Any tale of a cocktail that begins with “While in Hawaii,” especially if you don’t live there, has a chance for a spot on a Best of the Year list. So I was delighted to see that our longtime contributor Gillian G. Gaar had made it to the islands, a longtime destination for her. J.P. Anderson weighed in with a sparkler from Schramsberg, drunk in situ, and my old pal Trip Johnson pointed out the importance of context—trout fishing with his brother—in his paean to a rare edition of Johnnie Blue.
As for me, I had the good fortune of finding it hard to choose just one thing. But like my colleagues, my choice was driven as much by the company as by the contents of the vessel.
My pick for the year was the 1994 Chateau Petit Village my girlfriend and I enjoyed with some dear friends, at a dinner in New York. The Pomerol was beautifully aged and beautifully served. It was expensive, though not inordinately so, by which I mean to say that the number was high but the markup was plenty reasonable.
There’s a paradox here: If the company and the occasion are suitably rarefied, then what you drink doesn’t matter terribly much. But—and this is a big “but”—those factors can make a steep price tag much easier to take. You feel, in the moment, the dismissive panache of a high roller.
All of which brings me to my compound resolution for 2022: Get out, safely, much more than in the past two years; and, when in the company of friends, drink the best stuff I can get my hands on.
Here’s what we had:
A flight of sparkling wines sipped in the lush surroundings of Napa Valley’s iconic Schramsberg Vineyards in May during my first real trip since the start of the pandemic. Lazing under tall trees and soaking up the California sun, it was the perfect match of lovingly made vino and exquisite environs. — J.P. Anderson
A lot of factors were in play this day, this drink. It was my first indoor bar experience in over a year (outside of a little joint called Chez Moi, which I had driven into the ground), so Bud heavies and a brace of Jame-o’s could just as easily have been cast in the lead. Not for nothing, it was also a breezy warm late Spring day in New York, the third of three, and the spot where I was meeting my friend—on MacDougal Street, the West Village—had all the doors and windows open. The drink itself was the humble Garibaldi, a long drink of Campari and orange juice, served in this case in a medium water glass, no ice. So discounting the emotional context, the atmospheric conditions, the local ethos, the generous dishes of Marcona almonds and Castelvatrano olives, not to mention the good company, what was so gosh-darn special about a Campari-OJ? Fresh pressed juice, made to order—“fluffy” is how they call it at the bar. Perfectly room temperature, foamy, light, it elevated the Campari from the last stop at the end of a straw to a part of a greater good, a glass of sunshine, the perfect lift after a long spiritual winter. One drink begat another, and that was just enough. But I’ve been thinking about it ever since … — Michael Longshore
Clementine Carter’s 2020 Graciano Nouveau. Sonja Magdevski can do no wrong in my eyes—the wines she produces under the Casa Dumetz, Clementine Carter, and Feminist Party labels, using Santa Barbara County fruit, are stellar, and the Graciano Nouveau is a gem. It’s fresh and fruity, an easy-drinker. It’s delightful with a slight chill for summer sipping. It would’ve been even better had I enjoyed it at her Los Alamos tasting room. While the bottle is currently sold out, the 2021 vintage is expected this month. Sign me up. — Kristen Schott
Best bourbon I had this year was a sample of Old Fitz 101 proof bottled in 1978 (barreled in 1968) at the Revival Vintage Bottle Shop tasting bar in Covington, Kentucky. Honeyed and heavenly. Highly recommended, if you happen to be lucky enough to get your hands on some. — Amy Lynch
It’s a tie. While in Hawaii on a fact-finding mission for W&WG, I got to experience ace Duke’s Waikiki bartender Jesse Greenleaf’s award-winning Hawaiian Island Iced Tea cocktail. It’s a potent, but refreshing, twist on the Long Island Ice Tea, with vodka, gin, Malibu rum, banana liqueur, Seven-Up, and passionfruit juice for that Island-style flavor. And when at Orchids (at Halekulani), there’s no better accompaniment with their Homemade Lasganette (pasta and prawns) or Hapu’upu’u (Hawaiian sea bass) than a chilled glass (or two) of Heidsieck-Monopole “Blue Top” or Veuve Foury Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs champagne — both Brut, naturellement. — Gillian G. Gaar
I’ve had more than my share of pre-noon Zoom wine tastings this past year and a half. So when I was invited to a 10am Zoom with Healdsburg’s Aperture Cellars, I figured that maybe this time I could fake it as a bystander. But when I realized it was just me, another writer, and proprietor/winemaker Jesse Katz, I knew I had to open the bottles. My reaction to a taste of Jesse’s Aperture 2018 Bordeaux Red Blend was utterly genuine—eyes widened with an “OMG!” I instantly fell for this elegant and complex balance of 1/3 Cabernet Sauvignon, 1/3 Merlot, and a remaining blend of Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. — Fran Miller
My best drink in 2021 was Johnnie Walker Blue Label Year of the Rat Limited Edition. As with most great experiences, context is everything. I shared the bottle with my brother and two friends over three nights as we floated down the Yellowstone River, fly-fishing for Rainbows and Browns, and camping at night. Turns out that JWB cures all the aches and pains from a day on the river and makes the lost fish seem no so bad. It goes down crazy smooth, warm and reassuring as a blanket. — Trip Johnson