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This is…

That Useful Wine Site

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What This Site Is and Is Not

This is not a place where one or a very few persons deliver their individual opinions about particular wines. Rather, it is a place where those interested in finding and enjoying interesting and satisfying wines can be saved the tedium of extensively combing the internet for such discussions and evaluations, because we have done that for you. There are almost literally countless web pages with some discussion of this or that wine type, or—more commonly—just some one specimen of a type; many such pages are very useful so far as they go, but interested readers soon realize that they will have to look at an awful lot of such pages to get a broad perspective on that wine type, and to get past possibly idiosyncratic individual opinions.

While this site has quite a few pages of discussions on wine (Generalities and Specifics in the dropdown menus above) that we hope are of interest and utility to those interested in wine, the core here is the set of pages on the many individual wine varieties that you see listed in the dropdown wine-type menus (Reds, Whites, Others) on this (and every) page. Each such individual wine-type page has some brief background on its grape (where it originated, what general sort of wine it makes, and so on), then quotations from several reasonably authoritative sources on the general nature and quality of the wines that grape makes, and finally—the crux—a modest list of suggested particular reasonably priced (under $20) wines from that grape for anyone wanting to try that type and know that they are sampling wines that a broad consensus of regular wine writers—ranging from top professionals to amateur (but serious) wine bloggers—has found to be of good or better quality. We assembled those lists by tedious, time-consuming research; really, the sort of thing you would probably do yourself if you wanted to find out about, say, Assyrtiko wines. We basically save you that tedium and time.

For some types (say, for example, Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay), practically every non-teetotaller in the western world will have some idea what the wines taste like; but even there, if you have not delved deep, you may have missed some reasonably priced specimens of good quality, and perhaps we can help with those. But we also want to help you explore other wine types you may not yet have sampled.

The lists in the dropdown boxes above are not by any means every wine grape we could discover (there are an estimated 1,368 types in reasonably regular commercial production around the world); our list is only the ones that by general expert consensus are at least capable of making high-quality wines, which nonetheless totals something over two hundred—but that list is shortened by the added criteria of reasonable price and reasonable availability (both of which we discuss below), which brings it down to just about two hundred even. Incidentally, 1,368 is the number commercially vinified; the actual number of Vitis vinifera ssp vinifera (to be formal) varieties was reliably estimated in 2017 at about six thousand.

(A few of the wine types listed in the dropdown lists are actually just alternative names, as with, for example, Grenache and Garnacha, and there is only one actual page for that grape. Even so, we have only dealt with very common synonyms: most wine grapes have huge numbers of confusing—and often overlapping—synonyms around the world, or even in the same region. Each of our wine-type pages lists many such synonyms. Also: the dropdown lists currently include some greyed-out entries: those are not yet links, because we have not yet written up those types, but they show the intended eventual range of our coverage.

“[N]early 80 percent of the world’s wine is made from just 20 kinds of grapes. Many of the rest face extinction.”

  — Jason Wilson, “Why You Should Be Drinking Weird Wines”, The New York Times

One of the great issues in the modern world of wine is the concentration on but a small handful of the very well known “international” grape varieties, putting the future of literally hundreds (and perhaps thousands) of wonderful and distinctive grape types—and their wines—at serious risk. For all that many of us like to think of wine-making as an art, the reality is that it’s a business, even for the small, sometimes literally mom’n’pop wineries. A winery that is making an absolutely wonderful, world-class wine is at risk of bankruptcy if no one wants to buy that wine because they haven’t seen it reviewed in the small handful of places casual wine drinkers go to for advice (and that many retailers won’t stock for the same reasons, further aggravating that vicious cycle). Consider that two-thirds of the world’s wine-growing acreage is dedicated to a mere three dozen grape varieties out of the thousands available to make wine with and you begin to see the problem. (In fact, fully one-third of the world’s wine-grape acreage is devoted to a mere dozen or so varieties.)

Here, trying to live up to our name Useful, we have not tried to list every decent-or-better wine grape in the world, because so many of their wines are simply not available in the U.S. We have, however, tried to list as many less-familiar types of good wines reasonably available here at reasonable prices as we could. If, in looking at the drop-down lists of wines atop any page here you see names you know little or nothing about, don’t just pass them by: take a look, and perhaps find some new favorites.

