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posted: 1/6/2010 12:01 AM

Wine trends for a tasty, budget-friendly new year

Good Wine

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If for few others, it's been a great decade for wine lovers, with new and classic wine regions offering more quality and value than ever.

And the future looks just as bright.

Here are trends to watch in 2010:

Argentina: In the 1990s, when Australia was the next new thing, all we needed to tap into the world's best wine values was two words: Chardonnay and Shiraz. Now, as Oz shifts focus to top-quality, our active vocabulary has expanded to specify Shiraz grown in Barossa or Mclaren Vale, Clare Valley Riesling and more.

Now, Argentina is the big show, with grapes Torrontes and Malbec in starring roles. Mendoza is the primary region, with wineries such as Crios, La Posta and Santa Julia, but Patagonia in the Neuquen region is making its play, with excellent Pinot Noir, Syrah and Malbec from producers including Familia Schroeder Saurus and NQN Malma. To keep up with the latest quality-value surge, dust off your wine atlas and turn to Argentina.

France: Perhaps it was a sense of "egalite" that caused our brethren in "liberte" to wait until our economy was as deep in the Dumpster as their sales. But now that Americans know Merlot (but few know Bordeaux, the classic Merlot region); now that Pinot Noir is chic but Burgundy (the ultimate Pinot region) is a jug wine to pour into stew; now that Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah are favorites but the Loire and Rhone are largely unknown; finally the French have amped up in-store tastings, newsletters and other promotions to bring their wines to the American people. At one such event, this wine lover tasted Château Lescalle and Château Graville-Lacoste, elegant red and white Bordeaux, at $18-ish comparably-priced with far less exciting New World wines. Check with your retailer for French wine promotions or visit Web sites such enjoybordeaux.com.

Pinot Noir: The star launched by "Sideways" continues to shine with excellent examples from new regions - Chile (Cono Sur, Auraucano), New Zealand (Craggy Range, Felton Road) - and of course, the U.S. (including Calera, Matanzas Creek and the extra-value Leese-Fitch.) Unfortunately, fine Burgundy remains too rare for this pocketbook.

Value: While the finest-and-rarest labels will remain so, most producers are responding to lackluster sales in restaurants and winery tasting rooms by slashing prices.

If you haven't done so, make friends with a retailer who will get to know your palate, inform you of events and lead you to great bargains.

It's a resolution that will pay off for you, family and friends throughout the New Year and new decade.

• Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross writes Good Wine. Contact her at food@dailyherald.com.

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