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Published: Saturday, 5/25/2002

Resolve to try new wines

It's like any experience. You decline a raw oyster when you're 10, though your mother told you it's good eating. You respectfully disagree, and 30 years later, without having looked at an oyster again, you declare that you don't like them.

Now, I like oysters, and have ever since in childhood I learned a clever little French verse according to which no one would have had the courage to swallow a raw oyster for the first time in history unless he/she had a glass of chablis: “the perfect wine to drink with oysters,” Hilaire Belloc translated it. There are a few other dry white wines that, like a good chablis, flatter a plate of oysters on the half shell: It could as well have been muscadet, for example, from the French edge of the Atlantic Ocean, while no one could quarrel with the Italian preference for a glass of verdicchio to wash down that most distinctive shellfish.

Verdicchio, a crisp, dry, easy-drinking white wine, good not only with oysters but with a chicken salad, a mess of fried perch, or a seafood pasta, may well be a wine you've never tasted. But don't let this delightful summertime wine remain forever in the category of wines you haven't tried. I've seen two funny-shaped bottles in Toledo area wine shops, one from Monte Schiavo for $13 and change, and another, just about equally good, for $8 to $9.

How many other fine varietels are passed over as one searches the wine shop shelves for another boring bottle of K-J chard or Sutter Home white zinfandel? How many delights because they haven't scored a Parker 90? Good grief! Be bold. Resolve to sample something new, say, every fourth bottle. And yet another bold step: for the fourth of those unfamiliar fourths (is that every 16th bottle?) pick a local wine, one made in Ohio, Michigan, Ontario, or Indiana.

Broadspread distribution doesn't come readily to small wineries, so the easiest way - and most fun - to become acquainted with Midwest wines and winemakers is to devote an excursion this summer, or a day or two at a time, to winery visits. Most are within easy reach. June, the Ohio Grape Wine Industry Committee has declared, is to be Ohio Wine Month. For a wealth of information, with maps, hours, and facilities; call the Ohio Wine Producers' Association at 1-800-227-6972. Michigan's Wine Industry Council will happily send you, free for the asking, a handsomely illustrated guide to Michigan wineries, in magazine format; visit on the Internet www.michiganwines.com or call 1-800-292-3939.

Organized tastings, particularly with compatible food, offer lessons to be drawn from immediate, side-by-side comparisons.

Robert Kirtland is The Blade's wine critic.

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