The great French epicure Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin insisted that those who suffered from indigestion or drunkenness were simply ignorant of the “true principles of eating and drinking.”
There’s no harm in imagining that there are such “true principles,” but here’s the simple truth. Don’t want to have a hangover? Don’t drink so much.
Yet we are consumed with parties during this already overbooked 31-day window. Humans are innately social creatures, and we like to make merry. Alcohol has been a traditional ingredient for much of our species’ celebrations since time immemorial, and I don’t wish to unduly discourage it. Just be sure to temper your enthusiasm, as alcohol is just one element of a happy gathering.
Remember, the only truly crucial ingredient to a great party is people, hopefully some who have a sense of humor and play. Yes, I know this is one of alcohol’s benefits: It loosens the mind and tongue (sometimes to less than ideal effect). But add play to your party: games, silliness, nonsense.
Plus, New Year’s is the right time to celebrate: your friends, your family, your health or the health of those around you. Good news abounds: Surely there are local, national and world events worth commemorating, as well as babies, weddings, small victories to celebrate.
These events deserve the wine that has been used to mark celebrations for centuries. Once reserved mostly for coronations, Champagne was pink and sweet. Like white Zinfandel, only sexier. So have some white Zin, if it makes you happy. Drink real Champagne, if you’re ready to afford it.
If not, there’s Prosecco (perhaps Mionetto from Italy), Cava (Paul Cheneau from Spain) and a bunch of American bubblies that are perfectly nice: Gloria Ferrer or Roederer Estate from California, Argyle from Oregon, Gruet from New Mexico or Les Bourgeois or Stone Hill from Missouri.
By the end of December, most of us have tapped out our budgets, emptied out the piggy bank and gone into hock. Hock, by the way, is slang for German Riesling from the Rhine River, so you could do worse than to buy some lovely German wines for your party. And bargains abound, if you will but seek them out. Ask your favorite retailer what’s in the closeout bin; they’re clearing their shelves this time of year.
Still, I have found certain wines to be solid bargains of late: Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Crossing Merlot, Chalone Chardonnay, Estancia, J. Lohr, La Vieille Ferme Rhone wines and just about anything from Columbia Crest.
No, these aren’t great wines, but they are good and affordable, and at a party, there is a purpose for good and affordable wine. Heck, Kendall Jackson makes good wines, but there are some who will question my credentials for having typed that. Snobbery is easy, but wine should be cheap.
Any good New Year’s celebration should look back with fondness, too, on those who kept the wine flowing. We lost many great wine people in 2015: Serge Hochar (Chateau Musar), Ray Duncan (Silver Oak), Joe Phelps (Phelps Winery), Cole Danehower (a wonderful wine writer), Dan Gainey (Gainey Vineyards), Volker Eisele (Volker Eisele Family Estate, a fantastic vineyard) and Wayne Hirst, an Oklahoma wholesaler whose company was so adventurous in its wine selections as to open the eyes of this young wine enthusiast decades ago. They all left legacies, helping the wine world improve and grow.
Meanwhile, Australia is making better wines than ever (speaking of bargains); Spain and Portugal continue their march of excellence (and affordability); and the 2015 vintage appears to have produced lovely wines, almost uniformly around the globe.
Brillat-Savarin might have been deluding himself when he spoke of “true principles” — alcohol has been part of the celebration because it lets so many people show their true emotions, express their affections and passions.
But shouldn’t we be able to do so always, with or without our drinks?
Wine columnist Doug Frost is a Kansas City-based master sommelier and master of wine. Email him at email@example.com.