- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2005

When it comes to saving money or losing weight, New Year’s resolutions can be a burden. That’s why most get abandoned before Groundhog Day. When it comes to wine, though, resolutions are easy. After all, they’re designed to enhance your pleasure, not tighten your belt. Here, then, are 10 New Year’s wine resolutions, suggestions of ways to make buying and drinking the world’s most enjoyable beverage even more enjoyable in 2005.

DRINK MORE BUBBLY

Sparkling wine is not just a special-occasion item. If bubbles in the wine make a wedding or ship launching seem festive, imagine what they can do for a Wednesday-night supper at home. So this year, resolve to drink bubbly more often. If price isn’t a big concern, buy true champagne from France. It’s still the best. For those of us who need to be budget-conscious, remember that good sparkling wine comes from elsewhere at a fraction of the price. The vibrant, citrusy Lindauer Brut ($10) from New Zealand heads my personal list of favorites. Nearly as good are Jacob’s Creek ($12) from Australia, Segura Viudas’ Aria ($9) from Spain and Marquis de la Tour ($8) from the Loire Valley in France. Why not try all of them this year?

MORE ROSE IN SUMMER

Dry rose wines offer some of the tastiest values on today’s market. Come warm weather, make sure to have some on hand. Served chilled, they offer the advantage of refreshment (like crisp whites) and substance (like reds), so they pair well with a bountiful range of foods. Wines from the 2004 vintage will be arriving in shops this spring. Look for specific recommendations in this space later in the year.

DON’T BUY BY THE CASE

Though a house wine makes sense in a restaurant, it doesn’t make sense for consumers at home. Diversity, not reliability, is the great pleasure of wine. (If you want reliability, drink Budweiser. It never — yawn — changes.) One way to avoid getting in a wine rut, drinking the same chardonnay or the same cabernet week after week, is to resolve to stop buying it by the case. Limit yourself to purchasing three or four bottles of any given wine at a time. Then fill the rest of the carton with other wines. That way, you’ll be sure always to have something new and different to try.

STOP SAVING IT

Though only a small percentage of wines improve with age — and only with the benefit of proper storage — many people hold onto a special bottle far too long before opening it. Invariably, the wine disappoints — a white having oxidized, a red having become tired and dull. So stop saving your wine and start enjoying it. No wine is so special that it doesn’t belong in a glass.

USE GOOD GLASSES

Speaking of glass, a good one, meaning one made of real glass, preferably thin crystal, can make a world of difference. A wine served in it will taste and smell more evocative and nuanced than the same wine served in something else. That’s why good glassware is the one wine accessory worth buying. Forget fancy corkscrews, preservation devices (most of which disappoint) and the like. Do buy good glasses.

The Austrian company Riedel makes some of the best glasses for specific types of wine, but don’t go overboard with the types. One or two good multipurpose glasses — perhaps a larger one for reds and a smaller one for whites — will do fine. The Riedel Vinum series, at about $20 to $25 a stem, is first-rate. Almost as good are Spiegelau’s Vino Grande glasses at $12 to $15. One note of caution: Wash these by hand. Removing shards of glass from the bottom of the dishwasher is never fun.

START SHARING IT

Wine almost always shows its best when it’s shared. Just as you can hold onto a special bottle too long, you can make a serious mistake by waiting for just the right company. Resolve now to go through your collection — be that 10 bottles or 1,000 — and decide which wines you are going to drink, and share, in 2005.

BROADEN YOUR HORIZONS

More and more good wine comes from more and more places every year. So in 2005, be sure to try more wines from grapes or places you don’t know. Odds are that you’ll be delightfully surprised.

Here are two specific suggestions. For white-wine drinkers, explore pinot gris, arguably today’s most misunderstood white grape variety.

The misunderstanding stems from the varietal’s profile when in Italian guise as pinot grigio. That’s because grapes for pinot grigio are picked when barely ripe, so the resulting wines taste crisp, thin and often quite shrill. By contrast, when picked fully ripe, pinot gris yields much richer, fuller and more sumptuous wines.

The standard-bearers come from Alsace, France. Try Adam Reserve 2003 ($18) to get an initial sense of why they can be so exciting. Then cross the ocean and try an American rendition. Adelsheim 2003 ($18) from Oregon would be a good choice. For red-wine lovers, journey to northeastern Spain — specifically, to the region of Montsant in Catalonia. Montsant, an up-and-coming appellation, produces deeply flavored red wines that at their best are marked by both power and finesse. Try Perlat Unio Crianza 2000 ($15), a seductive blend of grenache, carignane and syrah. Or the more youthful La Planella 2003 by Joan d’Anguera ($18). Both taste distinctive and delicious.

TRY LOCAL WINES

Some fine wines are being made close to home these days — not in the District, but in Maryland and even more in Virginia. Resolve to support your neighbors and try their wines.

In Maryland, producers whose labels can be worth seeking include Basignani, Boordy and Elk Run. More wines of that quality (and in fact an overall higher level of quality) abound in Virginia. Consistent favorites include Breaux (especially for chardonnay), Chrysalis (for viognier), Whitehall (for just about everything) and Barboursville.

TRUST YOUR PALATE

Buying wine can be intimidating — more so, surely, than buying beer, orange juice, vodka, coffee or any other beverage. That’s because the same factors that make wine so exciting — diversity and variety — also make it befuddling. How do you know what to buy when a good shop offers thousands of options? The answer is to get to know and trust your own taste, all the while recognizing that tastes change over time. In turn, that means not following so-called experts who promote this or that wine with hyperbolic rhetoric and 90-plus point scores. A high number means nothing if not accompanied by some explanation of how it was derived. Even with such accompaniment, the number won’t help you if the person who assigned it doesn’t share your likes and dislikes.

BE DILIGENT IN RESTAURANTS

Buying wine in restaurants can be frustrating. Service is often poor and prices exorbitant. The best strategy is to be diligent. One example: Be sure to examine the bottle the waiter brings you, as the vintage on the label may not match the one promised on the list. When that happens, forcefully voice your displeasure.

Restaurateurs won’t begin to improve wine service until they know that we patrons are unhappy with the status quo.

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