What is Try January?
Over the past decade, Dry January has become a popular way to welcome the new year. The tradition is a personal challenge to abstain from alcohol for the entire month of January. Admittedly, going alcohol-free for thirty one days certainly has worthwhile financial and health benefits. Yet for those who tend to already drink in moderation or aren’t ready to commit to taking a month off the sauce, there is another option. One more suited to anyone interested in branching out of their comfort zone in the new year. Rather than sticking to the usual, Try January is all about trying new things and kicking off the year with some excitement.
Wine lovers keen to put Try January into action can use the month to try new wines, producers, and wine regions. Spain and Italy are a great place to begin because each has a diverse array of wine regions and native grape varieties worth discovering. Alternatively, curious wine enthusiasts may choose to venture off the beaten path to obscure winemaking countries currently on the rise, such as Bulgaria or Moldova. Additionally, tasting Old World grape varieties made in New World wine regions is an easy, accessible way to expand your palate. While savoring wines from the same variety made in different wine regions always provides an educational tasting experience.
How to Broaden Your Wine Horizons in the New Year
Though Spain has an expansive winemaking history, only relatively recently have its wines risen to acclaim on the international market. The country’s varied geography coupled with it’s position amidst the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea culminate in numerous climatic zones. Spain’s north and northwest coast exhibit a moderate maritime climate thanks to the Atlantic weather patterns. A warm Mediterranean climate exists from Catalunya in the east to Levante in the south near the coast. Lastly, Spain’s large central plateau called the Meseta Central experiences a hot continental climate. Mountains surround the Meseta Central, cutting off the region from any maritime influence.
So, why does the multifaceted climate matter? When considered in conjunction with a large range of indigenous grapes, it results in a ton of styles of red, white, rosé, and sparkling wines to check out for Try January. The following Spanish Wine recommendations will help you get started.
This white Spanish grape variety grows mainly near the western Atlantic Coast of the country. Rías Baixas is the Spanish wine region with a reputation for producing high quality Albariño. Since this grape has thick skins, it’s able to resist fungal diseases inevitable in this damp climate. The vicinity to the Atlantic imparts enticing sea spray aromas into many Albariño wines. Also as a result, this Spanish white wine is typically light to medium bodied with medium alcohol and high levels of refreshing acidity. Expect aromas of lemon zest, fresh squeezed grapefruit, melon, nectarine, and sea spray. If aromatic wines like Sauvignon Blanc are your jam, then you’re likely to enjoy Albariño, too.
Pair with: grilled fish tacos, ceviche, seafood risotto, herb-laden steamed mussels, leafy green salads
Godello is a rare white Spanish grape native to Valdeorras in Galicia. Revival efforts of a 1974 program called the Reestructuración de Viñedos de Valdeorras saved this grape from near extinction. Through this project, Horacio Fernández Presa of Bodegas Godeval revitalized native Spanish varieties like Godello. Meanwhile, others were ripping up old vineyards to plant international varieties. Today, the Valdeorras DO produces several styles of Godello. Most see stainless steel or neutral oak only. While other examples undergo lees stirring or some barrel aging for added complexity. Generally, Godello wines are light bodied with medium to high acidity and alcohol. Aromas of grapefruit, quince, pear, crushed gravel, and salinity make this Spanish wine an easy sipper. If you enjoy Chardonnay, definitely give Godello a taste for Try January.
Pair with: verde chicken enchiladas, falafel pitas with tzatziki sauce, creamy herb chicken breasts, vegetable green curry with lime rice
Also known as Macabeo, Viura is one of the main white grape varieties used to make Cava, Spain’s traditional method sparkling wine. It’s called Viura in Rioja where it’s made into unoaked white wines with subtle herb and spice aromas. Historically, the grape was included in heavily oaked white Rioja. Younger examples have medium body, alcohol, and acidity with flavors of lemon, lime, melon, tarragon, and hazelnut. Whereas aged Viura transforms into richly texture, nutty white wine. If you like Rhône whites like Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, or Roussanne, then perhaps you’ll delight in Viura.
