As the New Year is upon us it’s time to start thinking about all the things we’re going to commit to doing and trying to better ourselves this coming year. Some of us will make the inevitable gym commitment, others will try to cut out sweets and fried foods, or perhaps you will commit to doing some charity work. All very commendable – good luck with that gym thing, though – but I want to provide another perspective on resolutions and possibly set some very attainable goals when it comes to wine habits for this coming year.
First: Try to Drink Local
One of the best things I see from my colleagues and foodies alike is a commitment to eating locally. Sourcing the best product to come from local farms and practicing organic farming there’s almost an unwritten rule in society that says, ‘if you don’t practice and support this, you are assured to be frowned upon and never part of them in the crowd.’ Supporting local businesses has become so popular these days that television advertisements run “Small Business Saturday” the day after Black Friday and again, I love this.
However, this doesn’t apply when it comes to wine. I usually receive eye rolls from my colleagues when I’m promoting the wines of California, Oregon, Washington, etc. I recently went on a Somm trip to Sonoma and during our first meal; we had one of the “stuffy Somms” on the trip fire up Spanish Rose for the table. Mind you, we were in the heart of Sonoma and drinking Txakolina. Now don’t get me wrong, the wine was delicious, but in keeping the same effort of supporting local businesses with what were we doing, I quickly ordered a bottle of Merry Edwards and Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc and hoped a trend was set.
So for this year, I’m suggesting to try and make an effort to drink more wine grown locally. When you travel to France, Italy, or Spain it’s almost impossible to find American wines on a list as they are all practicing this already. Chances are, you may not even know states like Michigan, New York, and Virginia are making delicious wines grown right in the states themselves.
If you don’t believe me check out Barboursville Octagon Red Blend from the great state of Virginia. It’s amazing. Just to be clear I’m not suggesting we stop drinking the great wines of the world, I am simply suggesting we make a conscious effort to support and realize the quality of the ones we find at home.
Second: Take Some Chances
Sommeliers love talking about wine with their guests. It’s probably the easiest, most fun and relaxing part of what we do. One of the lines I find myself always saying when helping a guest decide between two or three recommendations is, “Let’s have fun and go with the one you’ve never had before.”
Too many times folks want to stay in their safe space and order what they know. I get it though; you want to make sure you’re going to love what you’re buying. However, if you are dining at a restaurant that staffs a wine professional it’s okay to trust them. I have said this before and it is in our best interest to make you happy! If we are telling you to try a new wine you’ve never heard of, chances are the quality and value is better than your safe zone of the wine you drank dozens of times.
The same goes for when buying retail. Be adventurous in 2019! Simply tell the wine professionals what you usually drink and if there’s anything similar you may just enjoy. Again, they want to talk to you! Kendall Jackson sells the number one Chardonnay in America and with no disrespect to their brand, expand your horizons a bit and try the Sanford “Flor de Campo” Chardonnay from Santa Barbara that can usually be found for a couple bucks more. Or perhaps an Oregon Chardonnay the Somm/Retailer swears you’ll love. Chances are you’ll be finding a new love and supporting the previously mentioned small businesses.
Third: Plan a Trip to a Smaller Wine Region
In the United States, Napa Valley is the center of the winery universe, as I believe it should be. It’s unbelievably gorgeous and is the home to some of the greatest wines and restaurants on the planet. Over the years, it essentially became the Disney World for adults offering fully planned out vacations that are complete with wine tastings, luncheons, interactive winemaking, hot air balloon rides, spas, and even a wine train. There are a ton of things to do for a wino/foodie with a downright magical atmosphere to boot. If you haven’t been, go now, as you will not regret it.
For the ones to have visited Napa Valley, I suggest traveling to smaller regions in 2019 that offer amazing wine and culinary experiences. I’ll start my suggestions with Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Perhaps one of the most beautiful regions there is, Willamette Valley has really upped the ante on attracting tourism. Bed and breakfasts abound and several small towns offer up top-notch dining services that would make it easy to spend a week here. I also highly recommend Thistle in the town of McMinnville for a dining experience. All farm-to-table with the menu changing daily, it is an ideal restaurant for the wine advocate. The only negative about this restaurant is it is very small, so call well in advance for a reservation. As for wineries, there are way too many great ones to be able to list them all, but the one I wouldn’t miss is Domaine Serene Winery located in Oregon. The sheer opulence of this winery is worth the trip up the mountain alone. And the fact they have some of the highest scoring Pinot’s and Chardonnay’s Oregon has ever produced is just the icing on the cake. Day trips to the famous Mount Hood and Astoria (where the timeless The Goonies was filmed) are nice and close and a ton of fun. Oh yeah, don’t forget to ask the locals for some filberts, they will know what you are talking about when mentioning it to them.
Lastly: Don’t Judge
This may be good advice in general, but it certainly applies to the wine world in more ways than one. A common question I am asked is, “Is this wine any good?” This is a tricky question because I will only offer you my personal opinion on “said wine.” What I may think is good, may be something completely different to what you think is good. Often times, my colleagues tease me because I don’t love Red Burgundy, which seemingly every single one of them adores. I simply come back at them and say, “I drink what I like, you drink what you like.” My thought on this is, it is all about being happy.
My mom puts ice cubes in her red wine in front of me before and I’ve simply said, “Whatever makes you happy.” In the wine world, as long as you are drinking what you like, then you are good by me which is true for all aspects. I’ve heard arguments over stemless verse stemmed glassware, whether you should or shouldn’t decant, and if it’s the right time to open a 2017 Napa Valley Cabernet. All we should be offering is our advice and personal preference. Offer information and allow everyone to make it their own decision. What we shouldn’t be doing is telling people that something they enjoy is incorrect and/or shames them for doing so. The more we enjoy wine, the better it will get. Consider enjoying what you like and promote the same to others.
If you take these suggestions, this year just might make your wine world a more approachable and fun place to be part of.