“Have you tried this wine?” I asked. “No, it was a special order for a wedding,” replied the wine shop owner. That was good enough for me. If someone wanted it for their wedding, I was willing to take a flutter for $15.00.
I had been in the Town and Country Liquor store in Saugerties, NY before and knew that they stocked wines that went beyond the usual labels. This time I was looking for a particular Sicilian wine (more about that later). No luck, but she did show me nine other wines from Sicily. Pretty good for an upstate store next to Big Lots and behind CVS.
When you’re in a store that has some wines new to you, ask about them. They may be a special interest of the proprietor, a customer request, or a persuasive wine rep’s “try this” special. Whatever the reason, those wines will often represent a pretty good bang for the buck, a new wine drinking experience, or an undiscovered wine region. Any one might be the beginning of a wine adventure.
In Saugerties, a bottle of red on the shelf near the Sicilians caught my eye. The graphically-arresting non-traditional label’s French was indecipherable to me but still implied that the wine was made with more than ordinary care. On the back I learned that it was 100% Negrette, a grape I might have heard of, and from Fronton, a region that I guessed was in the south of France. At 12% alcohol, it seemed like it might be the kind of light, fruity, drinkable red that I was seeking.
The Negrette was a winner. Despite its low alcohol, the wine had a deep color, floral aroma, and rich flavor — a little like a young smoky syrah. Easily worth the $15 cost, I felt I was on the road with a new grape, from an unfamiliar region.
When you see an intriguing wine, shelf-talker tags can be helpful. In addition, there should be some clues about the wine on the back label. Sometimes you’ve just got to take a chance.
In Saugerties, I had been looking for a Frappato, a fresh, tart, fruity young red from Sicily. I had enjoyed one made by Poggio Di Bortolone that had been suggested by the reliable wine-pickers at Fountainhead Wines in Norwalk. Fountainhead, tucked away just off Wall Street, is a great source for off-the-beaten-path wines that might be your next favorites. The wines there are personally sourced — picked by the owners for their expressive character and value.
The Bortolone Frappato at $23 is near the upper range of my willingness to experiment, but it was well worth it. Light and bright, with fresh fruit aromas matched with balanced flavors, it had enough acidity to make every sip sing. Before I knew it, the easy-drinking bottle was empty.
You can’t talk about wine without talking about price. Like any luxury product above a certain point, it’s priced for prestige. Wine writers tend to say that around $20 is where you can move from commercial wines to examples that show a true sense of place and craftsmanship.
But that’s not always the case. For me, over $20 is a reach for an everyday bottle. I will spend more, but then I make sure to pull the cork when it can be appreciated. Under $20 it helps to be well-advised and you need to poke around in the corners of the wine world, but there’s a lot of good wine to be found.
WineFolly.com is an excellent source for information about lesser-known wine-making regions. Author Madeline Puckette explains about the towns and grapes of places you probably never heard of and goes into detail about flavors and what to look for on the label. Her article on the wines of southwest France is a good example. It covers Negrette and many other unfamiliar wines.
Eric Asimov, who writes about wine in the New York Times, frequently covers unfamiliar bottles. He recently wrote a column titled Unusual Italian Reds where he celebrated the diversity of wine available these days. His column often includes specific wines that you can look for in a store.
In addition to the Negretto and Frapatto, I’ve recently enjoyed some other somewhat obscure wines: Patelin de Tablas, a red blend from Tablas Creek Vineyard in California; Tres Buhis, a snappy Spanish Tempranillo; a fruity Barbera d’Alba from Italy; and a Toscana blended of 80% sangiovese and 20% cabernet – a Super Tuscan wannabe that might be the bargain of the bunch at $13.
Next time your shopping for wine, check out that unfamiliar label. It could be your next wine adventure.