Illustration: Tom Jellett


One of the greatest sounds in the world is that of a cork pop-ping - particularly when it's from a bottle of champagne.

Last year for me was filled with this delightful sound, and a number of champagnes and aged New World wines top my list of memorable bottles of 2012.

Yes, there were a few dodgy wines, some of which showed glaring faults: some were corked, some showed signs of madeirisation (when a bottle has been stored or shipped in high temperatures) and some were too high in alcohol or were simply too young to drink (which I call "wine infanticide").

But now it's time to look forward.

One of my resolutions is to revisit favourites (if there's another bottle to be had) or try another vintage from the same producer.

I also want to be adventurous and try more "grower champagnes" - those made by the vigneron. These are the bottles marked with the letters "RM" in fine print, usually on the bottom of the label. "RM" stands for Recoltant-Manipulant, which means the winemaker grows his own grapes, but, to me, the letters also stand for "really marvellous".

These champagnes, usually produced in small quantities, show so much more personality and are made up of more complex flavours than those produced by large commercial houses.

And pricing should no longer be an issue, as wine does not need to be expensive to be good. In fact, it is much more challenging for a winemaker to produce a quality bottle on a budget than make an ultra-premium wine. And who can afford to drink Lynch-Bages or Romanée-Conti every day?

On that note, I have vowed to try more second and third wines from chateaux. After all, these are made by the same winemaker and at the same estate as the premier or tete de cuvée (namesake labels). They are simply distilled from younger vines.

I try not to get obsessed with the vintage because a winemaker will always make the best of what he's got. Last year, I tasted a number of wines made from "off" vintages, and they defied expectation by being superb.

Of course, these are not wines that are meant for long-term ageing. They are designed to be consumed today.

Tasting various grapes is another goal. So what about unusual grapes? Going through my dog-eared copy of Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes, I realise there is a whole world of fruit - 800 on her list, to be exact, from A to Z - that I haven't even tried yet, from amigne, a rare white grape from Valais, Switzerland, that produces a rich, aromatically perfumed wine, to zilavka, a white wine grape from Bosnia that is high in alcohol, with nice acidity and a lovely nutty flavour.

So, here's to 2013 and more of that lovely popping sound.


Nellie Ming Lee is a freelance food stylist and part-time sommelier