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About the Wine Lists

Our guiding principle in examining wine reviews, tastings, and discussions has been to identify good wines that someone who makes wine a regular part of their life can plausibly afford. While it is pleasant to occasionally open a $40 or $50 bottle of wine, few indeed of us can afford to do so several times a week, week in and week out. Thus, we have restricted our focus here to wines available at retail for “a reasonable price”, which we arbitrarily define as no more than $20, with many quite a bit less (though we try—for those varieties where we found more-expensive wines nontrivially better than those on the main list, which is by no means all varieties—to include a representative “splurge” wine for those special occasions when cost is secondary).

(An interesting article, aptly entitled “Who Buys Wine Over $20?” appeared in Wine Searcher’s “Wine News” for February 6, 2014.)

But even if a given wine is of good quality and available somewhere at a reasonable price, that is of little avail if that “somewhere” is just one or maybe two retailers, especially if small or far from you. We have thus also tried to limit our lists to wines available at a minimum of five retailers, as identified by the wine search engines we discuss elsewhere. Mind, in some cases, where the grape type seems important but U.S. retailers scant (which, sad to say, is not uncommon), we have listed less widely sold wines anyway, with an explanatory note atop the list.

Please understand that we are not claiming that we have listed all good wines of a given type available for under $20; for some popular wine types, there might be hundreds or even thousands. What we do believe is that we have presented for each type a menu of bottlings each of which is widely considered among the best of its type at that price point, and which in sum are a satisfactory representation of their particular grape. Moreover, we have also screened by availability, using a couple of popular wine-search sites (Wine Searcher and 1000 Corks); there seemed no point in listing wines, however good, either unavailable or only available from a very, very few retailers (though for a few uncommon varieties, to make a nontrivial list we simply had to include some relatively scarce bottlings).

When you come to look at the individual pages, you will find the lists headed as “Some to Try”, not “Buy These” or anything of that sort. We expect, and recommend, that you do some further homework on any listed wines in which you are interested. If that seems to contradict what we have said about why this site exists, it really doesn’t. We have pointed you at a select few, and that in itself is the huge saving in time and tedium. Each listed wine has a set of click-on links to retail offerings as shown in Wine Searcher and 1000 Corks, plus—and arguably even more important—links to its page at CellarTracker (a crowd-sourced review site) and its Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page, so you can easily peruse opinions, amateur and professional, about that wine.

Furthermore, finding and buying wines usually involves a lot more than just assembling a list of interesting wines: there are all sorts of practical issues needing consideration, notably (for those many not likely to be locally available) shipping costs. For a fuller discussion of wine-search sites and of buying considerations in general, please visit our page on Buying Wine and don’t miss the page that discusses wine reviews and their limitations.

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What Next?

If you are a first-time visitor here, we suggest that before jumping into the individual-grape pages, you look in on our pages of Generalities, as linked in the red box toward the upper left of this (and every) page. Even if you are a veteran wine drinker, you just might find something of interest there; and for those just starting out on their voyage into the world of wine, we hope it will be quite helpful. And, again, don’t overlook the discussion of the practicalities of buying wine.

Let us also note here that attached to this site is a Wine Bookshop wherein you can browse among—and, if you so please, buy new or used copies of— over 100,000 books related to wine. (You will find a Bookshop link in the green “Specifics” dropdown menu near the top of every site page.) The page includes our recommendations for a particular few wine-related classics.

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A Note:

This site is still under construction, and probably always will be. Ultimately, all the wine types currently greyed out (meaning not yet reviewed) in the three drop-down menu boxes—“Reds”, “Whites”, and “Others”—atop each page will eventually be discussed here, but that work is not yet complete, though ongoing. Those wine varieties are not “lesser” varieties, but they are varieties that are quite scarce in the U.S. market, which is why we’re doing them last. We show them so that you can know the intended full scope of this site.

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This page was last modified on Thursday, 9 December 2021, at 1:38 am Pacific Time.