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Last updateFri, 03 Apr 2020 5pm

As we approach the start of the new year, I’ve been reflecting on my time here in the desert since moving back from Napa a few years ago. The one thing that I have realized is how much I underestimated the wine savvy—or better yet, the sense of exploration—of the wine consumers here.

When I first started buying wine for a retail space, my overall goal was to bring in wines that were more esoteric, more global, more natural—and more fun! I wanted to start steering away from the mass produced “grocery store” wines toward wines that were created by small producers—farmers and winemakers with deep roots, but perhaps shallow pockets. One at a time, I brought in a quirky label, and then another, and then an unheard-of varietal—hoping that maybe a hipster out of Los Angeles would stumble in and buy some, or maybe someone would trust me enough to take a recommendation for a wine out of left field. At the very least, I knew these wines were incredible—and if all else failed, I could always buy the case and drink the wine myself!

But then something started to happen … people started coming in and asking for these wines. Customers began talking to me about things like skin-contact whites and carbonic maceration. I would hear guests at tastings applaud the low-alcohol content in the wines that were being poured—and tell me they specifically came in to taste the Ribolla Gialla I was pouring.

What?! Who are you people? Where have you been?

Every day, I am surprised and excited by what people are gravitating toward—and so, in the spirit of new beginnings, for all my wine adventurers out there, here are some of my favorite “must-try” wines for 2020.

Italy is one of the most-daunting wine countries to tackle, but it’s also one of the most rewarding. Each region has its own pasta and cheese to which it lays claim, and the same can be said for wine varietals—many of which historically almost never made it out of the country, and instead were consumed entirely by its local audience. From the Trentino-Alto Adige region in the far north, look for the deeply colored and richly textured Teroldego. Elisabetta Foradori, who is considered by many to be one of the greatest winemakers in Italy, took on the task of saving this grape from obscurity, and her bottlings are nothing short of glorious. It’s an intensely juicy wine, with loads of blackberry and raspberry flavors, followed by a subtle sweet smokiness.

On the other end of the intensity spectrum is a deliciously light-bodied red called Schiava. This delicious pinot noir-like grape also hails from the Alto Adige region and is as silky and feminine as it gets. Beautiful notes of rose petals, freshly picked strawberries and a touch of lemon zest are the hallmark flavors of this little grape.

From Southern Italy, seek out a wine made from the Aglianico grape. Made primarily in Campania and Basilicata, these brooding reds definitely fall into the savory category. If you’re a fan of rustic wines with layers of flavors (think old-vine zinfandels), you’ll be delighted by the notes of leather, figs, white pepper, nutmeg and boysenberries.

In France, there’s a little-known region called Jura that has garnered the attention of high-profile sommeliers and wine lovers alike. Located on the eastern border between Burgundy and Switzerland, this is a cool-climate region producing some pretty esoteric and geeky wine. For years, this small appellation was known mainly for a sherry-like wine called Vin Jaune, or “yellow wine,” which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend. However, the region is now becoming known for a delightful red wine made with a grape called Trousseau that is worth seeking out. Trousseau creates a pale, light-bodied wine that’s surprisingly powerful. It’s so intensely flavored, in fact, that there are sommeliers in three-star Michelin restaurants pairing this seemingly delicate wine with prime cuts of steak! Trousseau might be the most obscure wine suggested here, but if you keep a lookout, finding one might be easier than you think. In fact, there are even a handful of California producers who have sought out domestic plantings of this esoteric grape and are producing some stellar incarnations of both Trousseau Noir and its cousin, Trousseau Gris. A few California names to look for are Jolie-Laide, and Arnot-Roberts. Domaine des Ronces and Michel Gahier are prime examples from Jura.

If you continue to travel south in Europe, this wine adventure will take you into Spain. Right now, there is no greater wine-producing country that offers up as much bang for your buck. Sure, we all know about Tempranillo and Garnacha, and even Cariñena isn’t as obscure as it once was … but have you ever had a Mencía? Hailing from the small western regions of Ribera Sacra and Bierzo, this dark and herbaceous red was once thought to be related to cabernet Franc. Although we now know that’s not the case, this aromatic wine is sure to be a hit with anyone who loves earthy and spicy reds. My personal favorites are the Mencías crafted by Raul Perez under the “Ultreia” label; his protege, Pedro Rodriguez, is creating stunning examples called Guimaro.

The perfumy and citrusy Spanish Albariño has long been my go-to for a crowd-pleasing white alternative to sauvignon blanc. But if you’re ready to venture into uncharted territory, there’s a grape called Hondarrabi Zuri from the Basque region that makes the most refreshing and slightly spritzy white called Txakolina. I cannot think of a better patio wine for our desert climate. It’s a bounty of fresh citrus like key limes, Meyer lemons and Clementine tangerines, all backed by a subtle fragrance of white jasmine and the tiniest presence of bubbles.

