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Trying unfamiliar wines can bring unexpected pleasure

| Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Everybody has favorite wines, those we enjoy repeatedly with great pleasure. Such wines represent the familiar, well-trodden path.

But by choosing the road less traveled, to borrow from Robert Frost, the direction is laden with new, unfamiliar wines, bringing discoveries and tremendous pleasure.

It might mean trying wines from a country new to you. Perhaps it entails tasting wines from vintages with less-than-glowing reviews. It may even mean trying wines without relying on numerical ratings that many consumers substitute for developing personal taste and an experienced palate.

Just remember — dedicated, accomplished wine growers from any country and in almost any vintage can make delightful and satisfying wines. Use trial and error and study to identify producers who consistently deliver well-made wines that suit your personal taste and budget.

Consider the following:

2012 Domaine Maestracci E Prove, Corse Calvi, France (Luxury 48097; $18.99): The Mediterranean island of Corsica does not hold a front-of-mind position with American wine drinkers. Yet, for centuries, the island's winegrowers have produced outstanding wines matching perfectly with Mediterranean cuisine.

This wine comes from vineyards on a wide plateau in the Monte Grossu mountain's foothills. Granite underlies top soils of clay and sand. During the long growing season, hot, dry days precede cool nights brought on by the vineyards' high altitude.

The vermentinu grapes — also known as vermentino in nearby Italy and rolle in mainland France — ripen slowly and evenly while retaining fresh acidity. The nearby sea's persistent winds prevent mildews and molds while keeping the fruit undamaged and free of pests. It all results in high-quality pure fruit that winemaker Michel Raoust uses to optimum advantage.

His winery — a former olive-oil mill — has thick walls to keep temperatures naturally cool. Fermentation in stainless-steel tanks helps to preserve the fruit's pure essence. Bottling occurs early without aging in oak barrels.

Tantalizing peach and honeysuckle aromas waft from the glass. Grapefruit and ripe, juicy yellow-peach flavor open on the palate with lingering quince and honey flavors. Terrific refreshing acidity and mouthwatering mineral notes carry through the dry, yet fleshy finish.

Pair this uplifting white's unique, irresistible personality with grilled fish steaks in a citrus and herbs de Provence sauce. Highly recommended.

2011 J.L. Chave Selection Côtes du Rhône, “Mon Coeur,” France (Luxury 48097; $21.99): The Chave family winemakers have developed their collective savoir-faire since 1481. Eschewing the modern “cult” winery fad calling for a gated entrance, ostentatious architecture and fancy displays of installation art, they instead operate out of a modest, low-profile location in the decidedly unpretentious village of Mauves.

The current winemaker, Jean-Louis Chave, studied in the United States and considered a Wall Street job. Instead, he returned to France to carry on the family tradition with marvelous northern Rhône estate wines, such as red Hermitage, white Hermitage and red Saint-Joseph.

These terrific wines made from syrah for the reds and marsanne and roussanne for the white have tremendously complex personality and equally remarkable prices. All require cellar aging before reaching optimal drinkability.

In 1995, Chave created wines “pour boire maintenant,” meaning for drinking now at a lower price. He set up reliable contracts to buy fruit from other vignerons who share his quest for producing outstanding quality.

With “Mon Coeur” — which means My Heart — Chave followed for him the less-traveled road. He ventured to the southern Rhône in villages such Rasteau, Cairanne and Vinsobres where grenache, syrah and mourvèdre share vineyard space.

He targeted vines generally growing in vineyards producing fruit with higher acidity and less ripeness than typical southern Rhône sites. This enables Chave to offer a robust wine that still carries the domaine's trademark — beautiful balance.

The wine's dark color offers spicy black-fruit aromas with smoky, earthy nuances. Juicy, delicious black-fruit flavors open with a touch of réglisse, black licorice. Elegant, firm tannins and ample, fresh acidity provide backbone.

Pair the wine with grilled classic steak au poivre — ribeye steak encrusted with crushed black peppercorns and served with a sauce of spicy French mustard, shallots, demi-glace, cream and Cognac. Highly recommended.

Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at ddesimone@tribweb.com.

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