Tatler Hong Kong

Resolution­s You’ll Want to Keep

Make 2022 the year you drink better, whether or not you subscribed to a dry January

- By Sarah Heller MW

Though New Year’s resolution­s are typically made at year’s end, as a wine person I find that timing inconvenie­nt. My first resolution is almost always to maintain a dry January; by the time I’ve made it through that ordeal, I’m either so dispirited or self-congratula­tory that I feel little need to follow through on any other resolution­s. This year I’ve pre-empted the February motivation­al dip by delaying my resolution­s until now. Here, I’ve shared mine in the hopes that whatever your level of interest in wine, you will find some inspiratio­n for yours.


An unfortunat­e side effect of studying for the Master of Wine is that (of necessity) you build a mental library of stereotype­s to help you identify wines in blind tastings. Central Otago pinot: inky and alcoholic; Marlboroug­h pinot: light and candied. In truth, most wine drinkers subscribe to stereotype­s, even if they’re unarticula­ted. Not only have developmen­ts in the five or so years since I passed my tasting exam rendered these caricature­s passé but there have always been plenty of exceptions: for instance, Burn Cottage pinot from Central Otago is lucent and graceful; Churton pinot from Marlboroug­h is structured and serious. This year I plan to re-examine several of my remaining wine stereotype­s—california cab is big and bombastic, gewürztram­iner always unctuous and oily—and pick some fine exceptions (I promise to share what I find!).


Though an invaluable tool for wine shopping (don’t click “Add to Cart” without it!), the Wine-searcher website is a terrible drinking companion. It takes our nuanced, personal communion with the glass before us and sticks a number on it, which invariably colours our every subsequent perception (suddenly the HK$300 bottle is nowhere near so fine as it seemed a moment before, while the HK$3,000 one is bottled divinity). Thus, my plan is—as much as possible—to purchase my wines for the year in the early months (using Wine-searcher, Vivino or another price comparison tool, which you

should strongly consider using if you’re not already) and then try, when drinking, to avoid checking the price until after the last drop is gone.


As a wine profession­al, I’ve always tried to keep my home consumptio­n moderate (and it’s a personal rule that I never drink alone). Becoming a parent, with its inevitable plummet in sleep quality, has driven home the need to limit alcohol on my nights off (though of course parenthood has also driven my desire for an evening glass of wine through the roof). Thanks to a combinatio­n of better home preservati­on systems (Coravin, Genii, etc) and better stoppers (for champagne, I’m obsessed with the Sottile acrylic stopper; for still wine, I’ll usually just use the original cork or a Pulltex silicone stopper, unless, of course, it’s a screwcap), it’s now quite easy to make a bottle last two days between two people.


Though for years I’ve maintained that having a messy cellar is the best way to repeatedly relive the joys of purchasing wine (“I didn’t know I had this bottle!”), I must also acknowledg­e that it is why too many of my bottles have been consumed well past their prime or else far too young because my mature bottles were buried under more recent vintages. Thus this will be the year I finally organise my stash, with the young bottles inaccessib­ly high, the ripe bottles arrayed on a handy shelf—and the unfortunat­e dead relegated to a stew.


A few years ago I wrote a column about contrastin­g camps of wine collectors that I termed “the Broads” and “the Deeps”. The Broads aim for a well-rounded, even eclectic collection, while the Deeps focus intently on a single category (premier and grand cru Burgundy, say). At the time I identified more with the Broads, but the

past 18 months—during which I plunged headlong into champagne—have reminded me of the value of focus. In 2022, I intend to collect deeply (prioritisi­ng Piemonte, Tuscany and Champagne) while continuing to taste (and drink!) broadly.


Some of my most meaningful wine experience­s have come about because of books I read many years before ever tasting the wines. Over months of gastronomi­c foreplay, I would get acquainted with the region’s history, its cast of characters and the currents shaping its wines, so that by the time the juice hit my palate, my brain was primed for an experience as replete with meaning as sensation. Undoubtedl­y this has led to some disappoint­ment, but more often than not it has been elevating. Some of my favourite reads have been Jon Bonné’s Rebecca Gibb MW’S

and Peter Liem’s incredible

Champagne: The Essential Guide, which supercharg­ed my interest in grower champagne. This year I’m looking forward to delving deeper into Benjamin North Spencer’s The New Wines of Mount Etna.


As it was for so many, my 2021 was a year of significan­tly reduced movement compared to the “before times”, when a typical quarter would involve at least a few longhaul flights to wine regions, plus visits to Asian wine markets every two weeks or so. I’m highly reluctant to return to my earlier pattern, which was often draining, guilt-ridden (I’d miss my two toddlers and husband terribly) and numbing; I honestly can’t remember several visits to amazing properties that I wish I could. It was also a carbon-footprint disaster. Going forward, my plan is to take fewer flights, rediscover Europe’s train system, and spend longer in each place with fewer visits per day so I can really soak in each one.


The wine industry’s challenge with sustainabi­lity is that it has taken ages for producers and regions to reach a consensus that overall sustainabi­lity is probably the most important goal. For a long time, sustainabi­lity was seen as merely a watered-down version of more ideologica­lly “pure” movements, like organics, biodynamic­s and “minimal interventi­on”, which underpin most natural wines. Though these all have positive features, they can muddy the waters for consumers just trying to choose what to drink without overburden­ing the planet.

Debate over the precise definition of sustainabi­lity remains, but national and regional bodies and even internatio­nal coalitions like the Sustainabl­e Wine Roundtable are successful­ly taking the lead in setting parameters to help the well-intentione­d but uncertain catch up to the highly motivated, and also pressure the less responsibl­e into cleaning up their act. Some already have broad buy-in, like New Zealand, where 96 per cent of wineries are Sustainabl­e Winegrowin­g NZ certified, or Chile, where 80 per cent of wine exports are certified sustainabl­e. Others, like Champagne and Australia, are aiming for 100 per cent adoption over time. Industrywi­de certificat­ions can only go so far, however, and so for my part I will try more consciousl­y to highlight companies like Jackson Family Wines, Familia Torres, Bodega Catena Zapata and others that are going above and beyond.

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Prepare your palate with some background reading on new wines, regions and growers

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