Lastly, leave it to Paul Hobbs to bring a project from Armenia to the forefront of our budding wine culture. Areni, which is a grape native to Armenia and the Republic of Georgia, is possibly the oldest varietal on Earth—not surprising, given that this region is the birthplace of viticulture. In 2011, archaeologists discovered artifacts from a winery dating back at least 6,100 years. Hobbs has now partnered with the Yacoubian family from this small Armenian village to revitalize this ancient grape. I recently found out that there are a handful of country clubs (country clubs!) in the Coachella Valley that currently have the Yacoubian-Hobbs Areni on their wine lists. Who would have thought?

So here’s to a new year full of exploration, curiosity—and a community of wine lovers who continue to surprise and inspire me.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

There are so many parties in the desert this time of year. A girl can hardly keep her calendar straight, with all the fundraisers, galas and soirees all around town.

However, there is one fabulous party that, for obvious reasons, I have never been to—the White Party Weekend. Celebrities, sunshine, world-class DJs and gorgeous men splashing around in a pool … and I don’t feel invited. It all sounds like a helluva good time to me, but seeing as how I’m not exactly the attendees’ “type,” I miss out on all this fun. So, in honor of the thousands of men who descend into the valley to forget about their troubles for a glorious weekend, I, too, have decided to throw my own White Party—a White Wine Party, that is.

I feel as though the timing of this party is impeccable: The days are getting longer; the weather is warming up; and those beautiful desert sunsets and casual patio dinners just beg for a cool glass of something light and bright.

I’ve noticed a trend around town that has me a little perplexed: As of late, at every wine event I’ve worked or attended as a guest, more and more people are telling me they don’t drink white. As much as I could roll my eyes at a statement like that, I kinda get it. For years, California chardonnay was all about being fat and ripe, with mushy baby-food flavors and loads of caramel and butter. New Zealand sauvignon blanc was practically GERD-inducing, with its tart and bitter flavors of grapefruit and grass. If these are the only wines people are drinking, and perhaps the only wines available at their favorite restaurants, then they’re bound to think that’s what all white wine tastes like. This where I come in. (Cue the sommelier superhero, with cape flapping in the wind.)

The guest list to my not-so-exclusive White Wine Party features a roundup of all my favorite international wine darlings. I plan on surrounding myself with a bevy of beautiful bottles, dripping in beads of ice-bucket condensation. In case you’re wondering which wines are invited to this extravaganza, allow me to introduce you to the greatest wines you’re not drinking.

Portuguese vinho verde is my absolute favorite day-drinking, warm-weather sipper. Slightly sparkling with a tangy zip of key lime and lemon peel, and an alcohol by volume of around 9 percent, you can literally drink this all day. By the pool. Nude. So I’ve heard.

South Africa is my all-time-favorite wine-producing region, so I would be remiss if I failed to include a bottle of their delicious chenin blanc. Also known as Steen, these wines more often than not feature bright-green apple and grapefruit notes with a hint of grassiness. But a word to the wise: These wines can be chameleons, and some are made in an off-dry to full-blown-sweet dessert style. Those chenins are not invited to this particular party.

If you like bold and robust malbec from Argentina, you’ll adore the country’s signature white varietal, torrontes. This wine tastes like sauvignon blanc and viognier’s love child. It’s a perfect balance between peaches and lemons and roses and honeysuckle, and goes down as easy as your favorite box of Girl Scout cookies.

Albariño is just downright delectable, and its sole purpose in life is to provide you with happiness. Its other purpose in life is to help me wash down a big bowl of delicious ceviche. One of the most aromatic wines on the guest list—and God’s gift to seafood—this little Spanish gem is bursting with orange blossoms, honeydew melon and just a touch of saltiness.

Finally, enter the Grande Dame of all white wine—Chablis. This is not to be confused with the gigantic jug of Carlo Rossi on the bottom shelf at the store, because Chablis is not a grape; it’s a place. And this place in the northern climes of Burgundy is solely dedicated to making the best chardonnay in the world. This, my friends, is pure sophistication and elegance in a glass. This is the chardonnay for everyone who thinks they hate chardonnay. Lean and razor-sharp, these wines are all about pears, limestone, white flowers and passionfruit, with no butter, mushy fruit and caramel to be seen. These wines are like Grace Kelly: beautiful, rich and a class act.

Don’t forget to extend an invite to Sancerre, txakolina (Chalk-o-LEENA), assyrtiko (Ah-SEAR-tee-ko) and the countless other alabaster beauties: There is a glorious world of white wine out there, and your new favorite wine is waiting for you. Go get it.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and is currently studying with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. When she's not hitting the books, you can find her hosting private wine tastings and exploring the desert with her husband and two children. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine