Off the Beaten Path Wines

There’s a chapter in my book Extreme Wine that is titled “The Invisible Wine” and although it examines many types of wines that are so nearly impossible to find that they might as well be invisible (including the famous “Twenty Dollar Bill Wines”). It ends up championing those wines that are so local, so tied to a particular place, that they rarely appear elsewhere. These wines are a terroirist’s delight and I treasure them when I find them on my travels.

There’s a problem with these wines, of course. You sometimes have to travel to where the wines are made to be able to taste them — and not everyone can do that. But I like to talk about them anyway if only to encourage my readers to look for the unusual, the local, and particular in wine and to boldly buy and celebrate them.

I’m pleased to see this same spirit on view in the February 28, 2014 issue of Wine SpectatorInside the glossy cover you’ll find a major article called “Off the Beaten Path” where many of WS‘s editors and contributors recommend their favorite under-the-radar wines.  Although some of the selections are more extreme than others, I think the overall project i is interesting and useful.

Some examples? Harvey Steiman proposes that we look beyond Pinot Noir in Oregon and consider some of the great Chardonnays made there (including the Roco Chard, which we like a lot). He also suggests Australia beyond Shiraz and Malbec from other places than Argentina (we like the Columbia Valley Fidelitas and Southern Oregon Abacela that he recommends).  James Laube sends us in search of Tannat, Torrontes and Pinotage (we like the recommended Kanonkop a lot).

Although it might be said that not all of the many recommendations are very far off the main wine road — Sherry, Tawny Port and Cru Beaujolais certainly have established reputations, for example) I think we have to remember that Wine Spectator has a broad audience and it is not ridiculous to think that its readers should actually be able to find and purchase the wines it recommends or at least wines very much like them. And in any case many wine drinkers probably fall into a rut from time to time and even a gentle nudge is worthwhile. (See note below.)

That said, a more forceful push would not be unwelcome and so I applaud Maryann Worobiec for proposing red wines from the overlooked Sierra Foothills and North American Tempranillo. And, since I am in Porto this week to speak at a Portuguese wine industry meeting, I have to admit that I am a big fan of Dana Nigro for recommending that readers seek out the under-appreciated Touriga Nacional wines from the Douro.

If I could change one thing about this nice article it would be to try to have more value wines listed. I often recommend that consumers look for unusual varieties or wines from unexpected places because, a bit like port and sherry, they are undervalued in the marketplace relative to their quality. I still believe that this is true, but it might not be easy for a new wine consumer to appreciate this fact given the prices of some of the particular wines listed in this article. Adding a value wine to each category would invite in a larger audience for these wines.

Thanks to the Wine Spectator team for giving its readers a nudge off the beaten path.


My recent column on Invisible Cities, Imaginary Wines generated some interesting comments that are also relevant to this post.  My column was a reaction to Eric Asimov’s article about the complaints he received from some of his readers that the wines he praised were often nearly impossible to find — really off the beaten path (unlike most but not all of the Wine Spectator’s recommendations).

Several people who left comments or contacted me off-line noted that there are importers and distributors who are really committed to making small production wines as available as possible. Consumers ought to support them and so should wine writers.

One very useful suggestion was that wine reviews ought to include the name of the importer or distributor along with a phone number. That way it would be relatively easy to track down a particular wine. And if that wine isn’t available, one reader suggested, the importer/distributor would be well placed to recommend a similar wine to try instead.

That sounds like a good idea to me and I note for the record that it is the standard practice at The Wine Advocate, the subscription-only journal that Robert Parker founded. Perhaps other publications could do the same — if not in the print publication itself then perhaps on their websites. (Some academic publishers have now started to put the often extensive footnotes and bibliographies on the web as a keep publication costs down while preserving scholarly integrity!)

2 responses

  1. Great article, Mike. And a much needed reminder for the consumers and reviewers alike on part in shaping the wines we see here. Ironically, just as that article came from WS, they have at the same time declined to accept Turkish wines for tasting. Oh well, one step at a time but at least we’re moving in the right direction…

  2. Mike,

    On the subject of (literal) $20 wines, I recently took on as a consulting client a new wine store/wine bar/beer bar in Long Beach, California.

    I did a deep dive in the wine portfolio price guides of the distributors and brokers (reviewing over 7,000 discrete wines) to come up with the 150 or so that meet this criteria:

    “Great vintage – great producer – great property or appellation.”

    You will be pleased to know I stocked the store with a lot of Washington state wines.

    Here are wines that sell in the store for $19.95 and I recommend:


    2009 Coquelicot (Santa Ynez, California) Sauvignon Blanc

    2012 Tablas Creek “Patelin de Tablas Blanc” (Paso Robles, California) white Rhone blend

    2012 Chat. Ste. Michelle “Eroica” (Washington) Riesling


    2009 Amity “Organic” (Oregon) Pinot Noir

    2009 Novelty Hill “Columbia Valley – Royal Slope Red” (Washington) Bordeaux-Rhone varieties blend

    2012 Neyers Sage Canyon (California) red Rhone blend

    2009 Anderson’s Conn Valley “Prologue” (California) Cabernet Sauvignon

    2009 Chateau St. Jean (California) Cabernet Sauvignon

    2010 Snoqualmie “Reserve” (Washington) Cabernet Sauvignon

    2010 Hugel (Alsace) Pinot Gris

    2011 Hugel (Alsace) Riesling

    There are more — but I don’t want to give away ALL my “secrets.”

    Enjoy !

    ~~ Bob

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