Like you, I’ve spent the greater portion of my life making promises I can’t or won’t keep.
For many, that’s just a once-a-year prospect, with drunken revelry waking up next to hung-over regret, with a rudely cheerful New Year’s Day sun announcing your sins. Resolutions made in a hazy afternoon of random football ought not to count; neither sobriety nor New Year’s Day’s wounded aftereffects offer the best conditions for well-considered judgment.
The great archaeologist-historian Patrick McGovern has hypothesized that many cultures in the ancient world followed two alternative methods of collective decision-making: either the community would get drunk as skunks to make an important decision and then have another meeting the next day to evaluate and judge the sense of last night’s outcome. Or the community would meet to make a decision and then get drunk as the aforementioned mammals later that night to see if their ideas still sounded good, now that the fetters were off.
I’m not recommending either method; I offer it here simply as intellectual fodder. There is no question that what seems sensible when the brain is fractured with skull-pop (that’s old vernacular for the drink) often turns out to be hare-brained or worse the next day.
The Darwin Awards (darwinawards.com) offer cautionary tales aplenty; entire graveyards must surely be filled with headstones proclaiming, “It seemed like a good idea after those six Jell-O shots!” OK, epitaphs are rarely so candid.
Yet candor is the point. Alcohol will loosen the tongue, may untie the bonds of inhibition and can set free the imagination, for better and worse.
Here’s the purpose: far too often we censor our wildest ideas in advance so that while some real embarrassments are deservedly left on the cutting room floor, some great performances may have been swept up by the janitor.
It would seem that the world hardly needs permission to get wilder and crazier. But you do. You and everybody you know. New Year’s Eve is the night when you should say things you mean but never say.
You should do things with a certain seriousness of intent but with the lightness of frivolity. I know that I am far too stingy with my wines, for instance. I hold back the good stuff till midnight (or maybe just after that, when the crowd clears out). What a jerk.
This time, I should bring out the vintage Champagne: Henriot, Roederer, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, whatever else is down in the basement. My friends think drinking old Madeira is exciting, so why do I hold back? I have some decades-old bottles on the buffet waiting now — vintage Madeira is one of the world’s greatest values because these are wines that last virtually forever, even after they’re opened. You should stop thinking about it and go buy some and share it with your friends.
If you’ve always wondered what great Burgundy tastes like, tonight’s the night. If famous California Zinfandel is your tipple (I obsess on Ridge Vineyards, but happily drink Ravenswood’s best too), buy that; it won’t cost so much. Don’t buy your usual Chardonnay; buy Patz & Hall or Red Car or some such.
Spring for an Oregon Pinot Noir like Cristom, Domaine Drouhin, Bethel Heights or even the Ayres, the brainchild of a former Kansas Citian who went all in and headed to Oregon.
Pay ridiculous amounts for a bottle of 2009 or 2010 Bordeaux: make a poor decision. If not now, when? Make a resolution you can keep: promise to talk louder, act stupid, tell dumb jokes, forget yourself, but remember that your value is based only on how happy you can make the others around you. Tonight, give ’em what you got.
Doug Frost holds the rare dual designation of master sommelier and master of wine. He writes a monthly column for The Star’s Food section and contributes to the Chow Town blog.