Like many of you, I consider the new year a time to look back on the previous year, as well as to make a few resolutions. It probably won't surprise you that a lot of my reflection centers on wine.
I don't put together top 10 lists, but I tasted some memorable wines last year. And some weren't terribly expensive.
Spain is a treasure trove for satisfying, sometimes surprising, wines for good prices. One standout was the 2012 La Mirada de Secastilla Garnacha Blanca ($16) from Somontano, in northern Spain. The wine is fresh and juicy, with fleshy white fruit and a persistent finish. It elicited a "this is really good" from one of my hosts when I brought the wine to dinner. I also tasted a number of delicious, reasonably priced wines (think garnacha and garnacha-based blends) from other semi-obscure Spanish locales, like Calatayud and Campo de Borja.
Some of the whites from Campania, the area around Naples, Italy, blew me away when I visited there last year. At the small Pietracupa winery near Avellino, I tasted some fantastic current-release fiano and greco di tufo (both about $25), as well as some older vintages that surprised me because I didn't expect these fresh, crisp whites to age so well.
There were other memorable older wines, like a 2003 Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir from Joseph Drouhin that my husband and I enjoyed with an aged Comte cheese in Paris. The 2003 vintage was hot and dry -- atypical for Chablis -- so I wondered how the wine would fare, but it had aged beautifully. Some older California wines were impressive, too, like the 1965 Charles Krug cabernet sauvignon and 1974 Robert Mondavi Reserve cabernet sauvignon that were poured in honor of Peter Mondavi's 99th birthday. The Mondavi wine was special to me because it was the wine that sparked my initial interest in California wine when I first encountered it in the late 1970s.
But enough looking back. What about the year ahead? One resolution that I'm making for 2014 is to open some of the wines I've collected over the years, many of them purchased before I started writing about wine. I spend so much time now trying to keep up with current releases that I neglect the wines I put away years ago. I recently pulled out a 1986 Congress Springs Cabernet Franc from outside Saratoga to share with a few Santa Cruz Mountains winemakers. The winery is long gone (replaced by Savannah-Chanelle), and I had no idea how the wine would taste. What a great surprise! It was silky and delicious. Ditto the 1985 Merryvale red blend from Napa Valley that I drank over the holidays.
Other bottles haven't held up so well, and I wish I had gotten to them sooner. I think it's always better to drink a wine that's a little too young than one that's too old. Even if you don't have a cellar or big collection, there's a good chance you have a few bottles that you're saving for a special occasion. Don't wait too long. Plan a nice meal and open those wines before they're past their prime.
And what new wines to explore in 2014? Spain will be a primary target. That garnacha blanca from Somontano was just one bottle that demonstrated to me that I've only scratched the surface when it comes to learning about Spain's wines. There's also a well-known Spanish wine that I plan to drink more of: fino sherry and its briny cousin, manzanilla sherry. Both are dry and pair nicely with seafood, Spanish ham, hard cheeses and nibbles like olives and almonds. The widely available Tio Pepe Fino sells for just $20.
The tongue-twisting wines of Greece (like xinomavro or assyrtiko) also warrant more exploration. And I'm hoping to try more wines from around the States: riesling from Michigan and the Finger Lakes of New York, Rhone blends from Arizona, viognier from Virginia. I'm also determined to drink more bubbly from all over the world on a regular basis.
Sparkling wine often is reserved for celebrations, but popping a cork can turn any night into something a little more celebratory.
Contact Laurie Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org.