This is the first of two parts looking at ways to decipher the world's wine regions without making your head hurt. The second part will run on Monday.
One of the most difficult concepts to get across about wine is the idea of wine regions. You can get someone to acknowledge that wine is different depending on where it's from, but understanding that it is something else entirely. And I won't even mention there are more than 3,200 wine regions in the world.
Yes, they'll say, they realize cabernet sauvignon is different from merlot which is different from chardonnay. But doesn't all French wine (or California wine or whatever) taste the same?
No, it doesn't. But given how complicated wine regions can be -- Quick: Name the sub-AVAs within the Sonoma AVA -- and it's easy to see why people give up in confusion.
Which is why the Wine Curmudgeon exists. Wine geography does not have to be a barrier to buying and enjoying wine. It's helpful to know that the Rhone is divided into north and south, but not essential.
One good guide is here. But you can copy this post and and take it with you to the liquor store as well.
• Best inexpensive white wine -- Chile. The Chileans seem almost embarrassed that their white wines, primarily sauvignon blanc but also chardonnay, are so inexpensive. No reason to be. For $10 or so ($18 to $25 in a restaurant), they deliver food friendly, fruit forward wines that define the New World style that the wine magazines gush about. Producers to watch for: Veramonte, Las Vascos, Montes, Cousino Macoul.
• Best inexpensive red wine – Spain. Tempranillo is an amazing grape. It can make wines that are among the best in the world (see high-end Riojas), but it can also be used to make delicious, everyday, $8 to $10 wine (usually less than $30 in a restaurant) that pairs with both red and white wine dishes (all but the most delicate fish). Producers to watch for: Osborne, Marques de Caceres, Faustino,
• Best chardonnay – Burgundy. If you’re going to pay $75 or more for a bottle (upwards to $200 in a restaurant), the only thing that matters is what the wine tastes like. And some white Burgundy may be overpriced, but it’s almost never not good. The French wine industry might have myriad problems elsewhere, from overproduction to poor quality grapes, but not in Burgundy. Producers to watch for: Sauzet, Verget, Joseph Drouhin, Louis Latour, Leflaive