MEET A NEW WINE
Here are some terrific grape varieties on which to try the tasting advice above. Though each of these grapes is beginning to be grown on the West Coast, I've recommended a stellar wine from the grape's ancestral home.
PINOT GRIGIO (also known as Pinot Gris): This fresh, light, snappy wine can be found all across northern Italy. (Note that Pinot Gris from Alsace, France, is a weightier version.) Try Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige; the 2000 costs about $15.
VIOGNIER: Sensual, rich, wildly aromatic, floral, and perfumed, Viognier (pronounced vee-ohn-gnay) is an exotic grape. Its home is Condrieu in the Rhône Valley of France. Try E. Guigal Condrieu; the 2000 costs about $35.
GRENACHE: Like a pot of homemade black cherry jam, Grenache is juicy and irresistible. The best in the world is grown in southern France, where it's the dominant grape in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Try Château La Nerthe; the 1998 costs about $37.
MOURVEDRE: Dark, masculine, and brooding, Mourvèdre is a serious red wine. One of the world's best examples is Domaine Tempier from the southern French town of Bandol; the 1999 Bandol Rouge costs about $30.
SANGIOVESE: This is the great grape of Chianti, with flavors reminiscent of dried leaves, tea, even citrus. Sangiovese has a lot of acidity (unusual for red wine), making it terrific with food. Try Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico Riserva; the 1997 tan label costs about $21.
SYRAH: The most dramatic, meaty, spicy, licorice-flavored Syrahs in the world come from a tiny place in the northern Rhône Valley called Côte-Rôtie. The 1999 Chapoutier Côte-Rôtie Les Bécasses costs about $86.