Are you stuck in a wine rut?

      As a High School junior with a limited allowance to cover my 70’s era ghetto cruiser’s gas and aerosol hair spray to support my mall bangs, I found myself drawn to knock off beauty products.  “If you like Obsession by Calvin Klein, you’ll LOVE Stalker by DrugsRUs.”  This body spray smelled vaguely like the luxury brand, but did not deliver the hoards of admirers it promised.  All in all, I got a fancy scent for $7 instead of $40. Not bad.

      As a grown up, I never shook the lure of “knock-off” stuff.  “Tell me if this is fake or fly, and then maybe I’ll think about buyin’ it,” I’ve been known to say to the guy hocking designer purses next to the Chicago/State subway stop.  Who doesn’t love a deal? 

With that, I offer you a few suggestions for your wine rut. Most of these suggestions are generally less expensive than their popular counterpart.  Fancy scent for less money; only boozy.

If you like California Chardonnay, you’ll LOVE Rhone whites from France:

The dynamic duo of Marsanne and Roussanne make for rich and hearty whites resplendent in aromas of peach, apricot, almonds, and toffee. They don’t pack the buttered popcorn punch that comes with new world Chardonnay, but isn’t that what you’ve grown tired of in the first place? Look for basic Cotes du Rhone Blancs for under $15. Fancier versions can be had from appellations like Crozes-Hermitage and Chateauneuf-du- Pape.

If you like Italian Pinot Grigio, you’ll LOVE Torrontes from Argentina:

Pinot Grigio is usually a wine lover’s first crush. It’s light, crisp, fruity, and easy to pronounce; but you can do better.  Ask for (tor-RON-tez) at your local wine shop and be whisked away to a land filled with bargains. The grape originates from Galicia, Spain, but traveled along the great pilgrimage path to Mendoza, Argentina where it flourishes. Heady aromas of white flowers and tropical fruits accent this light and zingy white that plays nicely with seafood and fruit. Don’t ignore the bottom shelf. Plenty of very tasty Torrontes carry a price tag of $8 or less.

If you like Aussie Shiraz, you’ll LOVE Spanish Garnacha:

Yes, Shiraz from down under delivers big flavor for cheap. But for the same cash, you can get some equally full bodied and flashy wines from the steep hillsides of Spain. Garnacha is the Spanish incarnation of the French grape, Grenache. (Here in the US, we tend to make a tragic blush wine from it, but the rest of the world seems to have a handle on its magic potential.) Regions like Priorat deliver dark and brooding Garnacha-based reds with wonderful mineral accents.  Check out Spanish DOs (official wine regions) like Calatayud, Campo de Borja and Cariñena for more sassy, spicy versions under $15.

If you like Chianti, you’ll LOVE Rosso di Montalcino:

Chances are you’ve moved beyond the wicker flask stuff best suited for candle holders and beatnik-era craft projects. Chianti is a huge wine-growing region that delivers a flood of Sangiovese-based reds to the US of decidedly uneven quality.  The good ones have that dried cherry, baked clay, and black pepper notes that go so well with cured meats and hearty cheeses. The bad ones are vapid and smell like hot summer garbage.

I’m only asking you to take a baby step out of your comfort zone here and try another Tuscan region, right next door. The southern town of Montalcino is best known for its majestic and expensive Brunello di Montalcino. It’s awesome, but tough to justify for a Tuesday night watching reruns of Scrubs with the cat. Far less pricey, and often made by the same rock-star winemakers, are the Rosso di Montalcinos.  A kind of Brunello “knock-off”, the wines carry plenty of cranberry, cherry, plum, and spice aromas, hearty body, and dash of acidity like the big guys. They just don’t come from the most premium real-estate and don’t have to be aged as long. Furthermore, winemakers have more freedom to experiment under the Rosso di Montalcino label. By blending in Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot or other non-indigenous grapes in larger quantity, wineries can deliver a big flavor wine, in the Tuscan style, for less green.

(My apologies; I blew it here. Rosso di Montalcino must be 100% Sangiovese. The Rosso di Montepulcianos are allowed to blend in non-indigenous grapes. Rosso di Montepulciano is an appellation in Tuscany with a similar relationship to the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Thanks to Sean Ludford at Beverage Experts for the correction.) 

So run out to your local wine store and try something new.

Right now.

Go on. Shoo.

….and no comments on my Kate Spade bag next time you see me.



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3 responses to “Are you stuck in a wine rut?

  1. Vince

    Thanks for the suggestions for new wines. Just grabbed a bottle of Gimenez Riili Perpetuum Torrontes 2005 — for $14.00 — crazy price. Anyway, its a great wine — great big nose really light on the tongue. Keep up the good work!

  2. Kurt

    Where did you find that wine?


  3. Hey Kurt,

    I haven’t seen the Gimenez Riuli in any of the big Chicago wine stores, but other brands are widely available. Try Crios by Susana Balbo or Santa Julia by Familia Zuccardi. Both are usually available at Sam’s and Binny’s locations as well as many small stores and upscale grocery stores.

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