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Here at Opening a Bottle, we spend a lot of our time focused on Old World wines. In general, we love their tradition, their use of local and indigenous grapes, their balance between fruit and savory, nutty, rocky, floral notes, and how well they work with food.

Many of Europe’s wines are strictly regulated to control grape varieties, grape yields, vineyard management and winemaking methods, all in an effort to preserve tradition or — more honestly — a brand name. In other words, if you buy an Amarone della Valpolicella, it ought to taste like an Amarone della Valpolicella. And in turn, nothing else in the world should taste the same way. At least in theory.

But for many wine drinkers in the United States, these rules are a barrier to entry. How can you tell what Chablis tastes like if you can’t even read what grapes are used on the label?

My series of First-Taste Guides are meant to introduce readers to some of these wines by breaking down those barriers. It may sound silly, but I often remember my first taste of a wine like it was a first kiss. So if you’ve never had Franciacorta or a Saint-Émilion, watch out for Cupid.


Amarone della Valpolicella

Masi Costasera AmaroneVeneto, Italy
One of Italy’s most distinctive and labor-intensive wines, Amarone is a fully loaded, plush red wine made from dried grapes. Learn more about Amarone della Valpolicella.

Bolgheri Superiore

2012 Aia Vecchia Sor Ugo Bolgheri SuperioreTuscany, Italy
Bold and nuanced Bordeaux-style blends with a tinge of Italian rusticity. Learn more about the wines of Bolgheri.


Bottles of Franciacorta. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

Lombardy, Italy
Traditional method sparkling wine is among my favorite categories of wine, and Italy’s rebuttal to France’s Champagne is every bit as elegant, complex and age-worthy. Learn more about Franciacorta.


2016 Brezza Langhe Freisa ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

2016 Brezza Langhe Freisa ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

Piedmont, Italy
Piedmont has the deepest bench of fine red wines in Italy, but its most diverse red grape isn’t Nebbiolo, Barbera or Dolcetto. It’s Freisa. Learn more about Freisa.


2004 Petterino GattinaraPiedmont, Italy
Another Nebbiolo wine, but one that can be found at moderately affordable prices and often with 8 to 10 years of age. Learn more about Gattinara.


Lambrusco ©Kevin Day

Emilia-Romagna, Italy
One of Italy’s oldest indigenous grape varieties thrives in Emilia-Romagna where its frizzante helps cut through the country’s richest cuisine. Learn more about Lambrusco.


2016 Montonale "Montunal" Lugana DOC

Lombary & Veneto, Italy
From the shores of Lake Garda, a Turbiana-based white wine that can do the same job at the table as Chablis (and for quite a bit less). Learn more about Lugana.

Montefalco Sagrantino

2010 Còlpetrone Sagrantino MontefalcoUmbria, Italy
Perhaps Italy’s boldest and most tannic red wine … and a great excuse to cook pork belly or a Porterhouse steak for dinner.  Learn more about Montefalco Sagrantino.



2011 Domaine de Le Galantin Bandol Rouge

Provence, France
Dark, fruit-packed, graphite-and-smoke laden Mourvèdre from the coast of Provence. Learn more about Bandol.


Bottles of Chablis. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

Burgundy, France
To the non-obsessed, my claim that Chardonnay is the world’s greatest white grape comes as a surprise. Then I point to Chablis and it all makes sense. Learn more about Chablis.


2010 Léon Perdigal Châteauneuf-du-PapeSouthern Rhône, France
Bold, juicy, nuanced and complex blends centered on Grenache. Among the most famous wines of France. Learn more about Châteauneuf-du-Pape.


2012 Bernard Levet "La Chavaroche" Côte-RôtieNorthern Rhône, France
Wild and complex Syrah from the famed “roasted slope” of the Northern Rhône. Learn more about Côte-Rôtie.

Cremant d’Alsace

Cremant d'Alsace wines of Camille Braun. ©Kevin Day/Opening a BottleAlsace, France
An excellent — and more affordable — alternative to Champagne, with a gorgeous texture to liven up any occasion. Learn more about Cremant d’Alsace.


2011 Domaine de Boissan Gigondas

Southern Rhône River Valley, France
Anthemic Grenache wines pierced with licorice and orange peel flavors from an area better known for Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Learn more about Gigondas.


2012 La Reserve d'Angludet Margaux. ©Kevin Day / Opening a Bottle

Bordeaux, France
Synonymous with the famous Château Margaux, this appellation offers rounded, supple Cabernet Sauvignon blends. Learn more about Margaux.


2007 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste Pauillac

Bordeaux, France
Recalling black currant, coffee and tobacco on the nose, the Cabernet Sauvignon blends from Pauillac are among the world’s most distinctive. And three of the top five Bordeaux estates are located here. Learn more about Pauillac.


2013 Domaine Seguin Pouilly Fumé

Loire River Valley, France
A brilliantly colored Sauvignon Blanc with delicate fruit and matchstick aromas, as well as a glorious texture. Learn more about Pouilly-Fumé.


2012 Château Fonroque Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé

Bordeaux, France
Plush and precise Merlot blends from the Right Bank of Bordeaux. A leader in sustainable viticulture. Learn more about Saint-Émilion.


2010 Domaine Courbis Saint-Joseph

Northern Rhône River Valley, France
Gamey Syrah from the Northern Rhône … without the exorbitant prices of Hermitage and Côte Rotie. Learn more about Saint-Joseph.

Saint-Péray Blanc

2015 Jean-Luc Colombo "La Belle dei Mai" Saint-Péray Blanc ©Kevin Day/Opening a BottleNorthern Rhône River Valley, France
One of France’s most challenging, but rewarding, white wines — a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne. Learn more about Saint-Péray.

Vouvray Sec

2009 Clos de Nouys Vouvray (Chenin Blanc wine)

Loire River Valley, France
An elegant and complex rendition of Chenin Blanc redolent of lemon, apricot and lavender. Learn more about Vouvray Sec.



Telmo Rodriguez Gaba do Xil Godello

Galicia, Spain
Galicia’s rich and full-bodied, Chardonnay-like white grape plays an excellent foil to its Pinot Noir-like partner in red, Mencia. Learn more about Godello.


Bottles of Priorat DOQ wine

Catalunya, Spain
The power, and the glory, forev— OK, no need to go to church on this one, but the roots of this bold blend of Garnacha and Cariñena has deep monastic roots. Learn more about Priorat.

Ribeira Sacra

2010 Dominio do Bibei "Lalama" Ribeira Sacra

Galicia, Spain
Elegant and expressive Mencia wines that recall Pinot Noir and all its glory. Learn more about Ribeira Sacra.


2014 Bodegas Matsu "El Recio" Toro

Castile and León, Spain
Bold, wild and tannic red wines made from the Tinta de Toro grape — a variant of Tempranillo. Learn more about Toro.



2013 Csendes Dülö Szölöbirtok Hárslevelü

Badacsony and Tokaji, Hungary / Tokaj, Slovakia

This grape is cultivated mostly in Hungary and scattered spots around Eastern Europe, including Slovakia, and produces an aromatic and full-bodied white wine reminiscent of Grüner Veltliner. Learn more about Hárslevelü.



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