Invite friends over for a wine bash, and at least a few will bring the requisite bottle of California Chardonnay or Cab. But you’ll avoid boring them by eschewing the usual suspects (we’re looking at you, Cupcake Merlot or Kendall-Jackson anything). “Tell your friends you have surprise wines coming from a new ‘Old World’ region,” suggests Uros Smiljanic, general manager of Ambar (523 Eighth St. NW; 202-813-3039). Think Greece, Turkey, the Balkans, even Lebanon. Serve wines blind, wrapped in paper bags, to avoid bias about the juice inside, and set out small plates and meze so the guests sip and savor, too.
Besides whitewashed buildings, black sand beaches and turquoise waters, Greece boasts a wine industry dating back 6,500 years. (Remember, these guys created Dionysus, the drink-swilling god of you-know-what.) Idyllic Santorini is home to Assyrtiko, a full-bodied yet crisp white that picks up minerality from volcanic ash soil and salinity from sea breezes, like the 2012 Sigalas Assyrtiko (right, $27, MacArthur Beverages, 4877 MacArthur Blvd. NW; 202-338-1433). “Drink this wine young and fresh [just a few years old],” recommends James Horn, wine director of Kapnos (2201 14th St. NW; 202-234-5000), who likes to pair it with raw oysters. Dark, brooding Xinomavro (whose name, not surprisingly, means “black acid” in Greek) is mouthwatering, with enticing spice and black pepper notes. Horn suggests grabbing the 2010 Domaine Karydas Xinomavro ($30, MacArthur Beverages) to serve with grilled thyme chicken skewers; the wine evolves after uncorking, so the last sip will be deliciously different from the first.
Home to 600-1,200 indigenous varietals, Turkey is the world’s fourth leading producer of grapes. What’s that? Yes, some Muslim countries produce wine, even if not everyone who lives in them drinks it. Try the 2012 Kavaklidere Cankaya ($9, Potomac Wines and Spirits, 3100 M St. NW; 202-333-2847), a blend of Narince, Emir and Sultana. It’s a “bright and aromatic white wine with grapefruit, lemon, stone fruits and minerality,” says Daniella Senior, beverage director of Zaytinya (701 Ninth St. NW; 202-638-0800). It likes to party with the country’s cuisine — think hummus, baba ghanoush and fresh seafood.
Serve the easy-drinking, herb-tinged 2009 Sevilen Kalecik Karasi (above, $15, Potomac Wines and Spirits) with meze or lamb kabobs. “It has red cherries, plums and red berries, as well as hints of tarragon and thyme, and a subtle earthiness,” Senior says.
The Balkan Peninsula’s winemaking dates to Roman times; oenophiles can geek out on its history and obscure grapes. Intensely aromatic, with whiffs of flowers, pineapple and stone fruits, Serbia’s Tamjanika grape is exotic-yet-quaffable, and the 2011 Vino Budimir Tamjanika Zupa ($19, MacArthur Beverages) bursts with aromas of peaches and tropical fruit; it’s a good partner with gibanica (Balkan cheese pie). Inky-hued 2012 Agrina Doo Portuguiser (above, $15, MacArthur Beverages) goes down soft and smooth, with hints of black currants and blackberries; serve it with charcuterie. “Balkan wines show finesse, concentration and elegance,” says Ambar’s Smiljanic.
Lebanon’s climate and topography are similar to France’s. Its number of wineries has increased since 1998 from five to 30-plus; its Bekaa Valley may be the best wine region you’ve never heard of. Chateau Musar is known for reds, but Senior loves the 2011 Chateau Musar White ($16, Potomac Wines and Spirits). A crisp blend of indigenous grapes Obaideh and Merweh, with aromas of apricots, apples, tarragon and honey and a creamy mouth feel, it’s terrific with cheese. Grilled lamb chops beg for the 2010 Massaya Silver ($19 at Potomac Wines and Spirits), a Rhone-like Cinsault/Grenache/Mourvedre blend with red and violets, spice and grippy tannins.