Shaking Things Up 

Leaving your comfort zone for interesting wine explorations.

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So many wines, so little time. It’s a tired old cliché, but it’s so true. Don’t lose sleep over the plethora of wine options, though; there are strategies that will help guide you through the endless wine-store aisles and phone-book-sized wine lists.

Everyone has that pair of jeans draped over their couch longer than they’d admit; they’re comfortable, and put you at ease. As a sommelier, I watch guests flip through wine list pages in the hunt for their favorite and familiar all the time. Go-to wines are fine, but stocking your cellar or filling your glass with the same wine induces tedium. Wine should entertain your palate, and overzealous wine loyalty is as monotonous as watching endless reruns of M*A*S*H.

There’s a natural evolution to wine tasting that’s individual and subjective, but some guidance helps you steer clear of furrowed brows and swills of discontent. “Light and white” is a great place to start. There’s a wine from Portugal that’s so agreeable it begs for swilling. It’s a little off the beaten path, and you might not have heard of it, but trust me: Vinho Verde is a white table wine that’s slightly effervescent, dirt cheap and has flavors of lemons and limes. Argentina’s Malbec has everyone’s attention as of late, but that country also produces a signature white wine: Torrontes. It is highly perfumed, medium-bodied and versatile at the table. Looking to support the good old red, white, and blue? Try a squeaky clean, crisp Sauvignon Blanc from California. Craving something with a little more richness, something to make you feel all warm and fuzzy? Try a Chardonnay from just about anywhere. She travels well.

Spain is the sleeping giant of the wine world, for good reason. With more acreage under vine than any other country in the world, it is a continued source of great value and quality. Two grapes personifying the “bang for your buck” genre include Garnacha (known elsewhere as Grenache) and Mencia. Garnacha is loaded with mixed, dark fruit flavors, and is medium- to full-bodied. Mencia is found primarily in Galicia, located in the northwest region of Spain. Mencia is medium-bodied, sleek, spicy and vibrant—like Pinot Noir with implants.

Portugal is known for its high-octane, fruity, fortified, after-dinner wines, but in the last decade it has been making inroads with its red table wines. These wines are made from the same grapes as Port, so there’s all that rich fruit of Port without the fire.

Wine exploration should be entertaining, not intimidating. Don’t be afraid to ask the folks at wine shops or staff at restaurants for guidance. Start with a color (red or white), then texture: light, medium or full-bodied (a great analogy is skim milk, two percent or whole milk). Let them know how much you want to spend. Tell them what wines you’ve enjoyed in the past. There are too many wines, in too many varied styles from all around the globe, to constrain your imbibing to one winery, country or grape. Make it a priority to broaden your wine horizons and enlighten your palate.

Here are a few suggestions for exploration: Broadbent, Vinho Verde, Portugal ($8.99), Crios de Susana Balbo, Torrontes, Salta, Argentina, 2008 ($15.99), Saracina, Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino, CA, 2007 ($17.99), Glen Carlou, Chardonnay, Paarl, South Africa, 2006 ($15.99), Dominio de Tares, “Baltos” Mencia, Bierzo, Spain, 2005 ($16), Borsao, “Tres Picos” Garnacha, Campo de Borja, Spain, 2007 ($17.99). I purposely omitted my subjective tasting notes riddled with suggestions of fruit, earth, wood, mineral and spices. Consider that your homework. Try to take mental notes of the aforementioned wine components, and I bet both your wine lexicon and cellar will grow, happily.

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