Hello fellow drinkers! I have finally recovered from my New Years celebrations enough to partake in one of my favorite annual traditions: measuring the success of last year’s resolutions and dreaming up some new ones. My personal resolutions went pretty well. I managed to get engaged but didn’t get the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff position I hoped for, so I’ll consider that category a wash. Here are the results of 2008’s three major professional resolutions.
Improve my knowledge of Italian white wine
Trebbiano, Arneis, Asprinio, oh my! Of all the major wine producing regions on our beautiful planet, Italy leaves me the most flustered. I find the variety of regions and grapes overwhelming academically and many of the wines distant and obtuse when tasting without food. That is undoubtedly what led me to resolve to further my knowledge of Italian wines–like the pretty girls who haunted my junior-high existence, something is its most alluring when it frustrates and ignores you. Rather than tackle all of Italy at once, I bit off a smaller piece and focused primarily on the white wines over the past twelve months.
Ah, how quickly resolved optimism crumples under the weight of reality. While I certainly have a stronger understanding of and passion for these wines than I did last January, I am not quite the bipedal encyclopedia of Italian viticulture that I had hoped to become. The turning point for me came in the spring when I lounged on the patio with a glass of Insolia and a copy of Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy by Bastianich & Lynch. What I had hoped would be an enlightening read turned into a cerebral struggle of Homeric proportions. So many grapes, so many regional variations; I was quickly learning that this resolution would require more than a year to reach, um, resolution. I, in turn, did what any thinking man would do. I abandoned the book halfway through, replaced it with a plate of tapenade and hard cheese, and started learning the old-fashioned. It’s going to be a long journey, and a man gets hungry along the way.
Spread awareness of (and love for) Portuguese wine
Nobody thinks about and searches for value wine like the Lush staff does without quickly realizing that Portugal is one of the great untapped resources for delicious, honest wines at exciting prices. Having finally adopted many of the winemaking improvements that changed the quality of French, Italian and Spanish regional wines over the last decades, many Portuguese producers are now able to provide reliable products that merit consumer confidence and interest around the world.
What causes me to pay special notice to these wines, however, is the degree to which those vignerons largely ignore major international varietals (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc) in favor of the vines that have graced their hillsides for generations. While it’s true that no customer to date has ever asked me for a bottle of Aragonez, Castelão, or Vinho Branco, countless have been pleased by the unique, intriguing and altogether tasty wines made from those grapes that I have sent them home with.
We all start our oenophilia drinking wine from unfamiliar grapes, but some us lose our exploratory tendencies over time. Nothing could be farther from the Lush attitude, and few regions provide us the opportunity to provide exotic, intriguing wines at affordable prices the way that Portugal does. I have spent the last year advocating these wines on an almost daily basis and have enjoyed fantastic success. Thanks to those growers and winemakers who take pride in their regional identity, and special thanks to all the open-minded, enthusiastic wine lovers who helped make this resolution a resounding success
Learn more about whiskey cocktails
I respect and enjoy most every quality spirit. I love whiskey. I love whiskey like I love the movie Pumping Iron: inexplicably, irrationally, and seemingly without limit. Bourbon, rye, Irish and Scotch, I am fascinated by them all. I will never need to resolve to pursue and study whiskey more, that will happen by itself. Cocktails, however, are a bit of a departure for me, so I hoped to spend 2008 learning how whiskey plays with others.
Fortunately for me, the Violet Hour, Chicago’s repository for information concerning both cocktails and antique menswear, is located within walking distance from my home, so I wouldn’t have to do all my studying alone. I can assure you that if I ever straggled home in less than a straight line it was due solely to the burden of the knowledge I had just acquired.
The first thing I learned about whiskey cocktails in specific was that I knew almost nothing about all cocktails in general, so it was back to the basics for me. Fortunately, the basics are available online, as Jerry Thomas’ classic tome on spirits and their service can be found right here. Now 147 years old, this book is responsible for 90% of what I know about cocktails. May your Manhattans always have rye, may your punch be chilled, and may your Blue Blazer never ignite the linen.
Again, while I am by no means an expert on whiskey cocktails at this point, I have cultivated a personal interest and enthusiasm that should lead to many delicious explorations of these beverages in the future.
Resolutions for 2009:
Memorize the villages and appellation personalities in Champagne.
Learn more about the uses and influences of Brettanomyces, Saccharomyces and other bacteria in the brewing process.
Learn more about (and continue to advocate) Washington state wines, especially the Bordeaux varietals.
What a year. Happy drinking!