Elizabeth Taylor, an icon from the heyday of Hollywood was quoted as saying “I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I’m not afraid to look behind them.” During my work in the wine industry and in conversations with fellow residents of SaddleBrooke about wine, I find myself frequently echoing Taylor’s sentiment: Be adventurous; don’t be afraid to try new things; move out of your wine comfort zone. There are countless well balanced, complex and interesting bottles out there so there is little need to settle for the mass produced, chemically augmented wines that take up so much of the shelf space in supermarkets and box stores.
For those who have read my articles long enough this may sound like a broken record, but I really believe that it bears repeating. Seeking out and trying new wines is fun. Certain wines may not suit your current taste profile, but give them a chance. You’ll be surprised how your palate will evolve over time if you open yourself to new wines. Think about this article more as a compass than a roadmap; I’ll point out several regions, grape varieties and retail options where the ‘good stuff’ can be found.
In the United States look to the Anderson, Alexander and Santa Maria Valleys in California. While California produces wonderful wines throughout the state, these regions offer well-made wines across a broad selection of grape varieties, often at a price point less than higher profile AVA’s (American Viticultural Area). The Willamette Valley in Oregon is renowned for their Pinot Noir and not to be missed. The tiny Red Mountain AVA in Washington State has a big reputation for Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab blends. I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage the sampling of wines from Arizona. I’ve seen a steady improvement in quality and consistency over the years. While my current favorite producers are Aridus, Rune and Zarpara, there are a number of solid producers from the Verde Valley in the north to the Willcox AVA in the southeast. It’s worth giving wines from our home state a try.
Europe has an abundance of fantastic wine producing regions. Some areas have stellar reputations and often, a price to match. When looking to the continent seek out wines, both red and white, from the Iberian peninsula. Portugal exports a number of affordable, well-made red blends. Because they are often made with indigenous, hard to pronounce grape varieties, people tend to avoid them. Spain similarly offers great value. Look at wines based on the Tempranillo & Garnacha (red) and Albarino (white) grapes.
France is another country with no shortage of great wines and great regions. I like looking toward southern France: the Languedoc and Rhone Valley for reds (Syrah & Grenache) and the border region of Alsace for whites (Riesling and Pinot Blanc). Additionally, I’ve recently been on a big Beaujolais kick. The ‘Village’ level Beaujolais offers great value for the price.
Italy could provide a wealth of content for me. From the Alto Adige in the North to Pulia in the south, the food friendly wines from this country have so much to offer. Since the focus of this article is adventure, I’m going to direct you to the islands. Sicily has really come into its own with both red and white wines, while Sardinia, the second largest Island in the Mediterranean, is producing crisp, refreshing Vermentino and elegant Cannonau (Grenache).
There are also a few ‘one offs’; wines that may not have heard about or considered. Seek out Chenin Blanc from South Africa, Pinot Noir from Central Otago & Waitaki Valley in New Zealand, Tannat (a well-structured red) from Uruguay and Bonarda (a softer red) from Argentina.
Finally, I’m going to put in a plug for area retailers. Yes, Costco, Trader Joe’s & Total Wine are the big boys with huge selections, but Plaza Liquors on Campbell and Rum Runner on East 1st Street a have well trained staff with no shortage of ‘interesting’ wines. Times are challenging for local businesses; support them when you can, and I can promise that there are gems to be found.
Liz was right about being adventurous, monogamy can be dull— at least when it comes to wines. Broaden your palate and sip outside your comfort zone. Memorable wines await.
I’ve been writing wine articles for Saddlebag Notes since 2016, but the time has come for me to put down the pen. I’ve really enjoyed the interaction that I've had with fellow residents about the world of wine and look for it to continue. The online Saddlebag Notes web page has an archive of the last few years of my articles on wine shopping, regions and varieties, so feel free to take a look if you want a sense of my perspective on things. If you do have questions, are looking for advice on hosting wine tasting or just want to raise a glass, please feel free to reach out to me and I’ll be happy to chat.
Saluti e Finito
Tom Oetinger holds an advanced certification in wine & spirits from the WSET in London, England. He is available to assist you with your wine events or answer your wine questions. Contact Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org.