What to Drink in 2009

Paul Blow

Here’s a good task for the beginning of the year: Plan out what you’ll be drinking. Every January 1, with my head still smarting from the night before, I make a short list of things from the wide world of drink I want to concentrate on learning more about. Here are some of the things I pondered while drinking my special New Year’s Day Bloody Mary (secret ingredients: pepperoncini juice, soy sauce molasses, and beef broth—technically making it more similar to a Bloody Bull).

In wine, I have a big project: Bordeaux. I have a cursory knowledge of the top growths—one that, at least in tasting, I don’t expect to improve much this year. Who can afford those wines? But I’m most interested in discovering more about the less famous bottles that offer great value for the price. Wines from appellations like Fronsac, Listrac, the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux, the Côtes de Bourg, the Côtes de Blaye, and all those other places we never hear about because so much ink is expelled on Pomerol, Saint-Émilion, and so on. Yes, these lesser regions have the reputation for making rustic, tannic reds, but modern viticulture and vinification techniques have enabled them to make better and better wines. Most of these regions have temperate climates and limestone-rich soils that new-world appellations would kill for.

Another European wine project of mine is Portugal. I have really enjoyed the simple, dry red wine made by Quinta do Crasto. Its direct, earthy flavors and clear, wild-berry fruit are perfect for a casual weeknight dinner. I know Portugal’s got a lot more to offer on that level, and I’m interested in looking into dry reds and whites from appellations like the Alentejo, Dão, Douro, and Bairrada. Of course, I also want to get back into the habit of drinking the occasional glass of port after dinner. The only problem with that is just keeping the tally at one.

Beyond Europe, I’m looking forward to revisiting Chile. No one talks much about Chilean wine anymore, but the tastings I’ve done over the past year have given me reason for encouragement. The “Laurel” Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, and “Litoral” Pinot Noir from Casa Marin are head-turning. Similarly, the wines from Cono Sur tend to be fantastic deals and made in the restrained, food-friendly style I love.

It’s not all about wine, though. I’ve found myself drinking more and more vermouth, just straight up or with a cube or two of ice. I’ve fallen in love with the herbal, botanical flavors and the light, airy texture that comes from slight fortification. Recently I tried the Dolin line of vermouths—esteemed products having new life breathed into them by a new importer, the excellent Haus Alpenz. They’re a different, lighter style than we’re used to with the Cinzanos and Martini & Rossis of the world, and well worth some exploration.

I also plan on drinking more mezcal, especially now that the great producer of single-village bottlings, Del Maguey, has some company in the category of fine mezcals with Los Danzantes and the brand-new Sombra, which is absolutely delicious.

And, finally, I’m going to try to make a dent in all the absinthe I’ve collected over the past year. Absinthe’s legalization in 2008 has led to a flood of products, like Kübler, Lucid, St. George, and even Mansinthe from Marilyn Manson. Now I find myself with a shelf full of the stuff—much of which is quite good—but an appetite for it not as great as my excitement for its legitimization.

And what about you? I’m curious about your areas of drinking interest for 2009.

Jordan Mackay is a San Francisco–based wine and spirits specialist whose work has appeared in publications such as Gourmet, the Los Angeles Times, Food & Wine, and Decanter. Follow him on Twitter. Follow CHOW too, and become a fan on Facebook.