How to be a smarter, more adventurous wine drinker in the new year

A new year brings an opportunity for recalibration, rejuvenation and resuscitation. I don’t call them resolutions, because I still haven’t dropped those 20 pounds or written that book or even those thank you notes. And I still don’t drink enough riesling.

But I do like to jolt myself out of my routine and look for new ways to enjoy my favorite hobby. Last year, I proposed four simple recommendations for juicing up your wine life: Cultivate a relationship with your local wine merchant; explore the wines of a particular region, such as Bordeaux or Argentina’s Mendoza, or your favorite grape from different regions of the world; support your local wine region; and splurge once in a while.

These are still good ideas. This year, I’d like to take them a bit further.

When you travel for business or pleasure, check out the local wines or wineries. I’m the type who pesters a heartland sommelier for a glass of the local frontenac gris. Local wineries typically have trouble cracking the tight real estate of a restaurant wine list, but if enough customers ask about the local vino, sommeliers take notice. (This situation has improved markedly in the Washington, D.C., area, as Virginia wines, especially, have gained recognition over the past decade.)

Keeping on the local theme — visit a winery for the first time. I tend to revisit old favorites at the expense of the new. This year, I need to check in at Linden Vineyards, which is turning 40 years old, as well as Crimson Lane Vineyards and Capstone Vineyards, new neighbors who opened last year. My Charlottesville friends are abuzz about Southwest Mountains Vineyards, which opened near Keswick in October; while I’m there, I may zip over to Merrie Mill Farm and Vineyard. And there’s much to explore in the Shenandoah Valley.

Most of all, I want to encourage your sense of adventure. By all means enjoy your favorite wines, but once in a while take a chance on something different recommended by your local wine retail specialist (this is a plug for the specialty wine store) or even your local wine writer.

What will we see in wine this year? As consumers continue to choose wines based on more than price and flavor, I suspect we’ll see innovative efforts to promote wines by minority and women winemakers. More wine will be in lighter bottles, because consumers are demanding it and because sustainability and organic certifications are driving wineries to reduce their carbon footprint. We should see more wine in clear glass (more easily recycled) and without capsules over the cork (wasteful and an unnecessary cost). We should see more good wine in alternative packaging such as boxes, cans and aluminum bottles.

We should see more transparency, as European Union requirements for ingredient labeling take effect. You might not see these on the labels, but scan that QR code if you’re interested in what just went into your glass.

And we will also see more wine alternatives and low-alcohol, zero alcohol, or dealcoholized wines as the industry continues to come to grips with its reputation for excess, and consumers pull back from pandemic bingeing and seek the wine experience without the buzz. There will be more virtuous preening with Dry January and Sober October instead of year-round moderation. Unfortunately, this also comes with increased Prohibitionist sentiment, as medical studies and politics swing back to the argument that any alcohol consumption is harmful.

I hope you will keep your sense of adventure in exploring wine throughout 2024.

Looking back: We lost a Napa Valley legend on Dec. 13 with the passing of Miljenko Grgich, at age 100. Mike, as he was known, came to California in the late 1950s from Yugoslavia with the dream of making world-class wine. He achieved that goal in 1976 with the famous Paris Tasting, when the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 1973 he had made impressed top French critics more than some highly regarded white Burgundies did. The cardboard suitcase he carried to the United States in the 1950s, filled with winemaking textbooks, is now on display in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, along with a bottle of the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and the Stag’s Leap Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 1973, the top-scoring red wine from the Paris Tasting.

Grgich started his own winery, Grgich Hills Estate, in 1977. It has been a pioneer in biodynamic viticulture in Napa Valley and produces exceptional fumé blanc (sauvignon blanc) and cabernet sauvignon.

I met Grgich on two occasions, here in Washington and at his house in Yountville when I was writing about the 40th anniversary of the Paris Tasting. My memories, along with his trademark beret, are of the sheer joy he expressed about wine and the opportunities he had to make wine here in the United States.

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