Although quality wines are now being made all over the world, their prices, in many instances, have yet to catch up. In fact, some of these wines are so good they could be mistaken for much more expensive bottlings. (Even a real oenophile, tasting them blind, might be fooled.) Here are two ways to find them.
Obscure Regions Look for wines from lesser-known areas, such as Gascony or the Pyrenees in France, or California's Mendocino County. And keep an eye out for local surprises, toosuch as a white wine made in a region famous for red (e.g., Riesling from the Napa Valley).
Unfamiliar Grapes Most wine drinkers focus on a few famous grapes (Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay) and forget that there are many othersPinotage, Chenin Blanc and Colombard, to name just threethat can produce exciting wines too.
10 Top Bottles
2001 Colombelle ($9) Here's a seeming recipe for mediocrity: two plebian grapes, Ugni Blanc and Colombard, blended by a cooperative winery in Gascony, France. The wine is, in fact, a gemlively and fresh, with a high floral note.
2002 Fox Creek Sauvignon Blanc ($15) Made by a modest-size but well-heeled winery in McLaren Vale, Australia (famous for its red wines), this Sauvignon is a wonderfully crisp, dry white with tangy herb flavors.
1998 Monmousseau Cuvée J.M. ($14) Who says dry sparkling wine has to be expensive or bland (or both)? This melony sparkling Chenin Blanc, from a Loire Valley winery, puts these myths to rest.
2001 Smith-Madrone Riesling ($17) No one would think of saying that Napa Valley is a Riesling capital, but this luscious white from winemaker Stu Smith shows what can be done there with the grape.
2002 Trapiche Estate Chardonnay ($7) Isn't Chardonnay always oaky, buttery and fat? Not this lively wine from Argentina's Mendoza region, which takes Chardonnay back to the basics of its essential fruit character: ripe pear and red apple.
2000 Domaine de la Janesse Côtes-du-Rhone Villages ($19) A junior Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the esteemed Sabon family, this sleek, lush red is made primarily of old-vine (40-year-old) Grenache.
2001 Falesco Merlot ($16) Italian innovator Riccardo Cotarella provides another vision for Merlot with this rich, firm Umbrian wine; it will happily surprise Merlot fans used to simple, fruity wines.
2000 Guelbenzu Azul ($13) This juicy blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is one of the startlingly elegant wines produced by a family-owned Spanish winery from grapes grown in the rugged, semiarid hills just outside Navarre.
1999 Stonehaven Limestone Coast Shiraz ($15) This well-priced Australian bottling is opulent and lushalmost confection-like in its sweetness, in fact. It exudes notes of fresh-shaved oak, blackberry and even something like a sweet cinnamon bun.
2001 Fairview Pinotage ($12) This beauty, made at a 300-year-old winery in South Africa's Cape of Good Hope, seems familiar at first, with its fruity aromas; then it grows surprisingly complex, with notes of spice and plum.