Pair with: Thai takeout, Vietnamese spring rolls (young Viura), roasted chicken with rosemary potatoes, herb and macadamia crusted salmon
Tempranillo is Spain’s premier red wine and grows widely throughout northern and central Spain. Also known as Cencibel in Castilla-La Mancha, Tempranillo is a thick-skinned grape which requires enough warmth to fully ripen. Yet with medium levels of acidity, this Spanish variety does best where there’s an elevated diurnal temperature range bringing cool nighttime temperatures. This allows the grapes to maintain acidity, resulting in a better balanced wine. Tempranillo is produced in fresh, fruity styles with flavors of strawberry and cherry. As well as more robust oak aged styles with notes of cherry, dried fig, dill, cedar, and tobacco.
Rioja is a Spanish wine region famous for its Tempranillo blends made with Graciano and Garnacha. Notably, the best Tempranillo wines and top Rioja can age upwards of twenty years. If you’re a California Cabernet Sauvignon fan, take Tempranillo for a spin for Try January.
Pair with: gorgonzola and caramelized onion burgers or portobello burgers, grilled steak, rack of lamb, chilli or vegetarian chilli
For an endless array of wine options for Try January, look to Italy. The country has around 2,000 native grapes of which approximately 400-500 are used for commercial production. Furthermore, Italy’s mixed geography includes the foothills of the Alps in the north, the Apennine Mountain range running south through the country, the fertile Po River Valley, coastal plains, and more. Climates range from moderate continental in the north to hot and humid in the south. Consequently, Italian wines run the gamut in styles from crisp and fresh to tannic and concentrated. Below are a handful of Italian wines for your initial exploration.
Barbera is a black grape from the prestigious Piedmont wine region in northwestern Italy. It’s one of the most widely planted grape varieties in the region. You’re likely to encounter this Italian grape labeled under the Barbera d’Alba DOC or the Barbera d’Asti DOCG. Locals consider Barbera as an everyday red wine compared to the more well-known and expensive Barolo or Barbaresco wines made from Nebbiolo. You’ll find Barbera produced in fruity, unoaked styles, as well as barrel-aged examples with subtle spice notes. Barbera is known for its mouthwatering acidity, medium tannins, and medium to high alcohol. Tart cherry, black cherry, dried herbs, and black pepper are this Italian wine’s signature aromas. If you love Grenache, then Barbera will likely be a hit.
Pair with: spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, pizza, roasted or grilled vegetable dishes
Italy’s best Montepulciano grows in the south of the country in Abruzzo under the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC. The grape variety has high acidity and produces generously colored wines with significant tannins thanks to the hot Mediterranean sun. Montepulciano offers delicious red blum, blackberry, and dried thyme flavors entrenched with notes of allspice and smoke. Abruzzo produces Both fruity, easy drinking red wines and other more concentrated, oak aged examples.
Pair with: grilled sausage, smoked brisket, barbeque chicken or ribs, lamb or vegetarian curry
Verdicchio grows in the Marche wine region on the eastern side of the Apennines situated near the Adriatic Sea. The Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC is the most famous Italian designation of origin for this white wine. The grape variety is adored for its naturally high, vibrant acidity. Verdicchio wines often have an oily texture and express flavors of green apple, lemon, peach, and occasionally fennel or almonds. If Pinot Grigio tends to be your go to white, then mix things up for Try January with a bottle of Verdicchio.
Pair with: mixed nuts, olives, and prosciutto for appetizers, quiche Lorraine, pesto pasta, roasted herb-stuffed sea bass
Grown at high-altitudes in northeastern Italy in the Alto Adige wine region, Kerner is a frost resistant variety suitable for cooler climates. It’s a cross between Schiava and Riesling yielding sleek, subtly spicy white wines with fruity aromas of apple, grapefruit, and tropical mango. The best examples come from gravelly vineyards in Isarco Valley and Val Venosta. Kerner is bound to please Riesling enthusiasts.
