Along with being the time for spring cleaning, this time of year provides an excuse to break old habits, like sitting on your ass reading Facebook posts when you could be outside burning calories. So, how about trying a few new wines instead of constantly relying on the tried-and-true standbys? I’m so in need of wine excitement that I’ve taken to purchasing bottles based on the label art—something my wife has been doing for years, with mixed success. Anyway, lately I’ve been trying out wines that I’ve never heard of, tasted before or even read about. Sure, it’s a gamble, but that’s what I get paid to do. I’ve sampled some real crappola so that you don’t have to. Here, on the other hand, are a handful of wines you do want to acquire. And, most are well within everybody’s wine budget.
Let’s start with the wine I recently bought simply because I loved the label. It’s called Bodegas Tintoralba Garnacha Tintorera ($7.99). Tintoralba is a wine cooperative located in Spain’s northwest corner, in the DO Almansa wine region. Garnacha Tintorera—called Alicante Bouschet in France—is a dark, inky, purple grape often used for blending. This version is brimming with vibrant, bright red-fruit flavors, along with hints of dark chocolate and black pepper. This is a fruit-forward wine with good acidity and is a helluva bang for the buck. As for the label, it was the modernist painting of a dark-haired, ruby-lipped woman draining a wine bottle that hooked me. I’m glad it did.
From a little farther east—France’s Coteaux du Languedoc—comes Cave de Pomerols Cap Cette Picpoul de Pinet ($11.49). Picpoul (sometimes spelled Piquepoul) is a lesser-known grape of the Rh%uFFFDne wine varietals—one of the 13 permitted in Ch%uFFFDteauneuf-du-Pape. After phylloxera wiped out France’s Picpoul in the late 1800s, it was replanted and today is known as Picpoul de Pinet. Cap Cette Picpoul de Pinet is a crisp, dry, lean, light-bodied white wine with vivid lime and pear flavors that pair beautifully with fish and seafood—everything from sushi to grilled calamari. This might just become my go-to summer sipper.
Head way south to the Colchagua Valley in Chile, and you’ll find a wine producer called Viña Peralillo, maker of Arenal Carmenere ($7.99). The label on this bottle is cool, too. It looks like an abstract Christian cross with grape clusters hanging from it. Anyway, the Carmenere varietal is one of the better values out there and, frankly, I can’t get enough. Don’t let the dark ruby color of this wine fool you; I find it a very easy-drinking but elegant red, with ripe black-fruit flavors and a surprisingly long finish for the price. This one’s a backyard barbecue no-brainer.
Go back north about 5,000 miles from Chile, and you’ll wind up in California, which is where Trinafour Sawyer Vineyard Muscat Canelli ($16.99) is produced—in Hopland, to be precise. And, if you can find a better wine for 17 clams, buy it. Trinafour is a small winery; only 75 cases of this wine were made. It’s a very dry white with pretty honeysuckle, orange, peach and kiwi aromas that mesh beautifully with honeydew and peach flavors. I had this with a roasted chicken and spinach salad and it killed.
Finally, if you’re bored with tedious, standardized Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, I recommend trying Oyster Bay ($12.99). It’s zesty, but not as herbaceous as most Marlborough S-B, with more guava and passion-fruit flavors than the typical grapefruit and gooseberry. Not only in name would this be a perfect wine with oysters.