Come January first, you can start eating better and probably even find time to clean out the garage. But wouldn’t it be far more enjoyable to focus your New Year’s efforts on drinking really good wine? Here are five wine resolutions that will help you fill your glass with something great in 2012.
Visit the Ancient World
Before there was the Old World, there was the ancient world. Humans have been messing around with fermented fruit for almost 6,000 years now, and while no one is sure exactly where wine was first made, most signs point to near today’s Republic of Georgia. From there, winemaking spread quickly to the parts of the world currently occupied by Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, and Israel, among others. These regions are home to grape varieties found nowhere else (Kolorko from Turkey and Obaideh from Lebanon, for starters), and they produce unique wines worth seeking out, not only for their wonderfully different flavors (lemon oil, sometimes a hint of parchment), but because their obscurity is often reflected in their prices.
Escape from California
It’s all too easy to keep buying the same old reliable California wines every time you drop by the wine shop. And if Zinfandel is your thing, you won’t find many options from elsewhere in the United States. But if you’re looking for a little variety when it comes to other reds and whites, go north.
Oregon’s Willamette Valley has been making world-class Pinot Noir for decades, while Washington turns out fantastic red wines of many kinds, along with some excellent Riesling. For reasons not entirely clear, these states receive far less attention from wine lovers than they should. Choose a wine from one of these regions and chances are you’ll be getting a great bottle for less than you’d spend on one of its California counterparts.
Try an Orange Wine
You didn’t know that wine came in a color other than white, red, or pink? Then it’s time you got in on one of the wine world’s best-kept secrets. Obscure as can be and definitely the province of serious wine geeks, orange wines are some of the most fascinating, food-friendly, and delicious wines on the planet.
Put simply, orange wines are white wines that are treated like red wines during the winemaking process. Just as red wines get their color when the red grape juice is left in contact with the pigment-filled skins, orange wines get their iced-tea coloring from leaving the skins of the white grapes in contact with the juice, sometimes for months on end. This imparts not only stunning color but also remarkable aromatics and tannins, which make these wines a good match for all kinds of foods, including grilled seafood, lamb and pork, and risotto. Be sure to decant an orange wine for 5 to 24 hours before serving it with dinner, preferably gently chilled. The air softens the tannins and makes the flavors rounder and more complex.
Drink Unfamiliar Grapes
Most wine lovers go their entire drinking lives tasting within the narrow confines of the usual wine grape suspects like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc. While these varietals do produce some of the world’s most sought-after wines, they represent only the tiniest fraction of the world’s grapes.
A veritable jungle of variety is waiting to be explored by intrepid drinkers willing to stray further afield. Savor the rose petal elegance of Gewürztraminer, or the brooding darkness of Mencia or Mourvèdre. Try the searing minerality of Greece’s Assyrtiko, or the explosive, juicy berry flavors of Agiorgitiko. Taste the citrus spice of Ribolla Gialla (grown in Spain or Slovenia), or the neon-lemon burst of Sémillon. And don’t miss the crushed stone and red currant notes of Sicily’s Nerello Mascalese, and the floral and stone fruit wonderland of Grenache Blanc. Exploration often bears unanticipated fruit, if you’ll pardon the expression.
Choose Sparkling Reds
If you think sparkling wines are festive, just wait until you’ve tried one that’s bright red. Americans had a brief flirtation with sparkling red wines a few decades ago, and with Lambrusco, a style of sparkling red from the Emilia-Romagna region in central Italy, in particular. But drinkers quickly fell out of love with it because, at the time, Lambrusco was fairly sweet and one-dimensional. Since then, the rest of the world has moved on from that style of Lambrusco, and today, Italy produces some wonderfully dry, complex, and simply joyful renditions.
For another sparkling red option, head farther south. Even as you read this, Australians are keeping cool during their summer by drinking chilled glasses of sparkling Shiraz. Not much makes it to the United States, but if you’re looking for a good time Aussie-style, you don’t have to look further than this fizzy dark red.