The thing I like best about working in the wine industry is getting to try new wines. It’s always a learning experience, because even the most knowledgeable wine nerds—me included—don’t know it all. And it’s always changing. In the last several years alone, I’ve seen the rise and fall (and, as you’ll read at right, the imminent rise again) of Chilean wine, the post-Sideways Pinot Noir craze, and the influx of high-alcohol and over-the-top Shiraz from Australia.
I also like anticipating (and predicting) the next big thing—getting in on the ground floor so that I know what’s going to be hot before everyone else. The six wines here are definitely ground-floor trends. They’re underrated in the marketplace, but they bring the kind of serious thunder I’m looking for: high quality for little cost. So get to know them now; these bottles are going to be big.
I’ve been yelling about Portugal for two years straight. It makes no sense to me that more people aren’t drinking these wines. No country on earth is bringing it the way the Portuguese are, especially from regions like Dao, Douro, and Alentejo. And the quality of these wines—at $7 to $20 a bottle—is nothing short of staggering. Whether you’re serving chicken, steak, or pork, you can’t miss with these reds.
My pick: 2006 Esporão Reserva Red, $19
Crisp Italian Whites
Somehow, when most Americans think of Italian white wine, all that comes to mind is Pinot Grigio. This drives me into convulsions. There are so many incredibly delicious yet neglected Italian whites, such as Tocai and Ribolla Gialla from the Friuli region. The ripping acidity in these wines makes them crisp and refreshing, and ideal matches for light, simple foods like salads and shellfish.
My pick: 2007 Bastianich Tocai Friulano, $18
Chilean Pinot Noir
Chilean wines were screaming hot not that long ago. Despite their popularity, I was never that enamored of their quality—until recently. In particular, I’ve been surprised by some higher-end Chilean Pinot Noirs, something unheard of just a few years ago. They’ve got wild flavor characteristics, with lots of intensity and fruit. I think this varietal will permanently put Chile on the wine map.
My pick: 2007 Amayna Pinot Noir, $30
South African Chenin Blanc
South Africa is a wine region that’s really beginning to come into its own, and Chenin Blanc is becoming its signature varietal. It’s a triple threat of a grape because it makes equally fine dry, sweet, and even sparkling wines. In South Africa, it’s making crisp and clean, light and fruity wines with lots of great acidity. They’re very food-friendly and a superb match for lighter meat dishes, seafood, and salads.
My pick: 2009 Cape Indaba Chenin Blanc, $10
It’s always the same old story: People plunk down $40 for the Champagne brands they know. Stop it—please! For a quarter of that, you can enjoy a Spanish Cava that rocks the house. Instead of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, it’s made from varietals that are hard to pronounce, like Xarel-lo. Cava, however, is easy to pronounce, and you can find great bottles for $8 to $15 a pop.
My pick: 2005 Marques de Gelida Cava Brut, $15
Beaujolais Nouveau—the sweet, grapey red wine with the colorful label you see every year at Thanksgiving—has given true Beaujolais a bad rep. Made from the Gamay grape, real Beaujolais wines from villages like Morgon and Fleurie are serious wines indeed and worth exploring. They’re light and fruity and are especially good transition wines for white wine drinkers who are looking to get into red.
My pick: 2008 Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages, $15