Pair with: prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe, ratatouille, shrimp scampi, onion tart, grilled garlic chicken
Discover an Off the Beaten Path Wines in Bulgaria
Bulgaria’s Thracian Valley is purportedly the birthplace of Dionysus, the ancient Greek god of wine. According to archeological findings, wine was first made here as far back as 4,000 B.C. So, what better place to uncover some hidden gems for Try January. The Thracian Valley rests along Bulgaria’s border with Greece and Turkey. Furthermore, it’s one of two Bulgarian PGI’s to export wines out of the country and is home to a mix of international and native Bulgarian varieties. Winemakers are able to cultivate such an interesting range of grape varieties thanks to the numerous subregions and microclimates in the valley.
International varieties grown in the Thracian Valley include Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Traminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Viognier. Whereas Pamid, Gamza, Mavrud, Muscat Ottonel, and Vrachanski Misket are a few indigenous varieties you’re likely to encounter.
International grapes grown in a region whose wines you have yet to taste is a great way to get to know new terroir.
Pair with: chicken saltimbocca, Korean BBQ pork, Bulgarian moussaka, shepherd’s pie
Mavrus is an ancient Bulgarian variety which originated around the city of Plovdiv in western Thrace. Due to its exceptional compatibility for oak maturation and cellaring potential, Mavrud is highly sought after in Bulgaria and gaining popularity worldwide. It presents complex red and black fruit flavors like cranberry, black cherry, thyme, smoke, baked earth, and dried sage flavors. If Syrah or big red Rhône blends are your go-to, then get your hands on a bottle of Mavrud.
Pair with: dark meats seasoned in exocit spices; Asian five-spice pork ribs, lamb gyros, prime rib, roasted herb-stuffed red peppers and tomatoes
New World Region, Old World Variety
Primitivo in California
Primitivo’s homeland is in Puglia located on the heel of the Italian boot. The climate is hot and sunny with some maritime influences from the surrounding Adriatic and Mediterranean seas. Thus, these conditions yield high quality, full-bodied red wines jam packed with concentrated red and black fruit flavors, plus high alcohol. Much of California wine country has similar conditions. Therefore, it’s the ideal place to grow Primitivo. If you love a California Zinfandel, news flash – Primitivo is the same grape!
Pair with: eggplant parmesan, cheeseburgers, roasted lamb shank, braised beef, rustic vegetable dishes like lentil stew
Picpoul Blanc from Washington
Picpoul Blanc is a French grape variety from the Languedoc in the southwest of the country near the Mediterranean. Specifically, it grows mainly in the Picpoul de Pinet AOC near the coast. The cooling sea breezes help retain Picpoul’s electrifying acidity and the variety’s name means “stings the lip.” Accordingly, wines made from this grape definitely earn the title with saline, green apple, lemon, lime, and citrus blossom flavors. In Washington’s Walla Walla AVA, Picpoul obtains optimal ripeness in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains. Vineyards have long hours of sunshine through the growing season, followed by a significant diurnal temperature drop which retains acidity in the grapes. If you enjoy fresh white wines like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, or Muscadet, then add Picpoul Blanc to your Try January shopping list.
Pair with: chicken piccata, grilled fish, lemon, green pea and calamari risotto, sushi, oysters, swordfish with caper sauce
Same Variety, Different Region
Convinced you don’t like a certain grape variety? This Try January, challenge yourself to try a wine made from that grape variety, but produced in a new region you haven’t experienced yet.
For example, Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted grape in South Africa. Basic versions are easy drinking, but producers in regions like Paarl are serving up concentrated, oak-aged, full-textured Chenin Blanc. However, across the pond in France’s Loire Valley, the variety’s native home, Chenin Blanc is often leaner and more aromatic. In the Loire, you’ll find dry, sweet, still, and sparkling Chenin. Depending on your palate and the style of Chenin Blanc you happened to try, you’d be dismissing a full range of styles which just might surprise you.