Forget about New Years resolutions: As wonderful as they sound on December 31st, they lose their luster, for most of us, somewhere around brunch on January 1st. Who, after all, can really follow through on their vow to eat healthier in the face of New Year’s day brunch? And that gym membership you swore you’d purchase this year? Well, maybe it can wait till bathing-suit season is a bit closer at hand…
So forget about those unkeepable promises for the new year; instead, focus on something you’ll actually want to keep.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you should drink expensively. Or even that you have to wait for the holiday season to roll around. In fact, now is the time to make the vow to drink more broadly, with a more open mind, a more willing palate, and a wholehearted acceptance of the holy trinity of wine consumption:
The wine world is a big place; explore wines from all parts of it.
Great wine often comes from grapes you may not be familiar with; don’t shy away from unusual or unfamiliar varieties.
And don’t ever assume that you know what to expect from a specific producer or region; change happens all the time, and smart consumers will embrace it.
If you follow these rules—if you allow them to provide a framework of sorts for your vinous decision from here on out—then I promise that your wine life will be far richer, and far more rewarding, than it ever has been before.
The hard part, though—as always—is knowing where to start.
Personally, I can think of no better place (especially this time of year) than Champagne. Now, I’ll be dedicating an entire column to the region and its wines in an upcoming issue, but for now it will have to suffice to say that Champagne is on a roll. I visited the region this past September during the harvest, and spent a week tasting the wines and speaking with producers, and I cannot stress enough how impressed I was with both the quality and the range of styles.
Indeed, if the last Champagne you had was the same bottling you’ve always enjoyed, then now is the time to branch out and start exploring the region as a whole. Try a stunningly elegant rosé from Billecart-Salmon or Laurent-Perrier, or the crisp, balanced blanc de blancs from Larmandier-Bernier. Whatever you buy, go beyond your usual comfort zone: Champagne is a far more nuanced, and far more finely mapped, region than most people realize, and the range of wines coming from there is just astounding.
It’s also a great idea to re-familiarize yourself with producers you thought you knew. Of all the wines from California that I’ve tasted in the past year, few have surprised and impressed me quite as much as Blackstone. I had the chance to sit down to lunch with winemaker Gary Sitton this past summer, and his passion for wine, and his desire to express the unique terroirs that his grapes are grown in, are infectious.
The Blackstone Sonoma Reserve Chardonnay 2007, for example, incorporates fruit from four specific vineyards in Carneros, the Russian River Valley, and Sonoma Coast, and showcases all the rich, warm characteristics you’d expect (brown butter, almonds, lovely fruit), as well as a sense of minerality and energy-held-in-reserve that you may not have. And the 2006 “Rubric” bottling, with its grilled graphite, red plums, chocolate, minerality, and spice, is a marvel at only $23 or so.
Grape varieties to keep your eyes open for in the coming year and beyond include bright, often very gently perfumed Albariño from Spain, particularly Rias Baixas in the North West of the country; Torrontes, with its typical notes of melon and flowers, from Argentina; white Rhone Valley varietals like Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier from California and Australia; Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, and St. Laurent, the excellent red Austrian grapes that I reported on here several months ago; late-harvest whites from Long Island (the Wolffer Estate late harvest Chardonnay is wonderful, as is the Paumanok late harvest Sauvignon Blanc); the new generation of high-end whites from Italy’s Alto Adige; and the list goes on.
Here’s the point: There is no longer any excuse to drink the same as you always did, no matter which direction your tastes run in. And this time of year, with all the days off from work and the many large meals centered around the holiday and new year’s celebrations, offers the perfect excuse (as if you needed one!) to start exploring.
Plus, promising to venture off into the ever-growing world of wine is infinitely more fun than resolving to go to the gym more in the new year. This, indeed, is one holiday-season resolution you’ll actually want to keep.
Brian Freedman is a food and wine writer, educator, and consultant. He is Director of Education at The Wine School of Philadelphia (www.vinology), blogger for www.UncorkLife.com by WineChateau.com, contributing editor at Philadelphia Style Magazine, and contributing writer for John Mariani's Virtual Gourmet. You can reach him online at www.BrianFreedmanPhiladelphia.com.