American wine icon Robert Mondavi wrote in his autobiography that wine is passion.

“It’s family and friends,” the California wine legend wrote. “It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It’s culture. It’s the essence of civilization and the art of living.

“Even more importantly, it’s wine, food and the arts. Incorporating those three enhances the quality of life.”

One might expect such pronouncements from the man who was a key figure in making Napa Valley a major player on the world wine stage. But Mondavi lived his ideas and talked throughout his long life about wine as an important lifestyle issue. His voice simply echoed the words of others.

“In Europe we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and wellbeing and delight,” Ernest Hemingway once wrote. “Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary.”

For some people, columnist included, wine can be transformational. Once wine drinkers move beyond the normal or the givens of Cabernet and Chardonnay and open their palate to the world, they are often transformed in the way they look at culture, agriculture, food and drink.

While this all might seem a bit gooey or tad too philosophical for a wine column, a single bottle of wine changed my perspective and many others writing about wine and marketing wine have similar tales.

Most wine drinkers start with grocery wine. A certain age group will remember Fetzer, Inglenook, Gallo, and many others as the staple of American wine. In some ways it’s not too different today. The brand names have changed but it’s now the grapes – Cab,Chardonnay, Merlot, and maybe Pinot Grigio or Riesling. For some people it was Riunite Lambrusco with pasta.

The constant message of Grape Sense has been to branch out, try something new, ask your wine or liquor store service people to recommend something different.

A single bottle of Spanish Tempranillo, in many ways, turned me into a wine writer and wine enthusiast. That happened about five or six years ago. Sharing the story always seemed a bit self-indulgent but I’ve heard it too many times from others.

I asked a wine shop owner to recommend something different. “Have you tried Spanish wines,” he asked. “Tempranillo?”

If I couldn’t pronounce it, I was pretty sure I had never tried it.

A single bottle of Montecillo Crianza red wine from Spain made me go ‘wow.” I don’t remember much of the detail other than it was rich, smooth, and delicious. And it was cheap. It’s available today at a range of about $9.99 to $12.99.

Spanish wines are great values because they are aged in oak and/or the bottle before being released. There are hundreds of great Spanish wines under $15. Tempranillo is the key grape for many Spanish wines. Tempranillo often combines the taste of dark berries, plum, vanilla, and herbs for a full-bodied wine. It is a great match for beef, pork, even a steak off the grill.

A bottle of the 2007 Montecillo Crianza, the latest release, arrived to my office recently. It was a media trade sample – yes, I get wine sent to me frequently for tasting. It brought back a lot of memories. I had never quite realized until that day, then reflecting on stories heard from others, that the Montecillo was my transformational wine.

After tasting that wine a few years ago I wanted to try other wines. After tasting it just a few days ago, I had to share the story. Find your transformational wine by asking for something different.

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