For those of us who appreciate wine, one bottle most assuredly leads to another.
That is an especially rewarding evolution when it comes to exploring certain regions beyond the grape most associated with them.
Take Sancerre, widely known and loved for its racy but elegant sauvignon blancs. Even aficionados often don't realize that Sancerre's red grape is pinot noir. In fact, about 25 percent of the vineyard turf in the French subregion is planted to pinot noir, much of which is made into rosé for domestic consumption (on these shores, look for Benoît Girard).
It actually makes sense because Sancerre is one of the Loire region's easternmost areas and shares not just proximity but similar soils with Burgundy; the wines' style is similar, but the prices are decidedly friendlier. Of course, this being France, it's unlikely to have the grape name on the label, but if you see "Sancerre Rouge," that's a pinot. Brochard Sancerre Rouge is a fabulous introduction.
Another wine mecca known primarily for sauvignon blanc, New Zealand, produces plenty of pinot, but I'm especially intrigued by its pinot gris these days. These wines tend to be friskier and more balanced than their popular Italian and California counterparts, but also are spicy and vibrant.
These sauvignon blanc stalwarts make marvelous renditions: Sileni, The Ned, Giesen, Brancott and Wairau River. My favorite, though, comes from Kim Crawford, but not under the eponymous label he started and later sold. His Loveblock Marlborough Pinot Gris is a stone-cold, zippy, melony and harmonic delight.
Similarly great whites emanate from Germany, which is about much more than its signature rieslings. While Müller-Thurgau (the base for those saccharine-like Liebfraumilchs of yore) has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts, and scheurebe and elbling are up-and-comers, the pinot blancs are truly world-class wines.
They're usually labeled Weissburgunder because … Germany. Wagner-Stempel is a longtime fave, a refreshing, uplifting mouthful of stone fruit and minerally goodness. Rob Bonelli at 1010 Washington, who has one of the foremost palates in town, raves about the Koehler-Ruprecht Kabinett Trocken Weissburgunder.
Another white grape that tends to get overlooked is, of all things, chardonnay — at least in Oregon's Willamette Valley, where pinot noir grabs the preponderance of the attention. For a couple of decades, the chards generally weren't worth seeking out, but when growers switched from California to Burgundy clones, it was a true game-changer.
The Drouhin family, which also owns one of Burgundy's very best wineries, leads the way with the edgy Domaine Drouhin "Arthur" Chardonnay. Other stalwarts include the Ponzi Willamette Valley Reserve (worth scheming to obtain), the Björnson Estate bottling (made by Minnesota transplants), Knudsen (Minnesota owner and winemaker) and the Stoller Family Dundee Hills. And if there's a tastier under-$30 chardonnay from anywhere than the St. Innocent Freedom Hill, I'd love to hear about it.
Meanwhile, back in Burgundy, chardonnay's foremost spawning ground, aligoté is a bit player but one worth seeking out. I could drink the lovely, lively, lengthy A&P de Villaine Bouzeron Aligoté all day and all of the night.
Another grape/place amalgam that is truly dominant is malbec in Argentina. Under-the-radar bonarda can be a wonderful choice for its easy-drinking (but with some depth), juicy nature, with softer tannins and usually less oak than malbec.
The Trapiche Broquel is a perennial treat, alternating between brightness and boldness. And the piquant, plummy Colonia Las Liebres is a serious steal at $11.
More spendy — but still a darn sight more affordable than the locally predominant cabernet sauvignon — is Napa zinfandel. Chateau Montelena, Green + Red and Frog's Leap produce zesty zins that are wonderful upon release but can age a decade or more.
Which positions them among the foremost rewards for those who want to dig a little deeper into a stellar wine region.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.