The past year was filled with so many wonderful moments and even more delicious wines that it is impossible to count them all. Before uncorking 2015, I thought it would be worthwhile to mention some things that stood out in 2014, and offer a few modest, obtainable goals for the new year.
The visit my wife and I made late in 2013 to Champagne opened our eyes to a world beyond the big labels. During the past year we dipped our toes steadily deeper into the bubble pond, which only solidified our growing understanding that there is real excitement to be found away from the tried and true Grand Marques (the big names that almost all wine lovers know) that dominate the Champagne industry. We had been fans of Agrapart for some time, but in the past year, we also came to enjoy Jean Milan, G. Tribaut, Laherte Freres, Monthuys, Lallier, Gaston Chiquet, Pierre Peters, and several others. I have no reason to believe that the coming year won’t be as good or even better, as we continue our research into the sparkling wines of Champagne, France.
Another eye-opener in 2014 was my formal introduction to the wines of Santa Barbara County. I had enjoyed a few wines from that area over the years, but really had no coherent understanding of the producers in that part of California, much less any real idea of what the area was capable of. That all changed in July when I headed south to attend the Wine Bloggers Conference there, and then, at the invitation of Sao Anash of Muse Management, a local wine industry guru, I stayed for another week and received a memorable crash course in the region. Over the course of five days I raced from one terrific tasting appointment to another, meeting winemakers and winery owners in every corner of the county. Each day was filled with surprises and epiphanies. From the pinot noirs of Sta. Rita Hills to the syrahs of Ballard Canyon, and everything else in between, I came to believe, during this all-together too brief of a time, that Santa Barbara County and its collection of distinctive AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) are America’s next great wine region. I plan on doing everything possible in the coming year to learn as much as I can about those areas and the great wines being produced there.
The last big wine excitements for us came in September during a three-day hop to Oporto and Vila Nova de Gaia on the banks of Portugal’s Douro River. The first surprise for us was just how much Mary, up until now no big fan of fortified wines, ended up loving the tawny, ruby, and vintage ports we sampled. She was prepared to be a good teammate and try whatever I tried, but she was completely unprepared for the persuasive, almost seductive moments so many wines offered her. Similarly, we both were reminded in powerful ways of the tremendous progress Portugal has made in recent years with their light (unfortified) wines. From casual lunches to formal dinners, we ran across white, pink, and red wines from all over Portugal that were not only complex, modern, and well made, but also appealing to the most frugal of wine lovers. If you are looking for a new wine region to explore in the coming year, you could do worse than a deep dive into the western edge of the Iberian Peninsula. The year will end before you’ve even scratched the surface.
Despite having had such a rewarding wine year, there are ways to improve; areas for growth are never in short supply. So, as 2015 gets underway, here are a couple of things that Mary and I hope to focus on.
The first goal is to drink more globally. We began our wine journey years ago sampling everything we could from anywhere on the planet. In recent years, as I’ve gotten busier with wineries in Napa and Sonoma, and made more friends in the California wine world, our cellar has begun to reflect these developments. Right now, our cellar is uncomfortably unbalanced, with 75% of our holdings hailing from the Golden State. Clearly, changes are necessary. So, starting with our next purchase, we will revisit favorite areas such as the Rhone and Italy (yes, all of it!), and say a cheerful hello to our new friends like New Zealand and Greece. Along the way we’ll learn about wines from Croatia, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria. We might even catch up with the wines from Chile and Argentina, which we’ve ignored for way too long. Of course we can never know enough about New York State, the Pacific Northwest, Virginia, the Niagara Peninsula, or the wines from western Canada’s Okanagan Valley. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us but we’re not afraid.
What I am a bit afraid of, however, is the other goal we’ve set, which is to reduce our intake so we can reach the sports goals we’ve set for ourselves. The trick to success will be a commitment to focus, to being more discriminating with what and how much we drink. Ideally, we will not only diversify our buying and consumption, but we will appreciate even more what’s in our glasses. You know, on those occasions when those glasses are actually filled and on the table.
If I could offer a prayer for the new year, it would have to be this: Sweet Baby Jesus, help us drink all the wine we should. Do not let us make the mistake of not drinking enough. Help us to do our part. To fail in that regard would be a sin, a sin for which no forgiveness is possible.