I recently had this conversation in a supermarket wine aisle:
Shopper: Do you know anything about wine?
Me: A bit.
Shopper: I need to bring a wine to a party my friend is throwing and I don’t know what to buy. She only drinks Pinot Noir but I only drink Chardonnay. What’s a good Pinot Noir?
Me (to myself): You and your friend are idiots.
Me (to her): Most people like La Crema; it’s a safe choice.
Why do people get locked in to the same wine over and over? Even a poorly stocked supermarket has several varietals and countless blends from France, Spain, Australia, Germany, Italy, Argentina, Chili, and the U.S. And a well-stocked wine shop will have wines from Portugal, Austria, Israel, Canada, South Africa, Uruguay, and Greece often featuring unusual varietals with distinctive flavors. China and India will probably join the mix in the next few years. As climate change makes the cultivation of wine grapes viable in new places, and wineries search for unusual varietals to set them apart, the range of options is fast becoming overwhelming. Add the fact that there is very little risk of buying an undrinkable bottle thanks to advances in wine technology and there is no longer any reason to restrict your exploration of wine to a few varietals or regions.
No doubt if you’re spending $50 or more on a bottle you want some assurance you will enjoy the wine; perhaps choosing conservatively has some merit in that case. And if you crave the distinctive flavors of Burgundy or Napa Valley you will have a narrower range of choices and will pay a premium price to find satisfaction. But at the lower price ranges the global market has exploded and there is no reason not to experiment. Being conservative in your wine choices means missing out on a treasure trove of flavor.
And if you’re willing to look beyond the big commercial brands on supermarket shelves and visit your local wineries or wine shops there is even more diversity. It’s the small wineries that can experiment with new varieties and new production techniques.
The universe of wine today offers all the benefits of encountering the unexpected, the surprising, the strange, the unusual—a cure for boredom, homogeneity, and narrowness of vision for only a few dollars.
That’s a good deal.