Dear Generalized USA-dwelling Humanoid: Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re drinking the wrong wines. Not because the ones you usually drink – chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon – are bad, but because they’re uninteresting. Those grapes can produce some of the world’s greatest wines, but by continuing to drink only-or-mostly your go-tos, you are deepening the rut.

To get out of said rut, you could spend huge money and find the greatest chardonnays, but here’s a cheaper option: Explore weirder wines. “Weird,” here, means made from unfamiliar grapes. There are hundreds of these – there are hundreds in Italy alone – and at the everyday end they’re often much better than comparably priced standards.

Not all wine experiences – not all life experiences – need to be challenging, soul-shaping or even interesting. Some moments call for comfort food. But if you ate meatloaf or potato chips as frequently as you default to ordinary “crisp, dry” or “big, full-bodied” wines, you’d be revolting. Weird wines are for the non-comfort moments – the potential doorways to a more nuanced, appreciative, engaged view of the world. The subtext of every reaction you have to these wines will be, “Hey, why didn’t I notice that before?” And isn’t that a sweet way to go through life?

Below are a couple that deserve attention; next week I’ll mention more (Txakoli? Verdejo? Pecorino? Cortese? Refosco?). Meanwhile, treat your wineseller as a trusted teacher and ask him or her to point you to the weirdos.

Castellroig Xarel-Lo 2007, Penedes, Spain, $15 (Wicked)

Say “Tchah-rello.” It’s the primary grape in cava, Spain’s increasingly popular sparkling wine. This is still, but like a cava has yeasty, slightly musty qualities that say simultaneously, “Fun!” and “Feed me!” Delicate, finely grained spritz in there, too. Like a cyser or light mead, it has Granny Smith and pale honey, complicated by almonds and preserved lemon. A brilliant, bristling counterpart to sushi-style umami flavors, this should accompany you on your next trip to Miyake (or your back deck).

Huber Zweigelt 2007, Reichersdorf/Traisental, Austria, $15 (SoPo)

Say “Zvie-gelt.” Austria’s indigenous red grape, and will one day be as hip (ish) as that country’s white Gruner Veltliner. Some zweigelt is so cherry/fruit-centered as to be superficial. The Huber is perfectly balanced, so yes, there are blackberries and sour cherries here, but wedded like French pinot to a luxurious density and smooth, loamy earthiness. Tingly minerality in a true medium-bodied package (neither reedy and sour, nor thick and laden), which means summer-red perfection: I drank mine with mole-simmered black bean tacos and salsa; the low alcohol and high acidity met the earth of the beans and the heat of the chiles on their own terms.

LOCAL NEWS! I won’t make a habit of this, but there’s an upcoming wine event in Portland that you should make every effort to attend – and these wines are not at all weird! Jon David Headrick Selections, which imports many splendid, reasonably priced, handmade, all-natural and usually organic Loire wines, will team up with Hugo’s Restaurant on Tuesday to present a multi-course dinner with wine pairings, as well as an opportunity to taste the wines as a part of a regular Hugo’s “flight.” I’ve written about some of these wines previously, and consider it sacred duty to get more people to experience them. Here’s a terrific chance: Some of the wines are first-time-in-Maine; Headrick’s expert Laurent Noblet will be on hand to discuss them; and prices will be … inviting. Call Hugo’s, and check out for more info.


Joe Appel’s day job is doing lots of different things at Rosemont Market and Bakery. He can be reached at: joeappelonw[email protected]