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Crossing over into new wine territory

World Map of WineYou’re browsing in your favorite wine shop strolling among the familiar California section and a turn to the next aisle lands you in uncharted territory. The once familiar chardonnays and cabernets are replaced by strange and unfamiliar bottles. Grape names and labels are becoming unrecognizable, almost mysterious. It’s not a bad dream, just the realization of the myriad of wine regions around the globe.

The downside of this exploration is it can lead to confusion and uncertainty. Just the act of learning which wines are worth your time and money can be a bewildering and daunting prospect. The names may be unfamiliar (Barrida), the grapes difficult to pronounce (tinto cao) and the growing regions hard to find on a map (Rias Baixas) but they are delicious.

GALICIA

Galicia (an autonomous community located in northwest Spain) is experiencing the spotlight with the rising popularity of Albarino, a wonderfully refreshing grape variety. Albarino is produced and grown in the Rias Baixas region. The region is cooler than most of Spain, giving the wine its crisp, fragrant characteristics.

THE VALUE

  • 2011 Martin Codax Albarino, Spain (about $14 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2011 La Cana Albarino, Spain (about $19 retail)

PORTUGAL

While much of the rest of the world was planting high-demand varieties like cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay, Portuguese growers focused on grapes that have been produced in the country for decades. The Douro, most famous for its port houses today, produces exceptional still red wines. The indigenous grapes – touriga nacional, tinta roriz, touriga Franca and tinto cao – are made into wines that expand beyond the common flavors of the world’s wines. Farther south in Barrida and Dao, the baga grape is making a name.

THE VALUE

  • 2011 Twisted Douro Vineyards, Portugal (about $14 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2011 Barco Negro Douro, Portugal (about $17 retail)

CHILE

Wines such as malbec and camenere from Chile may be familiar to most, but the growing regions of Maipo, Colchagua and Aconcagua may not.Chilean growers have been making great strides in the warm valleys nestled between the Pacific and the Andes. The Colchagua in the central valley region of Rapel has ideal growing conditions for carmenere and merlot. Just to the north the hot Maipo Valley offers excellent conditions for cabernet sauvignon.

THE VALUE

  • 2012 Puerto Viejo Sauvignon Blanc, Chile (about $13 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2009 Montes Alpha Syrah, Chile (about $23 retail)