By Elspeth Brown
My dad passed away a couple of months ago. After the funeral, my sisters, their families and mine opened bottles of Champagne and toasted him. It seemed very symbolic, a form of respect for a person. This is something that happens very often at funerals, anniversaries and the holidays. We raise a glass of something we really enjoy and cherish the ones around us, whether they are there in spirit or in person. We almost want to immortalize the moment. The holidays are a time that evokes those feelings and tempts us to pour something very special in our glass and raise it.
Why do we raise our glass and say “cheers” before we have a drink with a friend? Toasting is thought to have come from sacrificial libations in which a sacred liquid—either blood or wine; mine better be wine—was offered to the gods in exchange for a wish or a prayer.
Today, we still do that and raise our glasses “to the heavens” to toast those living and not. The act of clinking glasses has also been around for a long time. In medieval times, people would clink their glasses together loudly to ward off any evil spirits. It was even better if some wine spilled on the floor to distract the bad spirits in hopes they would leave you alone.
The holidays offer a great excuse to pour something spectacular in your glass when you are toasting. Here are some of my top wine suggestions with which I would happily cheer my friends and family members.
Champagne is always a traditional holiday wine to toast. Some of my favorite special-occasion bubbles are Billecart-Salmon Champagne Brut Réserve and Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rose Champagne. Each deserves an audience and a group of loved ones to share in the true joy of such special wine. Both of these Champagnes have the classic, yeasty-biscuit richness with tiny bubbles that pop in your mouth.
But, if Champagne is not in your palate range, I would suggest a white Sancerre from the Loire Valley of France. Sauvignon Blanc is the grape in a white Sancerre, and, preferably, will have been aged in oak. It offers herbaceous qualities, light acidity and some nice richness on the finish.
For the red wine drinkers out there, I would recommend an Amarone della Valpolicella from Italy. These reds are expressive and elegant. They have notes of cinnamon, peppercorn, fig, black cherry and a rich, chocolate, brown sugar finish. Aged Tempranillo wines from Spain can also be the reds that knock your socks off. Tempranillos, especially ones that have spent a substantial amount of time in oak, tend to be savory with flavors of dill, tobacco and blackberry. The smokiness a Tempranillo has to offer is enough to warm even the Grinch’s heart.
This holiday season, raise your glass with a truly magnificent wine and toast with honor and goodwill. “Here’s to the year past and friends who have left us. Here’s to the present and the friends who are here. Here’s to the New Year and the new friends who will join us.” Cheers!
Elspeth Brown is the owner of Maggie B’s Wine & Specialty Store, 10 C South Main Street in Weaverville. For information, visit MaggieBsWine.com or call 828.645.1111.