The wine business, much like every other industry that profits off people's extracurricular spending, is being greatly affected by the current economy. This is being seen here in the Washington and Oregon American viticultural areas especially these past few months.

Last summer, when I walked into most winery tasting rooms, I was usually lucky not to stand in a long line of drinkers waiting to sample the wines. Nowdays, I can walk into the tasting room and pretty much enjoy the entire facility to myself.

Tasting room staff, winemakers and owners throughout the Northwest are telling me that they aren't seeing the boom of tourists that they've enjoyed in the last few years. Walla Walla wineries seem to be the hardest hit, as Seattle residents aren't making the treks to spend long weekends enjoying fine wines and foods.

The truth is that people aren't willing to spend $50 to $100 on a bottle of wine, like they did one or two years ago. The wineries who offer nothing but expensive blends and varietals are getting hit the hardest. Membership only wineries are losing members from their lists faster than you can say "corkscrew." People are still enjoying wine. Most just aren't willing to be as frivolous as they were a few months ago. This environment is leaving a wonderful gap for innovators and smart winemakers to profit even in these times.

I've had the opportunity in the last few weeks to taste some amazing wines that fit this gap. Importers are having a heyday right now by bringing in absolutely fantastic wines at ridiculously low prices. Some of the wines that I've been enjoying are stunning. And, as I look at the bottle, I wonder how they even got such nice glass and corks, much less really great tasting juice for the prices they are offering.

One importer I've become acquainted with is Southern Wine Group. They specialize in wines from South America. The other wine importer that has been doing a fantastic job of supplying really good imports for years is Palm Bay. Palm Bay has holdings in several continents and countries.

Another group that is using the same concept on a regional level is a company called Precept. They are creating and offering local wines, often made by award winning local winemakers such as Charlie Hoppes, Victor Cruz, and Charles Smith.

The following is a list of my must try wines from these suppliers. If you haven't had them already, I suggest you give them a sip. From Southern Wine Group I suggest GLAM, Carlos Basso Signature Blend, and Marchiori & Barraud Cuartel Dos Malbec.

From Palm Bay, I suggest trying Citra Montepulciano. It is available in most grocery stores. Also, I am very impressed with Stracalli Chianti, Col d' Orcia, and you've already head my raves about Gosset Champagne.

As for Precept Brands, look for fun labels such as Pine & Post varietals, Huck, House Wine, and the Waterbrook varietals and blends. These are all available at grocery stores and restaurants in the area.

I hope you enjoy trying these wines. If you can't find them, please ask at your favorite wine shop. By the way, if you enjoy my article, I invite you to join my new blog. It is on the East?Oregonian Web?site under Community. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Rich Breshears, the East Oregonian's wine columnist, is a commercial photographer and marketing consultant for the wine industry in Oregon and Washington. He lives with his family in Kennewick, Wash. You can reach him by e-mail at photos999@charter.net

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