Fresh Start: A New Year Means New Drinks 

hile I've heard that "Dry January" is a trend for many people who might have rung in the new year a bit too heartily, and I do know a few friends who abstain from alcohol for a month to recalibrate their drinking habits, I've never been one to "just say no." I am devoting a bit of time this month to contemplate my own reasons to drink — of course they're emotional, as well as physical — and, as I do every new year, recalibrate my consumption.

Wine-wise, that means avoiding reds in the winter months. My allergist has convinced me that when it's cold outside, the histamines and sulfites found in Cabernets and Merlots stress my sinuses. White wines, particularly those without added sulfites, are a much better bet, so my refrigerator is currently stocked with a few bottles of Pinot Grigio and Vinho Verde.

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This year, I'm on a mission to discover more varietals. I lean toward crisply acidic whites, so why haven't I sampled more Viognier? The bold, fruity wine has been popular across Europe since Roman times; today, it's the star of vineyards that span the globe, including Virginia, California's Central Coast, Oregon's Willamette Valley, British Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Australia, Japan, and South Africa. For several years, the Chilean Casillero del Diablo Viognier was in my repertoire — now it's time to try the equally affordable Cline Viognier 2016, which hails from Sonoma County, and the Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2017, an Australian variety. Both are available on Memphis shelves for around $15 per bottle.

Also on my shortlist: the dry, sweet Gewürztraminer, originally made from grapes that ripen on vines planted in northern Europe, and now a banging crop in vineyards as far-flung as New Zealand. Likewise, I plan to delve deeper into the realm of Moscato — I love to pair this wine with spicy Indian and Vietnamese take-out, but often fail to keep a bottle stashed in the fridge at home.

Sherry, that fortified white wine loved by grandmothers the world over, is rumored to be making a big comeback in 2019 as a cocktail component. I hope to experiment over the next few months and report back soon with a few recipes. I'll start with a Sherry and tonic this weekend.

Spiritually speaking, like many boozehounds, I've been leaning heavily on tequila the last several months, so why not move on to mezcal, its desert-based "agave cousin"? According to metrics reported by the Distilled Spirits Council and published on BeverageDynamics.com, mezcal sales have exploded from less than 50,000 cases in 2009 to around 360,000 cases in 2017. By 2022, the mezcal industry is expected to exceed 1.2 million cases. The liquor tends to lean earthy/smoky or fresh, with characteristics that fall everywhere in between. It's good with brandy, tequila, Vermouth, fruit juice, and ginger beer.

I'm headed to New Mexico later this month, and I plan to hit up every bartender in the state for their favorite recommendations, recipes, and techniques. Once I've identified the flavors I like the most, I'll experiment at home, although truthfully, mezcal might remain more of a special occasion go-to, since at the lower end, it runs approximately $30 per bottle.

While I'm on the subject of drinking out of town, I hope to do that more frequently, too. Just last weekend, The New York Times' business section ran an article about the Napa-fication of American whiskey distilleries as a billion-dollar tourism industry. From the Kentucky Bourbon Trail to the Willamette Valley, destination drinking is a major influencer on my travel plans. And, of course, I want to sample more local talent. There are dozens of new bars to visit and bartenders to meet, and even more breweries, taprooms, and distilleries in the region to try on for size. Each place, person, and taste has its own personality, which is part of what makes responsible drinking so much more fun.

Cheers — or, as an old Gaelic saying goes, here's to a healthy heart and a wet mouth!

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