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Swirl Girl: Upgrade your wine drinking habit, part deux

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Remember all that talk about how to break up with the same boring white wines you've been holding onto for years? Now it's time to dig out of the red wine relationship ruts you've been stuck in. If you've been obsessively buying Pinot Noir ever since you saw the movie Sideways, then it's probably time for you to upgrade your red wine preferences as well.

Wine lovers are especially passionate about their red wine choices. Die-hard Napa cabernet fanatics do battle against the Left Bank-terroir worshipers; those who pine for southern Rhone Grenache-based blends like Châteauneuf du Pape poo-poo the charms of Australian Shiraz. But here's the thing: There's so much wine produced around the world that you could literally drink a different bottle every day for the rest of your life.

Given that tidbit of trivia, you've officially run out of excuses for drinking that same old, same old. Now, all you need to do is grab the nearest bottle of your current (and soon to be former) favorite red, along with paper and pen and riddle yourself the following:

Do I reflexively continue to purchase and drink this wine because it seems...

A) Soft and mellow? (you're craving a scoop of raspberry gelato)

B) Lively and bold? (kinda like a can of Cherry Coke, circa 1985)

C) Rugged and rough? (like your favorite black leather jacket, with just a whiff of tobacco from that cigarette you accidentally smoked last night)

Now match the recommendations below to the answer you selected above.

A) If you like your red wines easy like a Sunday morning, then smooth, easy-to-drink reds without much tannin are your thing, and Pinot Noir is your go-to grape. But guess what? Tempranillo (the varietal found in red wines from the Rioja region of Spain) is about to become your new sip du jour because, like pinot, it's one of the most versatile reds around. Go for the Sierra Cantabria Rioja 2005 ($17) or the Finca Allenda Rioja 2004 ($24), both featuring dusty raspberry and blackberry fruit flavors.

B) Reds which simultaneously call to mind both big fruit and big spice usually conjure up visions of shiraz, the grape made famous by those bold, brash Aussies (who owe a huge debt to the French). Switch up your current down-under drink for an altogether different kind of Southern charmer...Negroamaro. Hailing from the southernmost region of Italy, these wines are full of ripe, bossy red fruit and finished with a trace of pleasant bitterness (think espresso). One to try is the infinitely drinkable, never mind ridiculously cheap, Menhir Cinque Passi Negroamaro 2007 ($10); another is the Taurino Notarpanaro 2004 ($13).

C) You know who you are: The only thing you like better than a big glass of red is an even bigger glass of uber-brawny Cabernet Sauvignon. If tannins roll off your tongue like water off a duck's back, look to either one of these lesser-known members of Bordeaux's band of brothers. You won't go wrong with the intense, spicy Cosentino "California" Cabernet Franc 2005 ($22) or the full-throttled fruit found in the Durigutti Malbec 2007 ($13) from Argentina.

Look at upgrading both your white and red wine palate as you would collecting stamps in your passport: Every destination represents a brand-new experience. As you continue learning more about what you love in wines, remember to ask your local wine purveyor lots of questions and keep an open mind.

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