One of the true delights of the wine world is the never-ending ability to tap into our inner James T. Kirk.
Like the "Star Trek" skipper, we have boundless opportunities to explore strange new worlds, in this case wine regions that fly under most consumers' radar. They might be right next door to stars such as Bordeaux, Barolo and the Willamette Valley, or they might be farther afield. But all are worth seeking out.
Our sensors should be set on the following areas:
Cahors: Malbec lovers should be all over this place, where their favorite grape is the hallmark. But perhaps more important, malbec haters need to give Cahors a try, because the Old World renditions are more rustic and complex than most of their Argentine counterparts.
Trying to capture more of the market, at least among non-Francophiles, some producers have broken with tradition (sacre bleu!) and slapped "malbec" on their labels rather than just the region name. I'm a major fan of these vintners' robust iterations of the grape in the $15 to $25 range: Château De Hauterive, Domaine du Peyrié, Château de Haute-Serre and Château Eugénie.
Other under-the-radar regions in France with similar prices: Madiran, a Cahors neighbor producing deep, dark tannats (Château d'Aydie); Menetou-Salon for pristine sauvignon blancs (Domaine Jean Tellier); and two appellations proffering gorgeous, well-priced whites: Savoie (André & Michel Quenard and Domaine Labbé) and Gascogne (Domaine du Tariquet and Domaine de Pouy come in at $12 or less.
Rogue Valley: Willamette soaks up almost all the acclaim in Oregon, but this farther-south locale is becoming a major player, with prices in the $15 to $25 range. Deftly made reds such as Leah Jorgensen's cabernet franc and rosés such as Day Wines' "Babycheeks" are noteworthy, but it's the whites that are paving the way. Fausse Piste makes one of America's best viogniers, and Foris crafts dry, food-friendly gewürztraminer and pinot blanc, each under $20. More Rogue gems are surely on the way.
Another under-the-radar U.S. region: California's Amador County, where $15 to $30 will get you Renwood's zesty zinfandels and any and everything made by Minnesota native Jeff Runquist.
Australia: Yes, it's not really a region but a nation, well, actually a continent. But Australia has tumbled down the once-overrated/now-underrated path, and now gets Rodney Dangerfield-level respect in stores and restaurants. Meanwhile, Down Under vintners have upped their game markedly, or maybe just started letting some of their best stuff get exported.
These are not your Aunt Barbara's critter labels (not that there's anything wrong with that; people should drink what they like) but rather distinctive, expressive, not-as-jammy offerings. Grenache from Down Under is now often more interesting than shiraz; on the white side Brokenwood makes sémillon as well as anyone outside Bordeaux, and Clare Valley is starting to rival Germany as a mecca for tasty riesling, generally around $20.
Across point points and grape varieties, Yalumba, d'Arenberg, Two Hands and Kilikanoon beckon us to give Oz another chance.
Slovenia: Another under-the-radar country, Slovenia shares a border with Italy's Friuli region, and the white wines there, once rendered to plonk by Soviet-era co-ops, are getting mere impressive by the year. Marjan Simcic, Pullus, Tilia and Verus are among those making exciting, exemplary wines, almost uniformly under $20.
Valtellina. It's a few hundred miles from Barolo and Barbaresco, but this appellation is doing grand, comparable work with the nebbiolo grape. My introduction was at an amazing lunch with Ar. Pe. Pe winemaker Isabella Perego, part of a vanguard of women making wine throughout her once-patriarchal homeland. Her passion was palpable — and contagious upon the first sip of her sturdy but elegant wines.
Countless cork dorks consider nebbiolo to be comparable to Burgundy's reds in their ethereal, mystical nature, and Ar. Pe. Pe's wines could serve as Exhibit A. Their Rosso di Valtellina is an apt introduction to the region, as it's the too-rare examples coming in at under $40.
Spendier, but absolutely worth seeking, are nebbiolos from Aldo Rainoldi, Dirupi, Alfio Mozzi, Gianatti Giorgio, Balgera and Siro Buzzetti.
Other under-the-radar regions in Italy: Lugana for moderately priced (about $20), energetic whites (try the Ca' Lojera) and Franciacorta for Champagne-quality, but less expensive (about $40), bubbles (Barone Pizzini).
Beam these wines up, Scotty.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.