Giving the wonderful world of wine
It's time for the World-Wide Sampler.
We introduced the World-Wide Sampler as a holiday present back in 2000. The idea is simply this: a case of inexpensive wines from around the globe to showcase what a wonderful world of wine we now live in. Pretty much everyone is already familiar with wines from California - around two out of every three bottles of wine drunk in America is from California.
A mixed case of wines from everywhere but California is a delicious example of the great values and styles arriving on shelves from all over the world. The amount of imported wine Americans drink doubled between 1997 and 2007. We expect that trend to continue, and here's a situation where you can put a trend right inside a box.
So here is a possible 12-bottle case for the World-Wide Sampler. We have focused on types of wine that are at least somewhat widely available, but you will have to be flexible on this because it's impossible to know what you might find at any one store. It will almost certainly be better to work with a good wine merchant on this than to try to do it yourself at the local supermarket or warehouse store, which might not have the breadth of wines that is necessary to make the World-Wide Sampler truly worldwide.
The idea is for these wines to average about $10 each, so that, with a case discount, the entire gift will cost somewhere around $100. We have emphasized wines that might be a little surprising and, in some cases, might be more widely available today than just a little while ago.
1. and 2. Two bottles from Chile, one Sauvignon Blanc (ideally from the 2008 vintage) and one Cabernet Sauvignon. The first will pair well with any type of seafood and the latter with beef or vegetarian casseroles. This will showcase the emergence of Chile as the preeminent source of good bargains these days. It will also hold down the cost because the wines are so affordable.
3. Inexpensive 2005 Bordeaux, from France. Yes, the well-known Bordeaux from the fine 2005 vintage are ridiculously expensive. But Bordeaux is a huge place with thousands of obscure wineries. In a broad tasting of them this year, we found that they offer consistent quality for the price. Bordeaux is the king of wines and will do your prime rib or brisket proud.
4. Torrontes, from Argentina. By now, everybody is familiar with Malbec, Argentina's signature red grape. But Torrontes is coming on strong as Argentina's signature white grape. These are pure, happy wines - fruity, with great acidity - and will sing with grilled or broiled seafood. Get the 2008 if you can, but nothing older than 2007. (If you simply can't find a Torrontes, get a Chardonnay from Argentina, which is an easy-drinking bargain and good with fried seafood and chicken.)
5. South African Chenin Blanc (sometimes called Steen). South Africa is providing some of the best-made value-priced wines on the market. Chenin Blanc is undervalued because of the cheap, generic wines bottled under that name for many years in the U.S., but it really is a classic grape and, in a tasting this year, we found that Chenin Blanc from South Africa is delightful. These will go well with light pasta dishes, seafood and salads.
6. A wine from Sicily. Sicily is a large wine region, but the wines weren't very good for a long time. That has changed. The wines are better and they are more widely available than ever. The best-known wine from Sicily is Nero d'Avola, a hearty red, and that's a good bet. We can't think of much that this wine won't enliven. Think comfort foods like meatloaf, sausage or veal and peppers, spaghetti and spicy tomato sauces.
7. Gigondas, from France. The earthy, winter-weather reds from the Rhone Valley of France are generally a great buy, but many people haven't yet discovered some of the wines, such as Gigondas, St. Joseph or Vacqueyras. Earthy foods will work here, too, like meatloaf with sauteed mushrooms, a simple hamburger or pasta marinara.
8. Portuguese red or Vinho Verde. Portuguese reds are ridiculously inexpensive and quite soul-satisfying, but they tend to be hidden on a bottom shelf somewhere in the store, probably because they're inexpensive. Try this with simple fare, from hamburgers to pastas to grilled cheese sandwiches. If you can't find one, a crisp, light, fun white called Vinho Verde would be a good alternative. This is great with salads and light fish dishes. It probably won't be vintage-dated the classic way, but look closely at the back for "2008" printed in small letters, to make sure you're getting a young, fresh one.
9. Primitivo, from Italy. Yes, it's true that in a tasting of Primitivo this year, we didn't much like them. On the other hand, Primitivo really is a great example of wine's worldwide reach. It turns out, after years of research, that Primitivo is the same grape as America's Zinfandel and that both of them are related to a little-known grape from Croatia. The Zinfandel connection has given new life to Primitivo and encouraged some Italian producers to call it Zinfandel; led to proposed regulations allowing American Zinfandel to be called Primitivo; and sparked a small resurgence in the Croatian grape. That's what the worldwide in World-Wide Sampler is all about, experiencing exciting connections and marveling at the difference terroir can make. Try these with red meat, from hamburgers to lamb. A pasta with chunky tomato sauce with capers and peppers would be yummy, too.
10. Rose, from Spain or anywhere else. Spain is producing all sorts of outstanding rose these days at good prices, but, overall, there have never been so many good roses on shelves. From Spain to South Africa, roses today are food-friendly and exciting. Be sure to get a young one. These are good with a wide range of foods, from cheese platters to roast chicken.
11. Cava, from Spain. It's important that this case include a bubbly to make the point that good bubbly is being made just about everywhere these days. Spain's sparkling wine, which is called Cava, is consistently pleasant and often priced at around $8, a great buy. Try this with everything from sushi to fried chicken. Bubblies are great with a wide variety of foods.
12. Other. This is the most important wine of the case, the one (or two or three) that you will find from places you didn't expect. A wine from an unexpected state - perhaps your home state - would be a lovely surprise, if you can find something from a nearby winery that fits into the budget.
We were at a garden-variety suburban wine store in New York the other day and saw Ste. Chapelle Riesling from Idaho, which we'd include in this case in a second. Depending on where you live, you might well find a wine from Mexico, Canada, Peru or Switzerland. We are also seeing more wines these days from Eastern Europe.
There are some stores - not many, but some - where you could buy 12 wines from 12 different countries (including a non-California U.S. state) and if you can do that, go for it. The idea is for you to have fun with this. We assure you that the lucky recipient will.
• Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher write Tastings for the Wall Street Journal. Write the at firstname.lastname@example.org.