January is the perfect time to reflect on the previous year and make resolutions for the new one. For those of us who take wine seriously, it's smart to include wine in our New Year's resolutions.
This year, I plan to drink something old and something new. In other words, I'll dig deep into a classic wine region and also explore a part of the world that doesn't get much attention. Whether you're a veteran oenophile or a budding wine enthusiast, following this plan will surely heighten your appreciation of wine.
Consider my consumption habits.
For my palate, America's most exciting Pinot Noir comes from the "extreme" Sonoma Coast, a series of remote hillside vineyards in northern Sonoma County just miles from the Pacific Ocean. My favorite examples, which come from producers like Peay, Hirsch, and Littorai, combine all the elements I look for in Pinot -- rich, ripe aromas of cherries along with fresh herbs and earth, together with lively acidity. So regardless of the season or the meal, these tend to be my go-to wines.
Such complacency is easy to understand; we're creatures of habit. But it's silly. The world of wine is infinite. And when it comes to Pinot Noir, Burgundy wrote the book. So this year, I hope to finally get my head around this legendary French wine region. I want to learn about its history, memorize the vineyards and producers my friends obsess over, and taste as much as I can.
Discovering a classic wine region should be on every oenophile's list of New Year's resolutions. If you're fond of Washington State Merlot, try some classic, Right Bank Bordeaux. If you enjoy Riesling, stock your cellar with wines from Germany's Mosel River Valley. And don't just drink the classics, learn about them. It's the classics that inspire New World vintners.
Next year, I also plan on embracing obscurity.
Last summer, for example, I fell in love with Muscadet, a white wine produced in France's Loire Valley from a grape called "Melon de Bourgogne." Typically, the wines are marked by subtle yet precise aromas of apples, limes, and seawater. Thanks to extended contact with the dead yeast cells left over after fermentation, Muscadet is also known for exhibiting a creamy mouthfeel. These wines are perfect with shellfish and light seafood dishes. Plus, like most obscure-but-delicious wines, Muscadet is generally affordable.
This past summer, I fell for northeast Italy's electric white wines, trying as many offerings as I could find from Alto Adige, a neighbor to Austria and Switzerland, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, which borders Slovenia to the east and Austria to the north.
Alto Adige is best known for Pinot Grigio, but dozens of varieties flourish there. Gewurztraminer, Muller-Thurgau, Sylvaner, and Kerner are exceptionally aromatic and display enough sweetness and acidity to complement cream sauces and even spicy foods.
Friuli-Venezia Giulia, commonly shortened to Friuli, is home to a host of unfamiliar grapes like Ribolla Gialla and Friuliano. Producers in the region are also known for producing rich, complex blends that include these grapes alongside more traditional varieties like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.
This year, I hope to learn more about the wines of Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, and other spots in Central and Eastern Europe. More and more of these wines are making their way to the United States, and plenty are fun, food friendly, and affordable.
Adventurous drinking should make everyone's list of New Year's resolutions. There are, quite literally, thousands of different wine grape varieties planted in dozens of countries. Tasting different wines is the best way to learn, and surprising your palate is the best way to keep things fun.
The world of wine offers endless possibilities. So regardless of which resolutions you make -- and which resolutions you keep -- just make sure wine is a part of your life in 2014.
David White is the founder and editor of Terroirist.com, which was named "Best Overall Wine Blog" at the 2013 Wine Blog Awards. His columns are housed at Grape Collective (www.grapecollective.com).