The New Year has barely begun, and I’ve already broken one of my resolutions—not to do the traditional, clichéd end of the year roundup. However, as 2012 drew to a close, I started thinking about the food and beverage experiences that I just couldn’t forget:
Best meals overall: Galatoire’s, New Orleans; Redd, Yountville; Gott’s Roadside, St. Helena; Restaurant Gosho, Oporto, Portugal; Oxbow Market, Napa.
Best dishes: Soft shell crabs (Galatoire’s); Grilled Ahi tuna burger (Gott’s Roadside); Hog Island Oysters (Oxbow Market); Penne Porcini (La Sirena).
Most Distinctive Wines: Newton Merlot 2008 (pure, ripe and beautifully nuanced); Domaine Chandon Carneros Pinot Meunier 2010 (a component of the classic Champagne blend, transformed into an earthy and compelling still wine); Termanthia 2008 (100 year-old vines, low yields, massively concentrated yet graceful); Antinori Cervaro della Sala 1999 (who says Chardonnay doesn’t age well?); Mastrojanni Vigne Schiena D’Asino, 2006 (elegant single vineyard Brunello di Montalcino).
Most Distinctive Spirits: Whistle Pig Rye (10 years old, 100 proof, crafted by former Maker’s Mark distiller Dave Pickerell); Templeton Rye (a Prohibition-era recipe brought back to life in Iowa); Angel’s Envy Bourbon (the retirement project of the legendary Lincoln Henderson, who spent 40 years as a master distiller for Brown-Forman); Booker’s Bourbon (once the personal Bourbon of the late Booker Noe, now available commercially); Roundhouse Spirits Imperial Barrel Aged Gin (aged in small oak casks, flavorful and unforgettable).
Best Cocktails: The Sazerac Rye Manhattan at Bar UnCommon, New Orleans, and a stunning Negroni made with Carpano Antica and Roundhouse Spirits Imperial Aged Gin at the Salt Bistro, Boulder.
Best Bar: Williams and Graham in Denver, Colorado, a new American speakeasy that redefines everything a bar should be in terms of food, service and cocktails.
New Year: On the theory that whatever you consume on the last evening of the year determines the style of the year to come, we’re toasting 2013 with Siberian Osetra and Domaine Pinson Chablis 2005, Mont de Milieu.
Mark Spivak is the author of iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to iconicspirits.net.