THOUGHTS ON DRY JANUARY AND MY FAVORITE WINES OF THE PAST YEAR
O.K., O.K., I admit. Dry January is a thing. It has been for awhile. It's been getting more and more press each year, so it seems that the whole country has gone teetotaler all at once. The idea that people who drink to excess during the holidays need a whole month to dry out is, well, almost too much to bear. All that wonderful winter shellfish and you’re going to drink apple juice with it?
For those who drank too damn much in December, you’ll probably be drinking too damn much in February when this Dry January business is behind you. In fact, if you drink twice as much in February (especially on Valentine’s Day and that meaningful holiday President’s Day), you can make up for what you missed in January, and it’ll all even out.
I understand wanting to get healthier in the New Year. I’ve been making weight-loss resolutions each year since 1963, and I get it. But January is the time for Boeuf Bourguignon, hearty stews and prime rib au jus, and those dishes cry out for Pinot Noir, Bordeaux, Cabernet, Brunello di Montalcino and maybe even Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Are you going to order a shellfish platter and wash down your oysters, clams, crab legs and prawns with Perrier and a squeeze of lime? I agree it’s unwise to do Fireball shooters with your oyster shooters, but a well-timed glass or two of Chablis won’t push you over the edge, unless you’re living on the edge already.
Dry January? How about going a whole month without music? Repression is never healthy. It just makes you want to go bananas when you’re back on the wagon.
My Favorite Things
I had some real surprises this past year, especially from some of our favorite wineries who produced some of their best wines in a long time.
I particularly loved the 2021 Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire Valley, which have been bright and balanced right out of the gate. Importer Michael Sullivan of Beaune Imports told me the 21s are brilliant, but there aren’t very much of them due to horrific weather challenges in the vineyards that year which reduced yields. We stocked up before the holidays, but our supplies were depleted after New Year’s Eve, and we don’t know how long our importers will have enough wine to re-order all year long.
Standouts were the 2021 Sancerre from Domaine des Vieux Pruniers ($26.99) and the 2021 Pouilly-Fumé from Regis Minet ($29.99), both flawless representatives of their respective appellations.
Manciat-Poncet, whose white wines from Macon-Charnay and Pouilly-Fuissé have been proudly strutting their stuff on our shelves for over a quarter century, hit both wines out of the park with their current releases. The 2020 Manciat-Poncet Mâcon-Charnay Les Chênes ($18.99) is textbook no-oak Chardonnay, offering up a gentle richness intermingled with minerally elements, I assume, from the sprinkling of limestone in their vineyard. A few miles away near the famous wine village of Pouilly-Fuissé in view of the imposing Roche de Vergisson, Manciat-Poncet produces a wine that always had the potential to make perfect Pouilly-Fuissé—basically a fuller, deeper version of the Mâcon-Charnay. Some years, it seemed like there was too much oak, other years, ripeness was a little bit too blousy. The 2020 Manciat-Poncet Pouilly-Fuissé La Haut de la Roche ($31.99) is exactly right. One sip and I knew why the appellation has been a favorite of classic wine lists for my entire adult life. For me, they are two of the most joyous surprises of the year.
Speaking of classic wines from favorite producers, a new wine from Dominique Piron had me looking up the appellation--Beaujolais-Lantignie--because I had never heard of it. It certainly isn't part of the ten prestige Cru Beaujolais regions, but according to Avery's there is talk the tiny region might become the 11th. The 2020 Piron-Revillon "Fructus Agape" Beaujolais-Lantignie Gamay de Lantignie ($19.99) delighted me the first moment I looked at it, smelled it and tasted its concentrated berry-like essence. This is top-notch old-school Beaujolais, the kind of wine that once made Beaujolais an essential component of restaurant wine lists for its ability to enhance almost anything, including vinaigrette salads. Beaujolais is often frustrating to select because all too often it is either vapid mass-produced swill or non-interventionist funk juice. The Piron-Revillon is neither; its simply the joy of wine encapsulated in a single bottle.
Italy provided a lot of dependable wines this past year, but the most memorable came from a flashy bottle of 2015 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino Pianrosso Riserva Santa Caterina d’Oro ($189.99) at a show-off wine dinner with a bunch of wine guys at a local Japanese steakhouse. It stole the show. Before you rush out to order bottles of this, we only had one left as I was writing this, and cannot order any more. Fortunately, Kevin Lepisto, our Italian wine buyer, told me he loved the 2016 ($199.99)—also in very short supply. If you can’t pop for one of these big boys, try the overperforming Dolcetto from Piedmont, Pecchenino’s 2020 Dogliani San Luigi ($18.99) a master-class in the variety. An invigorating Super-Tuscan came across our desk from a favorite Chianti estate, 2017 Rocca di Montegrossi Toscana Geremia ($60.99). Drizzle a good EVO to finish a thick-cut Florence-style Porterhouse and enjoy this full-flavored blend of Bordeaux varieties with its unmistakable Italian pedigree.
My Spanish surprise came with the 2021 Rioja Blanco from Izadi ($22.99), a crisp white wine jam packed with minerally satisfaction. My most exciting German wine this year was the 2021 Dönnhoff Nahe Estate Riesling ($23.99), a lightly sweet, perfectly realized example of the superiority of the appellation, variety and prestige estate.
Christmas dinners are good excuses to bring out the good stuff, and two wines impressed me more than the others this past holiday season. Christmas Eve, Dale and I toasted the evening with a bottle of N.V. A. Chauvet Rosé Champagne ($54.99), a generous, full-bodied, opulent, fruity tulip glass full of grower deliciousness. It was the second time during the holidays I enjoyed this wine, and I must say, it bowled me over both times. Ask Samantha Dugan, our bubble diva, about Champagne Rosés in recent years and she’ll tell you something has been off with them. Perhaps climate change is screwing up the balance in the category, and that’s a shame. There was a time when connoisseurs considered Champagne Rosé to be the world’s ultimate sparkling wine, a delicacy among delicacies. Do yourself a favor and sample A. Chauvet’s version and behold history repeating itself. Smoked salmon, anyone?
For our Christmas dinner of perfectly roasted Prime Rib provided by our neighbors Carrie and David, I wanted to audition a new Grand Cru red Burgundy we just acquired, the 2018 Ruchottes Chambertin Grand Cru from Frederick Esmonin ($179.99), so I did. Usually, it is akin to infanticide when opening a Grand Cru Burgundy at this young age, but in this case the fruit was so vibrant, and the wine’s aroma, beginning, middle and end were so seamless and so loaded with the exact kind of black-cherry fruit I crave with Pinot Noir, I reveled in every sniff and every sip. For me it is a luxury to pay this kind of money for any bottle of wine, but what are holidays for, anyway?
Especially when shared with wine-loving friends.