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Get Out of Your Wine Rut!

Date: October 1, 2015      Publication: Bottom Line Personal      Source: Jeff Siegel      Print:

Try Something Deliciously Different—Most Are Only $10 a Bottle

Buying wine can be difficult, what with all the choices and too much “winespeak.” How do you know whether you want to buy a wine with “aromas of wildflowers and a touch of spice?”

Is it any wonder, then, that it’s easier to drink the same kind of wine—even the exact same wine—every time, even if it gets a little boring?

Fortunately, there are choices that are enjoyably different but that still have some of the same qualities of the wine you usually drink. With the information here, you can try something new with a good chance you’ll enjoy it—and expand your wine horizons in the process…

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White Wines

If you like chardonnay, try chenin blanc. 

Chardonnay is one of the most popular white wines in the world, which means it’s the white wine most people buy when they can’t think of anything else to buy. If you want to try something new, a California or South African chenin blanc is an excellent alternative. These wines have many of the same fruit flavors as chardonnay, such as green apple, and the same sort of rich mouth feel, but without oak aging and the vanilla taste that often comes with it.

Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc ($10), from South Africa, has the fruit flavors of chardonnay plus a touch of honey in the middle and some minerality on the finish. Dry Creek Chenin Blanc ($10), from California, has white fruit aromas, a taste of lemon peel and a sort of slatelike, fruit pit finish. Both of these wines are served chilled and are terrific with cheeses, salads and grilled chicken.

If you like sauvignon blanc, try albariño.

Sauvignon blanc drinkers are a loyal bunch, if only because they always have to defend their decision not to drink chardonnay. But even the most loyal of adherents can tire of the same thing glass after glass—which brings us to albariño, a Spanish grape. It has some of the same freshly acidic citrus flavors as sauvignon blanc, but they aren’t as pronounced, and the wines can be almost spicy, a welcome change from ­sauvignon blanc.

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Columna Rías Baixas ($10)—Rías Baixas is the region in Spain where the wine is from—has all of that, while Bodegas La Cana Rías Baixas ($10) has even more—citrus and tropical fruit, a long finish and even a bit of a salty tang. These, like sauvignon blanc, are great with seafood—grilled shrimp, fried oysters and the like—as well as poultry and salads.

If you like Champagne, try cava.

Champagne—the real stuff, which comes only from the Champagne region of France—is some of the most expensive wine in the world. It’s almost impossible to find anything labeled Champagne for less than $30 a bottle, and Champagne that costs less than that doesn’t taste much like it should.

Cava, the sparkling wine made in Spain, rarely costs more than $20 a bottle, and almost every cava around $10 offers value and quality. Know that it’s made with different grapes than Champagne, so it doesn’t taste as rich or as sophisticated. But it has the tight, firm bubbles that great sparkling wine should have.

Cavas such as Dibon Brut Reserve ($10) and Perelada Brut Reserva ($9) demonstrate this. The Dibon is creamy and ­caramel-like, with candied pineapple in the back and not as much tart apple as other cavas. The Perelada is impossibly well-done for the price, very crisp and with apple and lemon fruit. Both are tremendous values whether for toasting a birthday or the New Year or to enjoy with dinner, be it pasta with cream sauce or roast chicken.

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Red Wines

If you like cabernet sauvignon, try a red blend.

Wine drinkers who like cabernet sauvignon like the assertive black and red fruit flavors, as well as the wine’s tannins—which give a puckery feeling in the back of the mouth. The problem with finding an alternative is that cabernet is unique, and there aren’t too many other grapes like it.

The solution? Look for red blends made with cabernet, a common winemaking practice and done especially well in France’s Bordeaux region and much of California and Washington State. These wines still have cabernet’s manly characteristics but are a little more subtle.

Château Bonnet Rouge ($10), from Bordeaux, is one of the world’s great cheap wines, with red fruit, some earthiness and tannins that aren’t overwhelming. California’s Josh Cellars Legacy ($13) has sweet blueberry fruit, smoothish tannins and an almost ­cabernet-like heft.

Be aware that some red blends, such as Apothic and 14 Hands, are sweet—not as sweet as white zinfandel, but noticeably sweet—and taste very little like cabernet.

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If you like merlot, try red Rhône-style blends.

Merlot is most people’s cabernet ­alternative—it’s fruitier and softer. As such, it’s everywhere, a familiarity that can breed contempt and also accounts for the market being flooded with too much one-note merlot—with gobs of sweet fruit and nothing else. But red Rhône-style wines, made with the grapes popularized in France’s Rhône region such as syrah and grenache, can offer appealing fruit flavor and merlot’s softness, but they can be more interesting in the process.

One of the best examples is Little James’ Basket Press ($10), a blend from the Rhône region that includes grenache, a red grape known for its juicy fruit. It also has some peppery notes, making it a good wine with beef, especially for everyday dinners such as hamburgers and meat loaf. Also from France: Le Coq Rouge ($10), also mostly grenache, with enough red fruit to be pleasant, plus soft tannins and a bit of a finish—a pleasant taste that lasts in your mouth after you have swallowed the wine.

If you like Chianti, try nero d’avola. 

Chianti from the Tuscany region of Italy is made from the sangiovese grape and is one of the great wines of the world. Nero d’avola, a grape common to Sicily, the island off the southern Italian coast, is one of the least-known grapes in the world. What these grapes have in common is the ability to make fine wine.

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A nero d’avola wine has some of the dark, earthy aromas that a ­Chianti has, though its fruit isn’t as sour cherry—more black plum. But like its better-known cousin, it is fresh and ­approachable, making it a red wine to pair with the same sorts of dishes—sausages, red sauces and pot roasts.

Cusumano Nero d’Avola ($10) was one of the first successful Sicilian wines in the US. It is a little less dark and plummy than it used to be. But it is earthy and interesting, perfect for pizza night. Cantine Colosi Rosso ($10), a blend made with nero d’avola, is more ­Chianti-like, with juicy cherry fruit.

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Source: Jeff Siegel, the Wine Curmudgeon, is a wine writer, wine critic and wine judge who specializes in inexpensive wine. He is author of The Wine Curmudgeon’s Guide to Cheap Wine and oversees the award-winning Wine Curmudgeon website, which annually ranks among the most influential wine sites on the Internet. He also teaches courses on wine, spirits and beer at El Centro College, Dallas. WineCurmudgeon.com