When exploring the business side of the wine world, it can be easy to develop prejudices that ultimately lead to a jaded view of the whole affair. But it's a new year, and I resolve not to let myself think that way. In that spirit, I went in search of wine types that I have been known to, well, think little of. Write off. Insult, even. Once I cut through the hype of the wine press, the flashy marketing, the jockeying for shelf position, and the exalting of valleys like Napa and Rhône, I discovered how much fun the exploration is, even if it does mean tasting a lot of banal selections. Here are three wines I found along the way that bolstered my resolve.
Finca Allende Rioja 2003 ($25)
Spain is one of the hottest wine-producing regions these days. The wines are attractively packaged, enticingly priced, and well-made. Somehow, though, I'm having trouble getting hugely fired up, because many of these hip little offerings taste great without giving a sense of where they're from. Call me old-fashioned, but I get a little suspicious when there is no mention of who made the wine on the label, just the logo of the superstar importer. The Finca Allende Rioja is honest, estate-bottled wine that assertively interrupted my most recent bout of cynicism. It is made from the Tempranillo grape, from the north-central region of Spain called Rioja. Rioja is famous for lush, complex, and long-lived reds. This example is bursting with the ripeness and intensity typical of 2003, but with plenty of structure. There is a healthy dollop of new oak that lends an international stylishness to the wine without masking its layers of red fruits, bramble, and minerality. Not at the same bargain-bin price as many newcomers, but worth the extra pesos. (The Henry Wine Group)
Cono Sur Sauvignon Blanc "Vision" 2005 ($13)
Ah, Sauvignon Blanc. There are bland Californian versions and grassy, sharp New Zealand ones replete with a faint whiff of litter box—both of which were filling me with white-wine ennui. I began to think I was a Francophile wine snob. A wine I was prepared to hate, this Argentine offering was instead a revelation. All the classic Sauvignon traits are here (lemon-lime citrus, light grassiness, and juicy acidity) but in a context that is balanced, aromatic, and engaging. It doesn't bully the senses. A purely pleasurable glass of wine that is hard to come by at this price. (Bacchus Importers, Ltd.)
Château Musar Cuvée Rouge 2003 ($20)
How about red wine from the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon—made from Cinsault, Carignan, and Cabernet Sauvignon—to shake up your palate? Someone threw this wine into a blind tasting and boy, I'm sure glad they did. Rich and unctuous, the wine is balanced by its fine-grained tannic texture and light earthiness. It is an unusual wine, one that certainly deserves to be considered amongst other great reds in this price range. Don't for a second think that it need be graded on a curve because it isn't from a famous wine region; it's absolutely delicious and pleasurably complex. (A Vintner's Selections)