In some quarters, it’s become trendy to start the New Year by observing “Drynuary,” which involves abstaining from alcohol during the month of January. There’s nothing wrong with being a temporary teetotaler. But while you’re doing so, you might consider spending any newly freed-up time to think about what bottles to add to your cellar in 2014.
If you’re serious about wine, or would like to be, timing matters. It’s a peculiarity of vino that weather conditions two, three or even four years earlier dictate the regions or styles worth focusing on in any given year. For instance, 2012 is the most current available vintage for Beaujolais, but heavy rains plagued the region that year, and you would be better off drinking a bottle from either 2009 or 2010, both of which were outstanding vintages. Here are my suggestions for wines to stock up on this year, ranging in price from $25 up to $300, as well as my thoughts on whether to drink them now or let them age a bit before uncorking. At least until the end of the January.
New California: Napa vintners still churn out plenty of “Parkerized” fruit bombs, but the scene is changing fast. Some dynamic young producers, taking inspiration from Burgundy and the Northern Rhone Valley, are turning out lithe, elegant pinot noirs, chardonnays, and syrahs that emphasize minerality and acidity as much as they do ripe fruit. These are some of the most exciting wines to emerge from California in a generation, and they herald the arrival of a new golden age of Golden State winemaking.
What To Look For: Bottles from Copain Wines, Sandhi Wines, Kutch Wines, Wind Gap Wines, Tyler Winery, Lieu Dit, LIOCO, and Arnot-Roberts.
My Pick: 2011 Sandhi Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay, $60.
When To Drink It: Right away. Or you can uncork it anytime in the next 10 years.
Old California: While so-called California cult wines such as Harlan Estate, Colgin Cellars, and Sine Qua Non continue to fetch astronomical prices, savvy buyers are quietly buying up California wines from the 1970s, 80s and early 90s. Some great wines were produced in those years, and, to use stock-market parlance, they could be undervalued, if not necessarily inexpensive, and generally selling at a steep discount to Bordeaux and Burgundies of similar quality and age. But word is getting out, and that discount probably won’t last much longer.
What To Look For: Look for wines from Dominus Estate, Ridge Vineyards, Chateau Montelena and Mayacamas Vineyards.
My Pick: 1991 Dominus, $300.
When To Drink It: This is one of the all-time great California wines, and while it’s drinking beautifully now, it’s a long way from being over the hill.
Oregon: The Willamette Valley of Oregon was considered the epicenter of American pinot noir until the hit 2004 film “Sideways” shifted the spotlight to California’s Central Coast. But thanks to a series of stellar vintages in the Willamette Valley, plus the recent acquisition of a vineyard there by Maison Louis Jadot, the acclaimed Burgundy négociant, attention is shifting back to Oregon. The relatively cool climate is ideal for turning out supple, earthy pinots – the kind that resonate with Burgundy fans like me.
What To Look For: Wines from Cristom Vineyards, Domaine Drouhin, St. Innocent Winery, Ponzi Vineyards and Soter Vineyards.
My Pick: 2011 Cristom Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noir, $50.
When To Drink It: Go ahead and drink it now if you like, but this bottle has enough structure to age well for a decade, if not more.
Piedmont: The Piedmont region of Italy is the native soil of the nebbiolo grape, which produces Barolos and Barbarescos. This fabled part of northeastern Italy has had an unprecedented run of great vintages since the mid-1990s, and 2010 proved to be another excellent year. With a short crop in Burgundy and a trio of disappointing vintages in Bordeaux, a lot of wine geeks may be training their covetous eyes on Piedmont, so you should try to beat the crowd.
What To Look For: Barolos from Giuseppe Mascarello, Bartolo Mascarello (no relation), Vietti and Cantina Giacomo Conterno. For Barbarescos, try De Forville, Roagna, and Produttori del Barbaresco. If you want to experience the singular charms of Nebbiolo without spending $100 for a great bottle of Barolo or Barbaresco, there is another option. A number of producers make declassified Barolos and Barbarescos that appear under the label “Langhe Nebbiolo,” generally cost $18 to $30—and the best ones are really outstanding. Look for Langhe Nebbiolos from Vietti (the bottle is called “Perbacco”), G.D. Vajra, De Forville, and Produttori de Barbaresco.
My Pick: 2007 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato, $120.
When To Drink It: Don’t even think about touching this for another five to 10 years. Bury it in your cellar.
Chenin Blanc: Chardonnay is everywhere, sauvignon blanc is sauvignon blah, riesling has had its star turn, and even pleasant obscurities like Grüner Veltliner and albariño have had moments in the sun. It is time for a new “it” grape, and I hereby cast my vote for chenin blanc. Chenin is the most Protean grape of all, producing dry white wines, off-dry wines, sweet wines, and even delicious sparkling wines. It reaches its apogee in the Loire Valley of France, where it is used to make Vouvray and Savennières wines. At its best, chenin produces whites with a slightly waxy texture and deliciously crisp taste, with plenty of refreshing acidity to parry the citrus and fruit flavors and floral aromas. Chenin is also the most widely planted variety in South Africa, and while South African wines remain a work in progress, there are some excellent chenins coming out of the country, particularly from the Swartland region near Cape Town.
What To Look For: Vouvrays from Huet (one of the world’s great white wine producers), Foreau, Bernard Fouquet/Domaine des Aubuisières, and François Pinon. If Savennières are what you’re after, try wines from Chateau d’Epire and Domaine du Closel. Keep an eye out for A.A. Badenhorst’s Secateurs Chenin, too. It is a terrific South African chenin, and at $14 a bottle, is also one of the best value wines on the market.
My Pick: 2012 Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Sec, $25.
When To Drink It: It’s fine to drink it now, but this bottle can keep for another decade.
Mike Steinberger is the wine writer for Men’s Journal. He has also written for The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and The New York Times Magazine. His latest book, The Wine Savant: A Guide to the New Wine Culture (W.W. Norton), was published last month.
Photo of vineyards in Piedmont, northern Italy courtesy of Shutterstock.com.