All posts by Kristin Balabanian

As Senior Buyer for's WineShopper, I help source the best wine deals from around the globe. I've been a wine buyer for the past 9 years and in the past have worked for as wine-of-the-month club buyer and as import buyer for Cost Plus World Market.

Exploring Portugal

Misty rolling hills are home to Vinho Verde white wine varietals
Misty rolling hills are home to Vinho Verde white wine varietals

In early May, I had the pleasure of joining a group of five retail wine buyers on a whirlwind tour of Portugal’s wine regions. Our lucky group spent the next seven days discovering the beautiful landscape, forward-thinking winemakers, and incredible wines to be found in this corner of Europe.

Our trip began in the rainy northern Minho region, where excellent white wines are produced. Varietals such as Alvarinho, Loureiro and Avesso are just some of the varietals that are grown in this lushly green land. Naturally low in alcohol and extremely refreshing, these are wines perfect to stock up on for summer.


Incredible history in Douro Valley. Yes, that reads 1795!
Incredible history in Douro Valley. Yes, that reads 1795!

Douro Valley was quite a contrast to Vinho Verde – lushly rich reds were the standout wines from this region traditionally known for their Port wine. Terraced hillsides are full of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Barroca. The history in this region is incredible – we regularly spoke with 4th and 5th generation winemakers tending their family vineyards.

One of the biggest finds of my trip was my discovery of the wines of the Dao Region. Cool climate reds and whites are being produced by some of the finest winemakers in Portugal. I predict sommeliers, wine geeks, and reviewers to “discover” this region very soon.

Old school labels, new school winemaking in Portugal's Dao region
Old school labels, new school winemaking in Portugal’s Dao region


Talking shop with Lisbon area winery owners
Talking shop with Lisbon area winery owners

Moving south, the trip ended in the wine region closest to Portugal’s capital Lisbon. New winery owners are using modern techniques at their centuries-old estates once owned by Lisbon’s aristocrats. Here, the climate and land are Mediterranean – and the wines follow suit. Rhone blends are having great success.

Portugal is  an old world country ready to be re-discovered by wine lovers. I predict that the refreshing and unique white wines along with the dense and complex red wines will take the wine world by storm soon, appealing to the value-seeking and collector wine lovers alike.

Discover the Gems of Small Production Pinot Noir

At we love working with wines like Schug 2008 Sonoma Cost Pinot Noir. While this wine has garnered great praise – 90 points from PinotReport – and can be seen on many top winelists around the country – the winery itself is a still family run operation focused on keeping production small and winemaking excellent. And, wow, at under $20 we consider this one of the wine steals of the year!

So what makes small production Pinot like Schug so great? Just like the great wines of Burgundy, the best small production Pinot Noir from around the world focuses on hand-crafting, small case quantities, and loving attention to detail. In general, Pinot Noir as a varietal does not lend itself to the large production winemaking techniques typically used in crafting other red wine varietals. And so, it has only the most committed of winemakers, like the Schug family, who have the patience and passion to produce great Pinot Noir. For the wine aficionado getting to know and love these small production wines is a lifelong affair. While small production creates a challenge to source and acquire the good stuff, the journey is filled with many tasty rewards. Get started now with this “hand-picked” selection of some of our favorite boutique small production Pinot Noirs from California, Oregon and beyond.