Drilling for Foreign Finds
One rule of thumb: Imported wines always impress. Because Americans are numbly accustomed to California Chardonnay, Merlot or Cabernet, the foreign names seem more exotic, whether they're better or not. Is this simplistic? Yes. True? Absolutely. But extraordinary wines are coming from Argentina, Chile and Spain. Don't be afraid to risk paying a lowly $8 for a bottle of wine from any of these countries; there's a good chance it will pay you back tenfold.
Label Fanciers Beware
Ninety nine point nine percent of the time, pretty labels mask crappy wine. Georges Dubeouf, importers from France, often employ the tactic of fanciful, color-laden labels to disguise insipid wines, especially their Beaujolais Nouveau. Don't fall into the trap. Also avoid those with beautiful colored glass with sleek, artistic labels. Luna di Luna corners the market with their gaudy blue, purple and red bottles. Like a mean, beautiful person, it's ugly inside... don't buy it.
Up and Comers
Forget what the Joneses are doing...to really impress, follow your instinct to the nearest funky grape. People dig novel things, and you can bask in the glory of introducing it. Hot grape varietals to present right now: California Petite Syrah, Germany's Gruner Veltliner, California Viognier, Argentinean Malbec and Chilean Carmenere. Slip one of these into the mix at your next dinner party and watch people ask questions.
Exploring the out-of-the-ordinary can pay off down the road. You never know how the boss decides who gets the accolades or the axe, but be certain it's not because of your boring wine choice.
2000 Bodega Faraon Malbec Like a smooth port wine without the sweetness, this Argentinean Malbec boasts figs, prunes and a bold potpourri-like aroma. Very interesting wine... a conversation piece, and be proud of the price. $10 1/2
Calina 2001 Carmenere Reserve A bargain if I've ever tasted one. Huge and rich like a steak with a fruity sauce of blackberry and vanilla. Comes with a side of peppery earthiness. $10 1/2
Fess Parker 2000 Viognier Dripping with honey, peaches and a hint of coconut, this beautiful Santa Barbara wine made me take notice. Rich, full and loaded with personality. Love it. $201/2
David Bruce 2001 Petite Syrah Face slapping big-bowl-of-berries flavor, yet smooth and drinkable. Tannins are manageable in this grape normally known for its rich tannic content. $18 1/2