Of all the wines we taste, the ones we approach with equal levels of excitement and fear are those made of unfamiliar grapes. Tasting new varieties is a bit like going on a blind date: You could be nauseous inside after five minutes, or full of wine and making bad decisions after an hour or so.
A grape that recently had us feeling like we were in the latter category is Garganega, a white variety grown in northeastern Italy's Veneto region. It's best known as one of the grapes of Soave (an area within Veneto), where it can be blended with Trebbiano and Chardonnay. On its own, however, we found Garganega to be a unique, pleasant and affordable surprise.
Specifically, we tasted the Sartori di Verona "Ferdi" 2009 ($12), which had a powerful floral aroma, and started out rich and round on the palate (likely since the grapes for this wine are dried for more than a month before they're pressed, to help concentrate the flavors). The wine quickly develops a sour note, then comes back to flavors of ripe apricots. We found Ferdi to be incredibly complex and, while it may not be for everyone, it offers an introduction to a unique variety and style at a very attractive price.
In fact, if you do a search for other Garganegas on Wine Searcher, you can easily find several for under $10, as well as plenty of Soaves for under $15.
If you've had a Garganega or other obscure white wine that's taken you by surprise, tell us about it below.