Wine of the Week: This New Year’s resolution? Drink better stuff

WASHINGTON — Welcome, 2018. I am really looking forward to meeting you.

Not that 2017 was terrible, it’s just that this past year produced challenges for a few good friends who experienced either changes in health or marital status. I guess it’s just what happens at my age. So I am glad that 2017 is in my life’s rearview mirror.

The good news is that these past experiences serve as a bit of a personal wake-up call. Of course, I have a track record of mixed success when it comes to keeping my own promises. Another list of well-intended routines has passed into my personal history book with mixed success. There were a few promises that I kept and more than a few that fell into the “maybe next year” category.

Ironically, the one promise that is always tricky for me involves wine. Every year I proclaim that I am going to drink more wines from this country or that country, or sample more wines made from this grape or that varietal. And every year, I fall short in one way or another. That’s why this year, I am going to keep it simple: I am just going to drink better wines. After all, life really is too short to drink bad wine.

Now, drinking better does not necessarily mean more expensive wine, at least not all of the time. For me, it just means paying closer attention to food and wine pairings or finding wines that match mood or occasion.

Here are several wines that will make keeping this resolution a lot easier this year.

As I write this particular piece, I am enjoying a wonderful wine from a category that often goes unnoticed in the white wine world, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. 2014 Domaine Grand Veneur Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc La Fontaine is from the southern Rhone Valley in France and is produced exclusively from Roussanne. The nose has a rich, exuberant bouquet of orange rind, papaya, candied ginger and honey. The mouthfeel is luxurious, highlighting flavors of orange blossom, tropical fruit, caramel and vanilla all the way through to the end. Notes of bananas Foster put an exclamation point on the focused finish. It’s great with friends or with roast chicken on a cold night. $39

There are few things in the wine-paring world that are as satisfying as pasta and Chianti. I am looking forward to enjoying the 2011 Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva from Tuscany, Italy, with a large bowl of pasta Bolognese. This 100 percent Sangiovese beauty is chock full of black cherry and violet scents on the aromatic bouquet, while elegant flavors of rich plum, black raspberries and red licorice glide over the tongue, supported on the backbone of soft tannins. This wine has remarkable depth and balance. $31

Cameron Hughes has a simple philosophy: Great wine doesn’t have to be expensive. Hughes considers himself a consumer advocate and is passionate about bringing value to wine drinkers. With an understanding of the bulk wine market, he took advantage of an opportunity to procure high-end wines, bottle them, and sell them under his own label for a fraction of the cost.

The 2013 Cameron Hughes Mt. Veeder Meritage is proof in a bottle. The juice for this wine is procured from some of the best reserve lots from a famous Mount Veeder estate, and made using traditional Bordeaux varietals. Scents of violets, black cherries and cocoa complement the flavors of ripe blackberries, cassis, dark plums and ripe berries. Smooth, semisweet tannins bring the fruit into focus and balance, while the perfect acidity emphasizes the long, elegant finish. While it could certainly benefit from a few years of cellaring, you’ll have a hard time not opening it now. This is a wine that is worth two to three times the price. $35

I really want to learn more about port wines and to try different combinations. I have friends who swear that a fresh baked apple pie is the perfect pairing with tawny port. I am definitely going to try it with Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny Port. The complex bouquet is filled with scents of jammy black fruit and dried fig. Flavors of ripe black cherries and orange rind on the front of the tongue give way to toffee, caramel and butterscotch notes on the velvety, long finish. Serve it slightly chilled with warm apple pie. $60

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