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Originally published January 14, 2012 at 7:00 PM | Page modified January 15, 2012 at 6:20 AM

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Taking stock of 'it' wines: sparklers and sweet reds

Wine columnist Paul Gregutt says the start of a new year is as good a time as any to take stock of what is shaking up the supermarket wine aisles, so here we go.

Special to the Seattle Times

Pick of the week

Cockburn's Special Reserve Port; $17

PORT IS the quintessential winter warmer, a fine digestif and a marvelous partner to any chocolate dessert. This Special Reserve from Cockburn's bridges the gap between cheap ruby ports and pricey vintage ports. Rich and fruity, it's a smooth, full-flavored bottle that will keep well for up to two months after being opened. (Distributed by Odom-Southern)

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MORE THAN ever, wine has become a trendy, fashion-driven industry. Not that I object. Actually, it's a lot of fun, because it remains so surprisingly unpredictable. No matter how long you have been in the thick of things, they are bound to take a surprising turn.

Suddenly muscat is "it." Who saw that coming? Chocolate wines? A novelty for years, now a superhot new category. Ultradry Champagnes, sweet reds — the list of what's in vogue goes on. The start of a new year is as good a time as any to take stock of what is shaking up the supermarket wine aisles, so here we go:

Prosecco has become a very popular, low-cost bubbly, but it is not the only Italian sparkler worthy of note. If that is your starting point, let me recommend Maschio Prosecco brut, an elegant, floral wine with a pleasing peachy core. I also like both the white and pink Riondo Proseccos, new in this market and available in magnum. The regular bottles retail for around $13.

The Principessa Perlante Gavi, though cork-sealed without a wire cage, is marketed as lightly frizzante (sparkling wine). The bottle I tried was all but flat, but I could imagine that the expected hint of fizz would add to the enjoyment. Drunk as a still wine, it showed a pleasing minerality and made a lovely companion to a grilled halibut steak. About $17.

On the sweeter side are the Maschio Cadoro Moscato ($15) and the Rosa Regale ($20). While they keep the alcohol at a modest 7.5 percent, these tasty wines may strike some folks as a little too candied. Others will love them for their zest, their bright fruit flavors and their easy drinkability.

For those who really want to take the plunge into new territory, there is the Bin 46 Sweet Red from Lindeman's (about $7). This popular Australian producer makes a full line of dry reds, but the sweet style is new. At the risk of being banned for life from the Confrérie des Curmudgeonly Journalists du Vin, I have to say I rather like this wine. The substantial (7.7 percent) residual sugar is balanced by sufficient acidity, the alcohol is down around 9 percent, and the bright, snappy fruit flavors of raspberry and cranberry have more depth and polish than many more "serious" dry reds.

Speaking of dry reds, the port producers of the Douro Valley have been trying for years to expand out of their fortified-wine niche by making red table wines from Portuguese grapes. Not as easy as it sounds. Standard port wines are ripened to higher sugar levels, and the winemaking process is completely different from dry table wines. I've had many of these new-style reds and found them difficult to appreciate, but as with any exploratory wine venture (recall the struggles Germany had with its dry rieslings?) it takes time to dial it in.

Perhaps it is my fondness for Quinta do Vesuvio Port that piqued my interest in their 2008 Pombal do Vesuvio red (about $25), but this soft and rather delicate wine, which clocks in at a modest 13 percent alcohol, offers subtle pleasures. Wild blackberry and black currant fruit is wrapped in smoky, mineral-laced earth, with polished tannins and a svelte, gliding finish. On balance, it is not a far cry from a decent Bordeaux, without all the new oak flavors that can hide the terroir.

The revised second edition of Paul Gregutt's "Washington Wines & Wineries" is now in print. His blog is Email:

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About Wine Adviser

My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.

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