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Choosing Wines Today Easy as ABC
By Robert Whitley
May 19, 2015
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Walk into any wine shop with a significant inventory and most likely the selection will skew toward wines made from the world’s two most popular red and white grape varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

They are often referred to as “international” grapes because both are versatile and adapt easily to different soils and climates throughout the world, even though historically Cabernet Sauvignon is most closely associated with the Bordeaux region and Chardonnay the Burgundy region – both in France.

There is a sentiment, however, among many wine enthusiasts to take the road less traveled and challenge the taste buds with other flavors. Those who choose this path are commonly known as the ABC crowd; ABC as in anything but Cabernet or anything but Chardonnay.
That may seem like a diss, but in reality it is a noble quest to expand the palate horizon and appreciate wines made from less familiar grape varieties.

There are so many possibilities, but for this thought experiment I have narrowed the potential options to three white grapes and three red, all of which produce wines that are increasingly prominent and available in wine bars and wine shops throughout America.

Whites: Verdejo is a white grape primarily grown in Spain’s Rueda region. It is typically lush but with firm acid structure. Good Verdejo from Rueda can be had in the $15-$25 price range. Gruner Veltliner is one of the flagship white wines of Ausrtria, but two U.S. producers, Zocker in California and Dr. Konstantin Frank in New York, make superb Gruner in the $15-$20 price range. Gruner is crisp and firm, with lip-smacking acidity and inviting minerality. Of these three graoe varieties, Pinot Gris would come closest to Chardonnay in texture. Unlike its more austere cousin, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris offers an oily texture and ripe aromas of tropical fruits and stone fruits. J Vineyards Pinot Gris is a regular on my table at about $15 a bottle.

Reds: Barbera is a high-acid red Italy’s Piedmont region. It is brilliant with tapas and tomato-based sauces. Two of my favorite Italian Barberas are made by Michele Chiarlo and Vietti. Both typically retail for less than $20. Eberle Winery in Paso Robles makes a splendid domestic Barbera for about $22. Negroamaro is an earthy red from the Puglia region in southern Italy. It produces a rich, bold, satisfying red that retails in the $10-$15 range. Li Veli and Tormaresca are both top-notch. These wines represent tremendous value, too. Rioja, despite considerable worldwide fame and acclaim, remains one of the great values in red wine today. A Rioja crianza (meaning it is aged one year in barrel) might fetch $12 to $15 yet deliver the satisfaction you might expect from a wine at twice the price. Marques de Caceres and Montecillo are two of my current favorites, but there are so many to choose from. Rioja is typically a blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha, but Tempranillo is the money grape. Rioja is ultra smooth on the palate, with complex red and black fruit aromas.

Email Robert at whitleyonwine@yahoo.com.