Looking ahead to 2014

Chidaine Sparkling Chenin Blanc

New Year's brings with it resolutions...hopes for a better year or for becoming or doing better. Reducing stress. Spending more time with family and friends. Exercising more. Eating better. Drinking better.

Drinking better? Why not? Pretty much every wine zealot with a computer has a suggestion for how you might drink better in 2014. I've enjoyed reading a number of them. Many of the suggestions are thoughtful. Some seem a bit simplistic.

That is, they seem a bit simplistic to me. But if they work for the people involved, great! My resolution--and my suggestion--for 2014 in wine is a relentless pursuit of the interesting. That does not mean I have to cross off all 1,368 vine varieties that Jancis Robinson and her colleagues identified in their book Wine Grapes. And it doesn't mean that all my wine has to come from the far fringes of Moldova, Brazil or India. But it does mean I have to have to leave my comfort zone and do some exploring.

It means I have to limit the understandable instinct we all have to settle for Old Faithfuls--the wines that we know well and trust. There's nothing wrong with wines we trust…if you're having a party and can't afford to have the wine fail, then do what makes sense. But don't live in that rut. Get out and see the world!

Search for wines that make you cock your head and say "Hmmmm!" Wines that challenge you. That make you turn and say "Wow! This is interesting." Some of those will, on reflection, be really good. Some probably won't. But if I find them interesting, I'll be glad I tasted them, even if I don't want to race out to buy more.

Interesting can be new grapes. New regions. New approaches. Even new producers. And by that, I mean new to me (or you). Orange wine (essentially white wine left on the skins for a period of time rather than immediately pressed off as is the norm) may have been yesterday's hot trend in New York or San Francisco, but if you haven't explored it, it's a new approach to you. Interesting expands your horizons…interesting engages you in a dialogue with the wine as you try to figure it out. If you take one or two sips and turn your brain off, it is--by definition--not interesting. If you take one or two sips and say to yourself "this tastes a lot like the wine I had last week and the week before..." it is--by definition--not interesting. It may be pleasant. But it is not interesting. And my resolution is to pursue interesting.

You can explore randomly, if you want…a little here and a little there. Not a bad way to start. But once you find some wines you find interesting, it may make sense to focus a bit. Read about them. Perhaps find a wine consultant that knows the area and get some recommendations. In a perfect world, you might even visit the area…walk the vineyards and meet the people that make the wines.

There is so much good wine in our world--so incredibly much good wine--that it's beyond just lazy to drink the same stuff over and over…it's dumb. Pushing the comfort zone won't always produce new favorites. There is an inherent element of risk in pursuit of the interesting. If you're really exploring, some will fail (at least for you)...you wont like them. But pursuing the interesting will produce some new favorites and a much broader menu from which to choose when buying or ordering wine. And here's an added bonus--interesting wines are often pretty good values.

Case in point. I love champagne. Lately, I've focused primarily on grower champagnes. On Christmas Eve I opened two new ones. One I loved, one I didn't. But I found them both interesting. More on Christmas Day and New Year's Eve. So, in a week, I'd had a fair amount of champagne (and in days to come, I'll have more). For New Year's brunch, why not something different. Something from somewhere other than the Champagne region? Made with something other than the standard grapes: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier?

The first bottle was from Virginia. Yes, Virginia. It was the 2008 Shaps/Stafford Methode--produced by the well-respected Michael Shaps. It's made in the traditional method--the method used in Champagne--but with cabernet franc. Non-traditional grape, non-traditional region. We cocked our heads and looked at it--and then at each other--said "hmmm" several times--and then enjoyed it as an aperitif and with the bright flavors of brunch's first course. Interesting and good.

The second bottle of bubbles was from the Loire--the François Chidaine Mèthode Traditionelle Brut--sparkling chenin blanc from the Montlouis area. RIch and peachy--but with a crisp acidic edge--it was also interesting…and went well with the fascinating combination of pork shoulder, creamed collard greens and poached egg that Chef Dunlap whipped up.

Both wines made us think. That made for a richer experience than ordering a champagne we knew we'd like because we knew what it would taste like.

It takes some focus and discipline to relentlessly pursue the interesting. You have to take your mind off autopilot. But isn't that what resolutions are about? Focus and discipline to enable us to do better? If it was easy, it wouldn't require a resolution.

Give some thought to skipping Old Faithful in 2014 and pursuing the interesting.


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