Though we might think of ourselves as a post-God society, much of what we do still smacks of religious observance. Take Dry January or Veganuary, for example. These are like secular versions of the Lenten fast. I didn’t do either. In fact it was more like Hamuary in our house. Some people in the drinks trade, no doubt worried that all this abstinence is bad for the bottom line, have come up with an antidote, Tryanuary. I know, another dreadful portmanteau but still, I like the sentiment, be adventurous this year. So whether you’re returning to the sauce or just want unusual recommendations, here are some new things to get your tastebuds working in 2019.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the rough reds they serve in Turkish restaurants. One of the classics is Buzbag (it’s not the most appealing name, is it?) which has in recent years undergone a transformation. It is rough no more. The raw materials have always been there: Turkey has a wealth of indigenous grape varieties, most of them laden with umlauts. But now the Turks are getting rather good at turning them into wine. This new incarnation of Buzbag (Strictly Wine £10.99) is made from a blend of Öküzgözü and Boğazkere, and reminds me of a really good Beaujolais but with a heady, exotic sort of fragrance. It’s made by a Californian winemaker for Kayra, formerly the state monopoly which is now owned by drinks giant Diageo.
Turkish wine is roughly where Greek wine was twenty years ago. Like the Turks, the Greeks have a wealth of indigenous grape varieties. Perhaps the best of the white grapes is one called Assyrtiko which comes from the volcanic island of Santorini. It was used to make sweet Vin Santo, but now makes steely white wines that taste of salted lemons. If you like bone dry Rieslings, you’ll love wines from Santorini. The island is so hot and barren that yields are tiny; these wines are never going to be cheap. But for the quality neither are they expensive. The 2017 Thallasitis (literally from the sea) from Gaia Estate (Excel Wine £19.85) is excellent, and even better if you can hang onto it for a couple of years, like Riesling it ages beautifully.
And now for something completely familiar – Chardonnay. I think a lot of us have forgotten what a wonderful and varied grape it is, from making bone dry wines in Chablis to opulent Pouilly-Fuissé – and that’s just Burgundy. Some of the best whites I’ve had in the last few months came from this most adaptable of grapes. There’s something for all budgets: from Fortnum and Mason’s rich 2014 Meursault Les Narvaux made by Vincent Girardin (£47.50) to the mouth-wateringly fresh 2017 Limari Chardonnay from Tesco’s Finest range (£8).
Port – Churchill Tawny
I might not give things up for Lent but I do do New Year’s Resolutions. My two this year were to try to be less serious, and to drink more Port. Both resolutions are going extremely well. Most of us forget about Port after Christmas but it’s excellent throughout the winter months. Nothing keeps out the cold better than a glass of Port. But, one of my best wine drinking experiences last year was with a bottle of chilled Churchill 20 Year Old Tawny in the September heat of the Douro valley. Only £29 from Oddbins, it is not expensive for a wine of this quality.
Brandy is the new whisky
Another undervalued commodity is brandy. One day, whisky lovers are going to wake up to the extraordinary value that lurks in Cognac and Armagnac but until they do, there are bargains to be had. I’ll give you an example: last year I tried two spirits that were about equal in quality and indeed style, a 45-year-old Grand Champagne Cognac from Hermitage (a company that specialises in rare brandies), and a 52 Year Old Macallan. The first cost £377.95, the whisky cost . . . . £38,000. Bananas! If you love old spirits, can you afford not to be be drinking Cognac?
And finally, this year fun cocktails are coming back in a big way. For bartenders, it’s out with the tattoos, braces and chin stroking, and in with cocktail umbrellas and tiki classics like Mai Tais and Zombies. And, I am afraid to say, you will see more ‘sexy’ drinks like the Screaming Orgasm and the Slow Comfortable Screw against the Wall. Expect 2019 to be extremely embarrassing. I think I need a drink.
Henry Jeffreys’ new book The Home Bar is published by Jacqui Small, £25.