I am extremely fortunate to be affiliated with the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan, where I do both private/corporate events and teach. For those in the vicinity, I have a class this Saturday (June 27) called “Catch the Trendiest Wines” {still a few seats available @ $80; if interested, click to register}.

I thought it would be fun to share my 12 Trend-O-Licious picks here, as well as the logic behind them. In most cases I am aiming to showcase a type of wine, rather than specific brands/bottlings. And, as per my usual tack whenever designing a tasting, the wines were picked with a progression in mind, from lighter through heavier.

Zardetto Prosecco. Cava is cheaper and Champagne is better, but Prosecco hits the spot, both budget-wise and seasonally. Could have happily chosen other Prosecco brands, but the Zardetto is our house fizz at ICE; a simple, apple-y, just-a-tad-sweet crowdpleaser. And as far as trendiness goes; Prosecco is the only bubbly I see enjoying a palpable upswing in the marketplace.

Rosé. Seasonality influenced this pick as well, and I’ve professed my personal affinity for Provence rosés before {see post}. The twist here is that I’ll be showing the Robert Oatley 2008 Rosé of Sangiovese from Mudgee, Australia, to toss into play the notion that fine dry pinks can and are being made in myriad locales now; that’s a trend I see accelerating, even as Australia’s star may be waning. Incidentally, the Robert Oatley, produced by the man who put Rosemount on the wine map, was sent to me as a sample. So far I have tried the Sauvignon Blanc (feh; not my taste), Shiraz (purty good in a ripe, smooth style), Cabernet-Merlot (surprisingly bright and tasty; definite <$10 value for New World red lovers).

Gruner Veltliner. Gru-Vay, as some hipsters call it, is following a familiar trend path for imports: gaining its foothold first in East Coast restaurants and independent merchants. Gruner’s attributes—clean, crisp, unwooded fruit in a light frame—are comparable to Pinot Grigio, but with a little more oomph. Indeed, I like to present it as a great alternative for folks who retreat to Pinot Grigio as a default white. The GV I’ll be pouring: Huber 2007 “Hugo,” whose $10.99 tag is well worth it.

Albariño. Spain’s dandy white wine is a little further along than Gruner in terms of catching on in mainstream America. The pitch for Albariño is also comparable to that for GV, although here we have a fleshy, aromatic, richer style of wine that should appeal to Chardonnay loyalists more so than PG fans. Some of my fave Albariños are Nora, Salneval and Martin Codax at the cheaper end; Fefiñaes, Pazo de Señorans and Lagar de Cervera at the >$20 end. In the $teen-ish middle I am happy with Don Olegario, Burgans, Condes de Albarei, or this week’s pick: Morgadio’s 2007 Legado del Conde bottling.

Riesling. Even more evolved in the U.S. market than Albariño and Gruner, Riesling has arrived not just in wine-savvy restaurants and coastal urban strongholds, but across America. There are so many ways to go with Riesling; in fact, when doing progressive tastings, I usually pick a light kabinett-level German Riesling to show right after a prosecco. Also love Alsace and Finger Lakes. But trendwise, I have been on the Columbia Valley bandwagon ever since being exposed to the debut single-vineyard Rieslings of Pacific Rim at a press dinner in 2008. The lineup was spectacular with the umami-centric food at En Japanese Brasserie, demonstrating the grape’s chameleon-like table manners and Goldilocks-worthy balance: dry yet fruity, rich yet elegant. My Pacific Rim pick is the 2007 Wallula Vyd. bottling, which can shame almost any California Chard at the $20ish price point. Have also happily poured Eroica and Poet’s Leap dry Rieslings from Columbia Valley as well.

Malbec. Ah, Malbec. It’s the new Shiraz. In fact, at one of my local retail go-tos, Mount Kisco Wines, a huge island rack, once devoted to Aussie reds, is now end-to-end Malbec. I think we are just beginning to see the power of Malbec to please wine lovers of every taste and budget. Some of my faves at the $10-$12 end include Elsa, Pascual Toso (both in a fruity style), Finca Flichman (touch o’ wood), and the richer Gougenheim and Terra Rosa. On the serious, heavy-duty, $teens-and-up side: Clos de la Siete, Amancaya, Achaval Ferrer and Ernesto Catena’s “Tahuan.” But for the Trendiest, I am rolling with Yellow+Blue because it’s made from organic grapes and comes in the trendy 1L Tetra-Pak. Haven’t even tried the one we’re pouring (2008), but expecting good juice based on previous two vintages.

Auroch 2006 ToroToro, Toro, Toro! The reds of Spain are hot for good reasons: quality, food-friendliness, variety, value, emerging stars alongside enduring classics. If you’d like to read why I consider Spain “the New France,” check out this article that ran in 2008 in Beverage Media. Though I could just as easily go with something from the ever-improving Rioja, critically acclaimed Priorato or little-known Bierzo, the Trendiest pick in my book is Toro, and I just love the Auroch 2006, a Winebow import that overdelivers at $15. As a bonus, if you look at the label long enough, it appears to be either a bull with horns and nose ring, or a nekkid lady with navel ring….

Splendid Blended. I’ve been touting “Splendid Blendeds” as a trend since before the turn of the century {see post} , and was fortunate to explain my take on the phenomenon at greater length at Wine Review Online back in 2005 {article here}. In short, I apply this phrase to combos that push the blending envelope outside the usual geographic suspects like Bordeaux and Rhône blends. The Trend-O-Licious choice this week at ICE: Proulx 2005 Merveille. Why? It hails from Paso Robles, California’s rising-star AVA for reds; and it is a real kitchen sink, combining Merlot, Cab, Zin, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Mourvedre. Perhaps most important of all, it emerged as the people’s favorite at a recent tasting of dozens of reds at Suburban Wines, one of my trusted local merchants.

Pinot-palooza. Sideways is but a DVD now, but Pinot plows ahead in 3D. Willamette Valley is a safe trendy pick, but I’m trying to stay ahead of the curve here, so I have set aside a quartet of Pinots sent to me by the PR folks in Monterey Wine Country. Just prior to my ICE class starting, I will taste-test Puma Road, Paraiso, Manzoni and Pessagno— all from the sub-appellation Santa Lucia Highlands—just before the class and pour my pick for everyone. I am very optimistic based on the Hahn 2006 “SLH” Pinot debut I sampled earlier this year, a velvety, cherry-infused mini-bomb that outclasses most other Califronia Pinots at the $25 point.

BDX v. Meritage. Old World vs. New World is a dichotomy that I do not see going away soon, despite breast-beating wails about the “international style” emanating from critics. And it’s a fun one to revisit when tasting blind. For the Trendiest class, we’ll be pitting a hip Meritage—Rodney Strong 2006 Symmetry—vs. a hip vintage, namely 2005 Bordeaux. It may sound like a mismatch, pitting the $60 Alexander Valley stud (and, yes, a sample) vs. a $20 Les Trois Croix from humble Fronsac, but the idea here is also to gauge personal taste. Trying this duo blind can reveal to the taster an important sense of stylistic preference, with respect to ripe fruit vs. earth, overt oak vs. subtle, boldness vs. elegance. So I see this not so much as a smackdown as a mission of self-realization. 

OK, so that’s 11 of my Trendiest wines… As for the 12th, it’s going to be a 3L box wine, slipped in a the appropriate stylistic point, but first I’ve got to kick the tires on a trio tonight at a local potluck picnic dinner.