I hope we all have a happy new year, and definitely a more prosperous one, with good food and wine. New Year’s Eve, I’ll fillet out a wild sea bass, pin-bone the fillets, salt and pepper them, place them skin-side down in a little hot olive oil in my cast-iron skillet, scatter a tablespoon of mixed chopped chives and parsley over them, followed by a short squeeze of lemon, turn them over and finish the other side, serve on a bed of pilaf-style rice (steamed in light chicken stock and tossed with toasted pine nuts), with some baby peas and caramelized mushrooms. Simple, quick, lovely. The wine will be white Burgundy, Louis Jadot’s Macon-AzĂ©, inexpensive, very nice, just right for the occasion and the food. (Much earlier, the kid will get his favorite food and beverage, sausages and French fries with lots of ketchup, and a rare Diet Coke.) We’ll all be in bed early and happy, and wish for the same for you.


In years past, this would be the season when we’d be bombarded with recipes for old-fashioned wine drinks—cobblers, possets, syllabubs, nogs, neguses, and other concoctions from colonial times, involving a fair amount of fuss and an excess of calories, basically complicated appetite-suppressants, not worth the trouble.
       At a party in Italy this summer, I did discover a wine drink that is worth a try, an interesting aperitif—what the British refer to as a “sharpener.” It was called a Negroni “sbagliato,” which translates to “incorrect Negroni,” although it’s closer to an Americano (old bartenders never die, they just become pedantic with age). It’s a mix of 1 ounce of Campari and 1 ounce of sweet (red) vermouth, stirred with an ice cube to mix well and chill, then strained into 3 ounces of chilled Prosecco; a twist of lemon peel is optional, and not bad. The vermouth slightly mitigates the bitterness of the Campari; it’s a bracing drink, good with snacks or before a meal.
       (Trivia note: Ian Fleming loved Negronis, and originally made that James Bond's drink of choice, but his publisher thought it was too offbeat, and had him change it to Martinis.)


Never one to miss a trend, even if at the tail end, I got swine flu last week. I do not recommend it. I did, on the other hand, get some relief in my bed of pain from several very good books—this year’s vintage is not large, but certainly high quality. The best antidote to the general misery was Been Doon So Long, by Randall Grahm (University of California Press, $34.95), a collection of highlights from his madcap newsletter and the only wine book I know that has edified me and made me laugh out loud at the same time.
       From the dedication (to philosopher John Locke) to the glossary (featuring, among the wine
copyright 2010-2018 by Brian St. Pierre