We are only into the middle of January and I would guess that many of those well-thought-out resolutions made a couple of weeks ago may already be forgotten. So when it comes to wine resolutions, I am adopting a new philosophy and “check-list” centered on expanding my knowledge and enjoyment while setting the stage for even more delights in future years.
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The world of wine is an ever-expanding space where the myriad of choice and availability has never been greater. It’s my intention to make 2022 a year where I can continue to check the boxes on my journey in discovering new wines, growing areas, and producers while also frequently revisiting those I’ve already learned to value and enjoy.
The inherent nature of wine appreciation is quite subjective as it embraces the beauty, romance and passion surrounding a very personal experience of what’s in the glass. That experience is also greatly enhanced by the individual stories attached to the dedicated men and women involved in growing, producing and understanding this most individual beverage. Over recent years, much has changed in the market while, thankfully, traditions dictate much also remains the same.
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Italian wines are now enjoyed far beyond Italy. Portugal's dry table wines are standing shoulder-to-shoulder alongside its highly revered Ports in the export market. Wines from remote Mediterranean islands are now appearing in distant markets.
Spanish wines have come alive from previously unknown areas; the southern hemisphere has exploded with an abundance of offerings at all price points and domestic wines from premier sites around the country continue to shine. One look at Prosecco's skyrocketing success tells a unique marketing story. And whoever thought of world-class sparklers from England?
So, here’s a brief rundown of the “boxes” on my check-list with more entries sure to come as the year progresses:
Checking Box #1
I love white wines. And in the new year I intend to search out many new examples. Overall, whites display a stylistic diversity seldom found in reds and are not, as some would say, “OK while waiting for the red to come.”
Remarkable white wines exist from all corners of the winegrowing world. Some are better suited to light hors d’oeuvres, pasta alla oglio or a summer cheese and fruit plate while others display the depth and nobility to pair with a broad range of sophisticated cuisine from fish to fowl, pork and lighter game meats.
A few examples of popularly priced offerings produced throughout the Old World and showing excellent results in domestic vineyards include: Albariño from Spain, Vermentino from Sardinia and several other areas of Italy, Aligoté from Burgundy, Chenin Blanc from Vouvray along with Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer from Alsace.
Others, such as Torrontés from Argentina, Arneis from Piedmont, Pecorino from Le Marche, and Verdejo from Spain are terrific choices but have not necessarily made the move to our domestic vineyards.
Checking Box #2
I also intend to broaden my menu of sparkling wines from Champagne and elsewhere. Contract disputes in Champagne spurred the Récoltant Manipulant (RM or grower Champagne) movement where some established growers in the appellation elected to produce their own wines rather than just selling grapes to the large houses. Beautiful wines with a very personal touch.
There are also many Crémants of France from Burgundy, Loire, Alsace, and other growing areas made in the Méthode Traditionelle (aka Méthode Champenoise for those produced in Champagne) where the secondary fermentation to produce the bubbles occurs in the bottle.
The Prosecco revolution sparked the interests of many and dramatically increased the sparkling market by attracting new fans. Prosecco is made in the Metodo Italiano (aka Charmat Method) where the secondary fermentation occurs in a pressurized tank and the sparkling wine is transferred under pressure directly to the bottle.
Prosecco’s quality is also now being elevated through the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Prosecco DOCG classification. While prices may be a bit higher, the quality more than justifies the increase.
Italy’s sparklers go beyond Prosecco to Franciacorta and Trentino where the wines are made in the Méthode Traditionelle. And let's not forget the highly acclaimed sparklers from England or those proudly produced domestically with some of the finest from California’s North Coast.
The growth of Cava and its multi-tiered quality-based classification system has brought many great new wines to market at various price points from the “Traditional” level at $20 or less to Reserva, Grand Reserva and since 2016, the very rare Paraje Calificado. All Cava wines, regardless of price, are made in the Méthode Traditionelle
Recently, several prominent Cava producers centered around Sant Sadurnaí d'Anoia (the capital city of Cava) broke away from the Cava DO and formed the Corpinnat category to focus only on the highest quality levels through the adoption and enforcement of rigorous growing and production regulations.
A bevy of bubbles to enjoy from around the globe.
Checking Box #3
I’m also looking forward to opening and enjoying more Port wines in their many stylistic interpretations to suit a variety of seasonal dining experiences. White Port with a splash of tonic, a squeeze of lime, and slice of cucumber (known as Portonic in its native Douro region) is a delight to enjoy on a warm summer afternoon. And a lightly chilled glass of White Port is the perfect companion to a rich butternut squash soup or pumpkin bisque in the cooler months.
Chilled Ruby Port is a refreshing treat in the warmer months while a variety of aged Tawny Ports (10, 20, 30 and 40-Year) along with Colheita (a vintage-dated Tawny) and the revered Vintage Ports are a great enhancement to the heartier cuisine and dining of the fall and winter months.
Checking Box #4
From the time I started collecting wines in the late 1970s, I naturally purchased some for aging and others for current or mid-term consumption. As I peruse the cellar from time to time, I think of when I’d like to enjoy certain wines that have been leisurely lingering in their bins. Some, unfortunately, may be past their prime while others are surely at the peak of their enjoyability curve.
The past two years have given me few opportunities under COVID restrictions to share these treasures. But occasionally, I’ve pulled an “oldie” or two for at-home dining or the rare night out with family and friends.
A few stand-outs were: 1983 Chateau d’Yquem, 1985 Cos d’Estournel, 1966 Graham’s Vintage Port, 1991 Peter Michael Mon Plasir Chardonnay, 1988 Sassacaia and 1978 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve in magnum. I also enjoyed several Southern Rhones of Chateau de Beaucastel and others from the 1980s and 1990s and surprisingly a few Ridge and Ravenswood Zinfandels from the early 2000s. Hopefully, 2022 will bring greater opportunities to dig deeper in the cellar for more delights from past vintages.
Checking Box #5
I intend to continue searching beyond the normal selections on retail shelves and restaurant lists to find exceptional, but lesser-known, wines and growing areas. The self-imposed shackles of the more traditional older generation wine drinkers have given way to the curiosity of millennials and a growing international market.
Tannat from Uruguay, Montepulciano from Abruzzo , Fiano de Avellino from Campania, Arinto from Portugal, Nerello Mascalese (and blends with Nerello Cappucio) from Mt. Etna, Sagrantino from Umbria as well as Trousseau and Trousseau Gris from Jura are just a few examples that fit these little known categories.
The increased availability of wines from previously obscure areas and varieties is making the search far easier for something different and enjoyable. Many of these wines are well known in their home countries but are now being discovered in U.S. markets through the valiant efforts of courageous importers.
There’s no doubt that 2022 presents unlimited opportunities to expand our vinous horizons at all price points. It’s my New Year’s wish that we all feel comfortable in pushing our boundaries to explore something new while also staying true to those producers who have been an important part of the ride so far.
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Allen Balik, a Napa resident, has been a wine collector, consultant, author, fundraiser and enthusiast for more than 40 years.
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