Drink what you love. That seems simple enough. But especially around this time of year, it's easy to believe we deserve to indulge in special potable treats, and it's easy to look to professionals on how to indulge in those treats. So we read up and assume high scores are the highway to nirvana. If that fails, we might pay a whole heck of a lot on a bottle as that must mean something, and then assume we're drinking an amazing wine.
For instance, look at the roots that made champagne the official celebratory drink. In many ways it's been the most brilliant PR campaign of all time. First, champagne-makers convinced royalty that champagne was the thing and the rest is history. When French royalty wasn't a key market -- with the guillotine and all -- it became aspirational for the merchant class who knew they made it when they could afford champagne for the big moments in life. Plus bubbles are fun. Fast-forward centuries later, and they still are. A new year is a pretty big deal. Time to celebrate!
So I'm not saying you shouldn't drink sparkling wine on New Year's Eve. (When in doubt, never turn you back on California's best base-level bubbly, Roederer Estate Brut from the bucolic Anderson Valley.) But perhaps you don't even like sparkling wine, or really prefer a hearty red or a beer. It's an event of rejoicing: there's a new year, the days are getting longer, or it may simply be "Damn, I'm getting old and need a drink!"
So have what you want. Here are a few of my favorites to consider.
Alpine Beer Company Pure Hoppiness
In an unsettling year when it seemed like every Southern California craft brewer got bought up by a conglomerate (Saint Archer, Firestone Walker, Golden Road, Ballast "Billion $" Point), there was at least one great beer story in the the business page section. Alpine, in the mountains of east San Diego, now has significant distribution and production thanks to its deal with Green Flash. Among all the other positives about this partnership, one result is Pure Hoppiness getting a wide seasonal release in 12-ounce six-packs.
For years, Pure Hoppiness was the Holy Grail of ales for those who want hops big. And even when "mass" produced, it's a lovely high-wire mix of bitter hops and balancing malt, and Southern California's answer to Russian River's Pliny the Elder without as much hype. A double IPA at just 8% ABV, it's about as delicious as big beer gets. So if you want bubbles at midnight, why not celebrate with this?
Dehlinger Pinot Noir
I simply haven't lavished enough praise on this Sonoma producer, who in addition to their standout pinots, makes fine cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and syrah. But their pinots are ever something lovely, with plenty of cherry and red berry fruit and a sense of earth and spice, that few other California winemakers achieve consistently. I recently had the pleasure of opening a 2002 vintage, and even that was vibrant, but yet more complex with age. Our state's wines aren't supposed to pull that off. So what better way to celebrate a new year than with an old wine?
One of the other amazing things about Dehlinger is they have a label that would attract no one looking for marketing glitz. Red and black print on a white label. No art. They aren't spending their money on a graphic designer -- it's all in the bottle.
Goodland Wines Santa Ynez Valley Red Wine 2012
Okay, this label might beat the Dehlinger for boring: black print on brown paper that has some lineation. But what's more, the label doesn't even state what grapes you'll be drinking. The gang at Goodland (Matt Dees from Jonata, Dave Potter at Potek and Municipal Winemakers Ruben Solorzano and Chris Snowden) want to tie California wines to location just as they do in Europe, where Burgundy was a place before a name on a bottle.
So for $25 you score this syrah-grenache blend that will blow your Rhone-loving socks off, with rich berry fruit, bramble, and pepper. For the price, it's one of my favorite wines of the year.