It's easy to fall into a rut when you're buying wines. Like an after-work choice of clothes that's often limited to a ratty old pair of sweats, we grab a familiar favorite and ignore virtually everything else within reach.
Today, I'll try to nudge you out of your comfort zone by suggesting a few wines you may have been hesitant to buy simply because they're "different."
Choosing a new wine can be daunting, based on sheer volume alone. So first of all, relax. Don't worry about mispronunciation; a good wine steward should gently provide any linguistic corrections and point you in the direction of a wine whose flavor profile you enjoy.
Second, know that there are a ton of good wines in the $10- to $19-a-bottle range. This keeps your investment-to-risk factor low when exploring unfamiliar territory.
If you enjoy medium-bodied, fruit-forward wines, malbec makes an excellent choice. Try the steal-of-a-deal Mountain Door 2011 Malbec (about $10) from Argentina. It's loaded with plum and floral aromatics, more plum and blackberry on the palate, and a fairly plush finish.
Another good option along these lines is the Stemmari 2010 Nero D'Avola (about $11). This Sicilian red is packed with jammy dark berry and cherry flavors, a splash of acidity and nuances of eucalyptus and vanilla bean.
For a change of pace from cabernet sauvignon or merlot, consider a Chilean carménère. The Calina 2010 Carménère (about $10) leads off with dense black cherry flavors accented with touches of dried herbs, white pepper and supple tannins. This wine begs to be paired with burgers, roast beef or a charbroiled steak.
If your preferences lean toward dry white wines, the Tapeña 2010 Verdejo (about $10) may remind you of a sauvignon blanc. It's bright and lean, with a touch of stone fruits on the front end and then plenty of brisk, key lime and citrus and a slightly herbaceous finish.
Finally, as an alternative to chardonnay, try the Alexandria Nicole 2011 Shepherds Mark (about $19). This gorgeous combination of roussanne, marsanne, and viognier sourced from Washington's Horse Heaven Hills Appellation may be on the high end of your price range, but it's well worth it. Complex and layered with understated flavors of tropical fruits, peach and lemon meringue, this full-bodied wine is low in acidity and capped with a slightly nutty/savory finish. It's no stretch to say this is one of the best white wines I've tried this year.
DAN RADIL is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at danthewineguy.com.