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What Four Wine Pros are Drinking this New Year’s Eve. (It’s Not Champagne.)

Some believe that the way you spend New Year’s Eve determines how you will spend the year ahead. If that’s true, then what’s in your glass at midnight could have enduring implications. Choose wisely. 

Champagne is among the most traditional New Year’s options, and for good reason.

“Champagne has a celebratory history that goes back to 1789 where it was viewed as a status symbol,” says Jean-Wesley Michel, global brand ambassador for Michael Lavelle Wines. “As the years went by, it became synonymous with celebration and joyous occasions. The bubbles, the popping sound of the cork and the excitement make it the wine of choice for the holidays, weddings and birthdays.”

Jean-Wesley Michel
Jean-Wesley Michel / Photo by Nanci Camille Harbert

Vernon L. Jackson Jr., a server and cellar assistant at RPM Steak Chicago, agrees, calling Champagne “the original hypebeast” of European history.

“Every war and political conflict that passed through Champagne left a trail of fans,” says Jackson. “All crowning and royal ceremonies were held in Champagne. Leaders from across the continent would come to Champagne, have a great time and take it with them.” 

Despite this legacy, some wine professionals eschew Champagne on New Year’s Eve, choosing drinks with personal meaning instead.

Michel bases his decision on heritage and family tradition. He rings in the year with a sweet, creamy Haitian liquor called Kremas or Cremas. This deviation from the standard Champagne toast isn’t a knock on the sparkling wine, he says, but a way to connect with part of his culture.

A first-generation Haitian-American, Michel remembers his mother preparing Kremas for New Year’s Eve celebrations when he was growing up.

“I would watch my mom make it from scratch: a mix of condensed and evaporated milk, cream of coconut, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla,” he says. “The adults would add a shot or two of Barbancourt, Haitian Rhum, for an extra kick. Kremas was a staple at every New Year’s celebration.” 

Vernon Jackson
Vernon Jackson with Sauternes / Photo by Richard Gibson

While Michel chooses a beverage that connects him to his past, Jackson prefers a wine that speaks to his destiny. Ever since he traveled to Bordeaux in 2018, Jackson has toasted the New Year with a bottle of dessert wine. “In particular, any wine that has been touched by the complexities of noble rot,” he says.

Noble rot, or botrytis cinerea, is a fungus that shrivels the wine grapes and increases the sugar content thanks to certain climatic conditions: cold mornings and warm afternoons, plus moisture from a nearby water source. 

Jackson’s favorites are Sauternes and Tokaji. “It’s not simply about the taste; these wines make you feel all the things,” he says. “Who doesn’t want to be in control of their destiny on the eve of a new chapter? I know I do.”

These luscious wines help him enter the New Year on a high note. 

“It makes me feel like I’m Kanye at Soldier Field or Jay-Z at MSG, no one can tell me what I’m not.” 

Yooie Chang
Two K Cider and Yooie Chang / Photos by Max Koskela and Andrew Mackey

Other wine professionals believe it’s bubbles or bust on New Year’s Eve—but that still doesn’t necessarily mean Champagne. Jonah Glavin Auteri, fermentation specialist at Sango Kura, will pop bottles of sparkling saké this year. In Japan, he says, many people celebrate the New Year with an herbal saké cocktail, so he sees sparkling saké as a way to combine certain Eastern and Western traditions. 

Yooie Chang, sommelier and now president of the newly formed YooVin Distribution, also likes to keep her New Year’s Eve beverage in the bubbly family by raising a glass of sparkling cider.

“One of the reasons why we may celebrate [New Year’s Eve] with bubbles is because sparkling wine is extremely versatile,” says Chang. “It drinks well solo; it works wonderfully with food.”

There are different styles and varying levels of dryness among sparkling ciders, too, she says. Two K and Revel Cider in Ontario are among her favorites “because they are not only raising the bar for what quality ciders taste like but also pushing for avant garde changes in the cidermaking world.”

Besides, Chang adds, cider is a beverage made from fermented fruit, so it falls “under the technical definition of wine.”