It’s down to the wire for 2020 and if you ask most people alive today, they say there’s never been a year more worth ending. Whether you are joyful and celebrating passage into 2021, mournful and honoring the people whose lives were taken or businesses devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s time to lift a bubbly beverage en high. Even if you are simply reaching for some kind of normal in all the chaos and turmoil of a year that included not only a worldwide public health crisis, but social unrest and protest, a contentious—and tediously endless—presidential election, increased divide between economic haves and have nots and more…it’s the perfect time for bubbly brews to slake a thirsty soul.
We’ve tossed together a selection of last-minute New Year’s Eve suggestions for imbibing while supporting local purveyors. Send invitations and specialty beverages to out-of-pod friends and hold a virtual toast party. You’ll miss the kisses, but can share a final hurrah—and be sure to holler “good riddance”—to 2020.
Consider bringing home a bottle or two of Alameda’s Rock Wall Wine Company’s 2018 Sparkling Blanc de Blancs or NV Sparkling Zinfandel. The sparkling fruity white wine sparkler introduces passion fruit, grapefruit, kiwi and summer stone fruits to the party, Hints to honeysuckle and orange blossom remind all that summer will return (and this time, maybe we can enjoy it without masks). The Sparkling Zinfandel from Lake County is aged in for two years in a barrel before emerging with the kick of blackberry, sarsaparilla and sage followed by blueberry, strawberry sweetened rhubarb and rose petal that dances on your tongue and a cranberry finish to tie up the taste with elegant flourish.
Black-owned businesses have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, which offers added incentive to pick up a special wine at McBride Sisters or Theopolis Vineyards, both in Oakland. Black Girl Magic’s Trio collection is its most popular set and features a threesome selected from different California wine regions: a 2018 Riesling, 2019 Rosé and 2018 Zinfandel.
If sparkling or non-sparkling wine aren’t your thing, but spirits are, there’s likely no better distiller to find your brew than St. George Spirits, based in Alameda. The Bruto Americano seems a good way to go, given the year we’ve had and all the chatter about America’s greatness (or lack thereof). Distiller Lance Winters’ is noted by Food & Wine as “citrusy standout inspired by distiller Lance Winters’ experience growing up in California in the 1970s,” according to the St. George’s website. Lively citrus, notes of cinnamon, sandalwood, and forest and an initial palate entry describes as “a bracing dose of bitterness,” followed by a woodsy mid-palate and lingering bitter/citrus finish, the bitter aperitivo liqueur draws its complexity by means of gentian root; California-grown Seville oranges; balsam fir and Cascara sagrada (bark from the California buckthorn). Wow. If you can say all that about a little sip of a drink and it makes the bitter end of 2020 palatable, it’s gotta be great, right?
Located in the Grand Lake district, Alkali Rye is BIPOC-owned and sprints to the top of the must-visit list of specialty beverage shops with a curated selection of spirits, wine, artisan bubbly beer, coffee and lifestyle gifts. (A limited-edition Black Panther 1966 tote benefits the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, just one example.) East Bay-made spirits and liqueurs, including a selection from Alameda’s St. George Spirits, extend the range of a purchase to Berkeley’s Home Base Spirits, Richmond’s Falcon Spirits Distillery and Oakland’s Wright & Brown Distilling Co., and others.
There are plenty of options for New Year’s Eve meals, dishes, or specialty drink packages at East Bay restaurants. Calavera in Oakland has a standout that caught our attention: a gourmet meal for two that comes with a party pack of Mexican goodies for your at-home fiesta. The three-course meal comes with a bottle of sparkling wine and the desserts offered are equally tempting: a Caramel custard. Flan with huckleberry sauce & Mexican shortbread cookie, Chocolate Bread Pudding (Firebrand croissant loaf, TCHO chocolate, tres leches-banana espuma & Mexican cajeta). A la Carte additions include wine pairings, mezcal/tequila flights, or a hangover pack with a St. George Green Chile Bloody Mary Kit and choice of Pozole or Menudo for swift recovery the next morning.