A lot of New Year’s resolutions are about reduction — shedding pounds or lowering debt or cutting back on stress. But for wine enthusiasts, the resolving should be about expanding, especially one’s horizons.
Among the options worth your consideration:
Get out of that rut: If you only drink chardonnay, try some viognier or chenin blanc (or a blend of those two). If you switched from merlot to malbec as your go-to red in recent years, give merlot another chance. If you’re crazy about New Zealand sauvignon blancs, check out what’s emanating from France (Touraine or Bordeaux or, for a few dollars more, Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé). Love moscato? Look for some inexpensive riesling or Müller-Thurgau.
Branch out when you dine out: At a restaurant, especially when you’re traveling, try something new and unfamiliar. Most wine lists these days are nicely crafted (in fact, it can be a bad sign if you see too many familiar brands). And the expansion of by-the-glass offerings in many eateries provides a chance to sample a couple of “exotic” offerings — and pairings. Speaking of which …
Branch out at home: Try the occasional unconventional pairing at the dinner table: an oaky chardonnay with grilled steak, a young zinfandel with tuna. Or just a wine you like with a dish you like but never thought to combine. And cook more with wine, but only good stuff so that it actually enhances the flavor of the dish.
Get to know more local wine-mongers: Regular readers might be sick of my saying this, but there’s nothing that will help you drink better wine more than getting to know a merchant or three, and letting them get to know you (or at least your palate). No holding back on your end, and you’ll know fairly quickly if you’ve found a simpatico soul.
Get to know more local wineries: Forget those Minnesota wines that you might have eschewed five or 10 years ago. They’re getting better every year, as the fledgling industry discovers where best to grow certain grapes and how best to turn them into our favorite fermented juice. And go to the source (often a necessity with so few brands in stores, but also a great excuse for a nice excursion). A couple of newer ones producing tasty stuff are Chankaska Creek in Kasota, just south of St. Peter off Hwy. 169, and Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery in Spring Valley, south of Rochester off Hwy. 63.
Bubble up: Drink more sparkling wine, white or pink, from Champagne (if you can afford it) or anywhere, even New Mexico. These are wines, folks, just like pinot noir and chardonnay (in fact, many if not most are made with those grapes). And they are pretty much guaranteed to play well with almost anything at the dinner (or brunch) table, from omelets to lamb to milk chocolate.
Pick a grape or region, any grape or region: Even the nuttiest of us grape nuts have states, countries or varietals that we just have not gotten around to exploring. There’s infinite fun to be had delving semi-deeply into Alsace or albariño, Greece or grenache, South Africa or sangiovese. Any and all such options offer a variety of styles, so keep an open mind.
Augment your accessories: Try a Vintouri, which can really “open up” young red wines in particular. Put a good decanter on your Christmas list (only 364 days to go). Invest in some stemless (and dishwasher-friendly) glasses, which provide everything the stemmed ones do. And get comfortable with one type of corkscrew; the “rabbit” openers are easy to use but break way too often (too many teeny parts). Once I got comfortable with the “waiter-style” unit (shown above), I couldn’t imagine using anything else.
Make wine more communal: Gather some friends to try a set of wines. It can be formal or informal, but do have at least one person take notes either way. The theme can be serious (Sicilian reds, chenin blanc from anywhere) or more flippant (naughty labels, wines that might go with corn dogs). The aim is to drink wine the way it was intended, in a social setting.
The good news: Any of these steps can enrich your understanding and enjoyment of wine. The better news: This is not about leaving your comfort zone, but about broadening it.
Follow Bill Ward on Twitter: @billward4