We all get in ruts from time to time, not just in our wine selections, but in food and in life itself, even. Here’s some advice on helping your wine shop customers stay excited about what they’re drinking. [level-members]
This is from a “New Year’s resolutions” column of Matt Kramer’s in the Wine Spectator. (He may be the best thing about that publication!) You can read the full article here, but I’ve pasted below his list of “unusual suspects” that might help someone out of their rut, no matter what that rut might be. Heck, he’s even got Chardonnay on the list! Granted, it’s Chardonnay from Australia’s Margaret River, but still.
You might enjoy working through the list yourself. Some of these are media darlings, it-wines having their moment. But others are worth longer-term committment, even if that risks creating a brand new rut …
1. Lambrusco: The good ones are a delight, especially with rich, hearty fare like sausages or anything cheesy.
2. Gewürztraminer, Alsace; Anderson Valley; Oregon; Italy: Try it with onion soup or an onion tart. You’ll be wowed.
3. Any Greek Wine Other than Retsina: The “new” Greek whites and reds are a revelation. Forget everything you ever thought about Greek wines.
4. Petite Sirah: California’s perennially unsung, workhorse red. Nothing better with a good burger (except maybe Zinfandel).
5. Any New Zealand Wine Other than Sauvignon Blanc: After all, you already know New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Try the Syrah and the Pinot Noir. Impressive stuff across the board.
6. Cabernet Franc: The Cinderella grape just waiting to be asked to the ball. All sorts of possibilities—from the Loire, Napa Valley, Bordeaux and elsewhere. Always seems to need food, unlike some stand-alone Cabernet Sauvignons.
7. Austrian Red Wines: Never mind the white Grüner Veltliner. Try the reds Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch. Latest vintages are much less oaky and heavy-handed than those of five or 10 years ago.
8. Pretty Much Anything from Portugal: Hard to go wrong with the latest reds and whites from Portugal’s new wine revolution, especially at the modest prices still being asked.
9. Ventoux: This large district in France’s Southern Rhône Valley delivers striking red wine value.
10. Santa Lucia Highlands: The star district in California’s Salinas Valley. Pinot Noir is the main attraction but don’t overlook Syrah.
11. Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux: Everybody’s go-to red 30 years ago. Due for a comeback, n’est-ce pas?
12. Dry Tokaj Furmint: A new dry white in wine history, created in centuries-old Tokaj for the first time in the 1990s. Don’t miss it.
13. Chianti Classico: After decades of fumbling with “international” grape varieties and excessive oak, the latest Chianti Classico wines are purer and better-made than ever. Seriously underpriced at the moment.
14. Sparkling Wines Called Crémant: Looking for reliably good bubbly at the $20 mark? France’s “crémant” category is an answer.
15. Chardonnay from Australia’s Margaret River: OK, Chardonnay at last! But Margaret River Chardonnay is unlike any other in the world. That’s not something you can say very often about Chardonnay, which tells you something right there.
16. Any Red Wine from Argentina’s Salta Zone: Mendoza is the big district. But smaller Salta is a jewel, with vineyards starting at 5,000 feet elevation. Mostly Malbec.
17. Anything Involving Pinot Meunier: The “unknown” grape of Champagne. A little research will reveal those Champagnes with significant Pinot Meunier in the blend. Also, there are a few still Pinot Meuniers produced in California and Oregon that are impressively good.
18. Anything from Sicily Over $20: Sicily is hot, in the best sense. There’s still a lot of junk wine, hence the $20 marker. But once across the 20-buck line, you’re not likely to go wrong with Sicily; quite the opposite.
19. Chenin Blanc from South Africa: The best are stunners. This is a category to actively pursue. And don’t be surprised to find expensive, sought-after cult Chenins cheek-by-jowl with very good but much lower-priced workaday Chenins. Though the word is getting out, it has not yet been broadcast widely.
20. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo: Another example of the “very good but not expensive” available side by side with the “exceptional but expensive” versions. Take your pick. Tough to go wrong with this reliable red.
21. Sierra Foothills Zinfandel: California’s famous Gold Rush continues in this classic Zinfandel area (where the 1849 Gold Rush actually occurred). Yes, there are other good wine types produced in Sierra Foothills, such as Syrah. But Zinfandel is still the gold in them thar hills.
22. Aglianico: Southern Italy’s benchmark (and great) red wine grape. If you’re a fan of big reds, you want the Aglianico variety. Price is only a rough guide, as a good number of inexpensive Aglianicos deliver tasty goods.
23. 6 Puttonyos Tokaj: If you want to try one of the world’s most seductive sweet wines, this is it. And be sure to sip some while watching what is arguably the greatest wine and dog movie ever made, Dean Spanley (starring Sam Neill and Peter O’Toole).
24. Any Spanish White from Rías Baixas: If there’s seafood, especially shellfish, on the menu, you want the white wine from the Rías Baixas zone, in the northwestern corner of Spain. Prices are reasonable and the overall standard across producers is impressively high.
25. Any 2015 German Riesling Under $30: Whoever says vintages don’t matter hasn’t been to Germany. The 2015 vintage is a knockout year, so much so that it’s hard to go wrong even (and unusually) at the lower price range.