When you were just starting to drink wine, what were your favorite tipples? Lambrusco? (Remember "Riunite on Ice…that's nice!") White zinfandel? One of those not-too-expensive bottles with a foreign name that you could figure out how to pronounce, like beaujolais or soave? If you're of a slightly older vintage yourself, it might even have been a "crackling" (sparkling) rosé from Portugal like Lancers or Mateus. These, along with other similarly inexpensive and undemanding examples of the vintner's art, were our starter wines, the ones we turned to when it occurred to us that maybe there was something worth drinking out there that didn't come in kegs.
We've all gone far beyond these simple wines now, having learned to appreciate grüner veltliner from Austria, malbec from Argentina, pinotage from South Africa, garnacha from Spain. We'd probably no sooner order a lambrusco than we'd reach for the Bartles & Jaymes.
And yet all the wine categories mentioned in the first paragraph above exist in excellent interpretations, well worthy of our now-practiced palates. Here are a few examples:
Beaujolais: Domaine Diochon Moulin-à-Vent, Vieilles Vignes, 2014 ($23). A rich, juicy wine, opulent and nicely textured with graceful tannins and a pronounced black-currant flavor. A wine with both structure and finesse.
Lambrusco: Vigneto Saetti Lambrusco Salamino di S. Croce 2014 ($20). An almost astringently dry, peppery lambrusco made with grapes from 45-year-old organically farmed vines. The carbonation is sharp and the tart fruit is accented with cinnamon and cloves. A perfect counterpoint to a platter of rich prosciutto, salame, and other cured meats.
Soave: Inama Soave Classico, Vigneti di Foscarino 2013 ($25). Just a gorgeous wine, 100 percent garganega, sunny yellow in color with a nose of honey and wildflowers, and a lush white-peach character on the palate.
Sparkling Rosé: Lancers Rosé NV ($9). Made from a mix of indigenous Portuguese grape varieties and fermented to an effervescence that isn't quite as sparkling as that of, say, prosecco but that still gives the wine a festive feeling. Faintly sweet, but with a pleasantly dry finish following a burst of summer berry fruit in the mouth. I want to call this "party wine" for its vivid color and easy drinkability.
White Zinfandel: Turley Wine Cellars White Zinfandel 2014. ($23). A light-hued Provençal-style rosé from one of California's great zinfandel specialists. Its crisp, dry, soft-edged character and slightly herbaceous (but not at all flowery) fruit will banish from your taste memory any impressions you may have of what white zinfandel usually is.