The rebellious, anti-authoritarian streak natural to young people in a modern culture plays out in wine as in everything else.

Seduced by the shock of the new, thrilled to irk the elders, not especially wealthy, desperate to find our own way in the world, we seek wines from out-of the-way regions made with unfamiliar grapes.

We’ll “get really into” Mencia or Verdejo or Slovakian Riesling or Australian Semillon, at least until something else comes along to captivate our fickle will to knowingness. Breadth is sexier than depth. Pedigree? We don’t need no stinkin’ pedigree.

But such a well-honed “adventurous palate” will be based, at least in part, on an illusion: That tradition doesn’t matter, standards are a bourgeois enforcement strategy, history is a ruse, you’re all alone, and “wine 101” is for suckers.

This just happens; there are biological, psychological, sociological or even ecological reasons for it. But it can be too easy, and avoidance of challenge and sustained attention yields profound dissatisfaction.

There are good reasons Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rioja have been around so long, and why they ought to be part of a kind of core curriculum for general wine knowledge.

One reason they often aren’t is due to perceived fustiness, but of course another reason is actual cost. A generation ago, someone with a day job and some discipline could afford to learn firsthand about some of the world’s greatest wines. Today, all the nouveau-riche speculators have so inflated the market that the rest of us are left arguing that Chilean Carmenere is important.

There’s a place for 101. At a recent staff training for 20 or so young employees of a place in town that sells wine, I was pleasantly surprised by how intent these budding professionals were to learn classically. The kids were all right.

The distributors had chosen wines they thought were strong introductions to varietal, place and process. They succeeded: The tasters were most immediately drawn to balance, distinctiveness, clarity, delicacy and classicism. There were no Premier Cru wines available, no DOCGs, nothing aged.

But what there were, in spades, were wines that retail for around $15 or less and offer something clean and true about the world.

The wines, and the encounters they generated with people interested in food, taste, beauty and planetary health, were testament to basics; to the significance of basics. And to the necessity of putting horses before carts, so that one might learn of wine’s splendors from the ground up.

We all have something to gain from following such a model. Here are some of the wines that were especially well received:

Domaine Desvignes Chablis 2010, Chablis, France ($17, Devenish): Some say Chablis is the only place in the world for Chardonnay. If not, it’s at least the first place. This is classically chalky in texture, with a flinty edge that could come from nowhere else in the world, but expresses surprisingly rich nuttiness too.

Bliss Chardonnay 2009, Mendocino, Calif. ($13, Crush): Chardonnay sings in Chablis, but it peals in Mendocino. Richer and sunnier than Chablis, but still suffused with a mineral crackle, this is somewhat more user-friendly, and joyfully so.

Chateau Bonhoste Blanc 2010, Bordeaux, France ($13, Devenish): One hundred-percent Sauvignon Blancs can often be off-kilter assertive and grassy. Blended with the honey-ing Semillon and tingly Muscadelle grapes, as in classic white Bordeaux, synergy happens. Here’s a soft but not flabby, fun but not superficial, exceptionally food-friendly wine.

Lechthaler Pinot Noir 2009, Trentino, Italy ($13, Pine State): Northern Italy isn’t the first place one looks for Pinot Noir, but a similarly pure and well-integrated Burgundy can’t be had for under $20, and if you’re not going to cellar your wine, this is the better choice anyway. (And California plus half of Oregon ought to hang their pimped-out heads in shame.) Super soft and silky, its cinnamon and fresh-cherry notes are simultaneously charming and real.

Purato Nero D’Avola 2010, Sicily, Italy ($10, Pine State): Southern Italy, with Sicily perhaps at the forefront, is rising, and this is why. Here’s an indigenous red varietal of this unique wine region, with traditionally dusty, spicy notes but tempered as well. Nero D’Avola can sometimes be excessively rustic and jagged, and often less experienced tasters are tempted to label such a quality as inherently more “real,” but the Purato brings delicacy and layered balance — rare, but correct.


Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog,, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at: [email protected]


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