Oh, the places you’ll go.

With apologies to Dr. Seuss, I haven’t strayed too far lately. Bet you haven’t either.

But a love affair of 40 years with wine has taught me that it can take me places all over the globe. With some curiosity, some mental floss and a good cork pull, my wine journey in the last six weeks informs Dr. Seuss’ message: Try new things and keep an open mind.

Spain has always been on my bucket list. Two wines — 2015 Beronia Reserva Rioja ($20) and 2018 Pazos de Lusco Albarino ($21) — took me there one afternoon.

The Rioja region in northern Spain, just shy of the Pyrenees mountain range snuggling France, is renowned for the Tempranillo grape. Spain’s winemakers can choose an early release for their reds (crianza) or let them hibernate in barrel and bottle to win a reserve or grand reserve designation.

This reserve Rioja showed abundant black cherry and plum but also an intriguing beam of black licorice that gave it distinction. It paired well with skirt steak.

Springtime in North Carolina has me reaching increasingly for Sauvignon Blanc. But the Albarino grape from Spain’s Galicia region — on the northwestern tip lapping the waters of the North Atlantic — produces a wine similar to the crispy, mineral characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc. The apple and melon notes are undergirded by a hint of brine. It paired well with a sunny patio deck chair and an Elmore Leonard novel.

The Andes Mountains and Argentina’s sprawling Mendoza wine (and beef) region are also on my bucket list. Domaine Bousquet’s 2019 Virgen Red Blend ($13) is a new product to its large portfolio of wines that’s meant for economy-class buyers. Consumers will find this organic blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc a step up from the simpler fruit bombs on today’s blend market. Yes, there’s cassis, blackberry, plum and white pepper but it carries some heft — even sans oak barrel — because it leans on brawny Malbec.

Three Italian wines caught my eye and found their way into my glass: 2017 Santa Cristina Toscana ($12); 2018 Donnachiara Falanghina Beneventano ($15) and 2018 Banfi Gavi Principessa Gavia ($16).

The Toscana is a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Syrah — light- to medium-bodied with juicy dark fruit and a dry cherry pop.

The Falanghina grape is of ancient origin, enjoying Mediterranean soils and abundant sun. It’s another substitute for Sauvignon Blanc that warms up to our springtime. It’s dry, crisp and minerally with a hint of apricot and melon. I paired it with peeping azaleas, dogwoods and daffodils.

The Banfi Gavi Principessa Gavia comes from the Cortese grape in Italy’s Piedmont. Hints of granny apple and blood orange.

***

As guest presenter of a Port-styled wine tasting, I left the Feb. 1 N.C. Winegrower’s Association annual conference as excited as most. The 2019 growing season was pronounced good to great, and the state’s grape and wine industry promised continued growth.

COVID-19’s dark cloud has rolled over that encouraging news and North Carolina wineries — most of whom survive through on-site tastings and crowded events are struggling.

Most wineries across North Carolina — from the coast, to the Piedmont to the mountains — are small, mom-and-pop operations, living on meager margins. And many, I fear, may not survive a sustained slump in retail sales — a slump that likely started in January and February when tourism and sales are slight anyway.

March, April and May is when our wine industry begins digging out of the red — and not the good kind of red.

Many — too many to mention here — have reminded me to remind readers: Case sales are being deeply discounted at unprecedented levels. And many will deliver to your door for free.

Ed Williams is marketing director at Alamance Community College. This column appears the first Wednesday of each month. If you have wine news, email williamsonwine@gmail.com.

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