I started off last year with a look into my drinking agenda for the year ahead, and got a lot of comments from readers about their own plans. How did I do on my list? Not so well in the wine department: I drank very little Bordeaux, Chilean, or Portuguese wine. On the spirits side, however, I followed through. So this year, over my customary New Year’s Day Bloody Mary, I again thought about what there is to learn in the upcoming year. I think this is a pretty solid list. I’m eager to hear what beverages you readers are curious about as well.
Beaujolais—This area of France, with its joyous wines and bouncy, optimistic name, has by many accounts been slowly dying for a number of years. It’s convenient to blame its troubles (as many do) on Beaujolais Nouveau, that gimmicky young, fruity wine whose release is “celebrated” every third Thursday of November. The event smacks of a Hallmark holiday, a commercial ploy. And the wine’s just not good.
But the Beaujolais Nouveau cannot be solely to blame. One thing that’s easy to see is that the best of the serious wines from Beaujolais—Lapierre, Foillard, Potel-Aviron—are extremely fine and age-worthy. And yet they are also screaming-good deals compared to neighboring Burgundy, even though it’s expensive and laborious to grow and produce good Beaujolais. So, I intend to find the other great producers. And then I intend to find out what exactly is ailing the region.
Madeira—Sweet wines seem to be falling out of favor. I don’t have hard data on that, just observation and intuition. Port’s hurting. And who buys and drinks ice wine? But one thing I happen to know is that Madeira’s star is rising. A Madeira importer recently told me that his stock is flying off the shelves. As a sweet wine, Madeira is interesting because many good ones are not unctuous at all, but rather well balanced and exciting, with acidity that lights up your mouth. Furthermore, the bottles keep forever, even after being opened. The danger facing Madeira? Vineyard land on the island is disappearing. The importer I talked to informed me that there may be just 300 hectares left. That’s fewer than 750 acres of vineyard producing Madeira in the world. I hope to discover a lot more about this wine and this place, and do my part to hinder its extinction.
Washington State—I haven’t checked in with my original home state in quite some time. This was partially out of lack of interest. Over the years I’d noticed that the wines, which used to have subtlety and finesse, were turning into jammy, overripe bludgeons. But lately there are a few things I’ve tasted that are bringing me back, such as wines from Seven Hills Winery and Gramercy Cellars. Perhaps these producers, with their stated interest in balanced ripeness and lower alcohol levels, are not alone. I plan on swooping in for a closer look.
Rum—I’d like to improve my knowledge of this spirit. I’m fairly well-versed on rhum agricole from Martinique, but that’s piddling compared to the vast number of countries and places producing the spirit: Guyana, Panama, Tennessee, even western Massachusetts. There’s a lot to learn about each rum producer: where its cane or molasses comes from, the particularities of its stills, the climate of the aging environment. And tasting and tasting. Even then I can’t hope to approach the mastery of Ed Hamilton, the Minister of Rum.
Beer—Like rum, beer is obviously a very large category. But I’d like to learn a little more about the details that casual beer drinkers don’t hear about too much: the varieties of hops and how they’re used; how the brewing styles and the brewer’s mastery of styles affects the beers. And then I just need to bone up on so many of the styles out there, from Vienna lager to Flanders brown ale.
So, that’s a little bit of what I hope to discover in 2010. And maybe I’ll also backtrack into Bordeaux and Portugal to complete unfinished business from 2009. Either way, it looks to be a good year for drink.