spain is producing the vivid electric blue drink, which actually gets its shocking colour from natural chemicals found in grape skins. A gimmick? A marketing ploy? Or a genuine step forward for creativity in wine production? Only time will tell.
There was a time when Retsina was associated solely with downmarket Greek tavernas, where moustachio’d waiters would bring out this unique Southern European wine style… only for it to be knocked back by the braver diners, or left untouched in the glass. What we’re trying to say is that Retsina didn’t exactly have the best reputation back in the 70’s and 80’s, and was generally considered to be more or less undrinkable at worst, and at best, very much an acquired taste.
Recent years, however, have seen Retsina production improve considerably, and start to appear once again on wine lists of slightly more reputable eateries. Is it still an acquired taste? Well… yes. Retsina is almost unique in the world of wine in that it is made by adding a foreign flavour - pine resin - into the grape juice during maturation. According to the history books, this practice began when winemakers would plug the cracks in their amphorae with pine resin to keep them watertight, and gradually gained a liking for the unusual flavour the resin imparted. It’s not for everyone, but it is a historic wine style which deserves to be tried at least once, not least for its novelty value and heritage.
Head down to southern Italy, and you’re in for all kinds of treats when it comes to winemaking and wine drinking - after all, it’s where some of our all-time favourite wines are made. One local wine style, however, takes a radically different route than the rest, and uses the blazing Mediterranean sunshine to impressive effect.
Straw wine is a traditional wine style which involves laying out the harvested grapes on straw mats in the sunshine, and allowing the heat and dryness to shrivel the grapes, and start turning them into raisins. These ‘raisinated’ grapes are then vinified, and the resulting wine is a fascinating and delicious one to drink. As you might expected, the flavour of dried fruits is the predominant note of straw wine, but the unusual process also allows a wealth of other flavours to come forward. Expect nuttiness, intense floral aspects, and flavours of candied fruit, too - it’s a unique delight, and one which pairs beautifully with the kind of desserts the Italians make so well!
There you have it - a handful of the world’s most unique and unusual wine styles. Which ones have you tried? Which ones are making their way onto your shopping lists soon? Let us know in the comments below!