Shopping for wine is great fununless you are trying to find a specific wine, in which case it becomes extremely frustrating. That's because even a good shop can carry only a tiny fraction of the vast number of wines available in the United States. Look for one made in limited amounts, and you're likely to end up thwarted. But there's a way to improve the odds. Recently, I tasted more than 70 wines produced or imported in amounts greater than 150,000 cases per year, enough to stock store shelves nationwide. Here you'll find my 10 picks, plus my favorite new website and wine-finding apps and my six rules for making wine simple and accessible.
5 Accessible Value Red Wines
2009 Alamos Malbec ($11) Made by Argentina's illustrious Catena family, Alamos's bottling shows exactly what people love about Malbec: dense, dark-berry fruit and smoky spice notes.
2008 Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah ($12) Bogle released its first Petite Sirah back in 1978, before many people had ever heard of the variety. Petite Sirah is still less well known than it should be, especially given how appealing this boysenberry-scented wine is.
2008 Apothic Red ($14) This lush, fruity blend of Zinfandel, Merlot and Syrah will be hard to resist for people whose taste leans toward big, supercharged reds.
2007 Rodney Strong Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon ($17) Aided by a terrific vintage, longtime winemaker Rick Sayre has created an impressively layered, cassis-inflected Cabernet.
2008 La Crema Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($24) Winemaker Melissa Stackhouse's deft touch with Pinot Noir is especially impressive given how much she makes of this basic Sonoma Coast bottling. The wine is elegant and aromatic, with plenty of dark-cherry fruit.
5 Accessible Value White Wines
2009 Chateau Ste Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling ($9) This off-dry (i.e., lightly sweet) bottling is a good example of how a touch of sweetness can nicely set off Riesling's lively acidity. Anyone skeptical of off-dry whites should try the wine with a spicy Asian dish like a Thai curry: It's an ideal match.
2009 Kris Pinot Grigio ($14) This nectariney wine is made by noted Alto Adige producer Franz Haas, in conjunction with USbased importer Leonardo Locascio. It has much more personality than many similarly priced Pinot Grigios.
2009 Chateau St Jean Sonoma County Chardonnay ($14) Winemaker Margo Van Staaveren's basic Chardonnay has been a go-to value white for many years now, and the '09 will only sustain the wine's reputation. Silky, with an alluring touch of sweet oak, it's classic California Chardonnay.
2009 Nobilo Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($14) A combination of grapes from Marlborough's Awatere and Wairau subregions gives this white a good balance of crisp gooseberry and citrus fruit and the grassy, herbal notes that are the hallmarks of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
2008 Simi Sonoma County Chardonnay ($20) Affordable Chardonnays rarely have this much poise. That's partly a result of this wine's blend of regions, in which grapes from the Russian River Valley, the Alexander Valley and Carneros provide succulent fruit, ripe depth and bright citrus notes in equal proportion.
Useful Wine-Finding Tech Tools
With help from the Web or a smartphone, tracking down a particular bottle is getting easier. Here, three great digital tools.
Snooth Wine Pro Snap a picture of a wine label; this clever app will search its vast database of wines to point you to a retailer and tell you the best prices. $5; itunes.apple.com.
Cor.kz Wine Info Cor.kz scans bar codes to bring up wine availability. It can also compare different vintages of the same wine. $4; cor.kz.
Vinopedia.com This intelligently designed new site finds stores that carry a particular wine and generates an interactive map.