With Christmas and New Year’s Eve just around the corner, most of us have been busy stocking up on wine and fizz for the forthcoming festive celebrations (even if they’re going to look a little different this year). Perhaps your family has its own boozy traditions – a Buck’s Fizz on Christmas morning, for example, or a particularly special vintage with lunch – or maybe yours are more in keeping with national customs, like these…
Typically associated with cider country, wassailing is also a popular winter activity in central France, and throughout other areas in Europe where the Celts have historically had some influence. Here, farmers and winegrowers get together for a raucous celebration where they ask the spirits of the vines to bear a good harvest the following autumn. In some parts of France, revellers will make offerings of bread soaked in wine to the oldest or largest vines in the vineyard.
In the Midi-Pyrenees village of Viella, winemakers and village-folk attend mass on New Year’s Eve before heading to the vineyards to pick raisinated grapes (usually petit manseng, gros manseng and courbu) to help create a rare sweet wine called Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh.
Known commonly in the UK as ‘mulled wine’, richly spiced warm wine is a wintertime staple throughout Europe and has become so popular that you can even pick up ‘mulling kits’ at the supermarket to recreate it yourself at home. In the UK, mulled wine is typically red, sweetened with sugar and flavourings such as orange peel and cinnamon. However, there are some interesting variations on the continent.
- The warm winter tipple of choice in Austria and Germany is glühwein (which means ‘glowing wine’) – a red wine sharpened with orange juice and hearty kick of rum.
- Hungary’s take on mulled wine is forralt bor, which comprises the country’s famous sweet white wines, spiked with honey and whole peppercorns.
- And there are no half measures (literally) in Sweden, where their ‘Glogg’ includes boozy raisins and almonds, lots of spices and generous helpings of port, brandy and Muscatel. Quite the eye-opener!
Wine on fire
The Germans like to make a spectacle of wine at Christmas by literally setting it aflame. A tradition usually kept for Christmas Day or festive parties, the custom sees the host place a rum-drenched cone of sugar in a large batch of hot wine and then setting it alight to rapturous applause and cheering.
As the clock strikes midnight
Revellers in Spain typically celebrate New Year ’s Eve with a glass of Cava and a handful of 12 grapes. For every chime of the clock, a grape is eaten, and then toasts are made with the Cava. It’s thought that this tradition originated in 1909, when grape growers in Alicante devised it as a way to cut down on the large production surplus they had had that year.
Good luck for the year
In Chile, people celebrating New Year’s Eve drop a gold ring into a glass of bubbly and then drink it carefully. This is one of Chile’s many ‘cábalas’ (good luck traditions), with the gold ring symbolising prosperity.
A British institution
If you’re not completely au fait with the boozy traditions of Brits at Christmastime (beyond simply drinking a lot), the one thing you absolutely need to be aware of is their fixation with fortified wine at this time of year – particularly Port and Sherry. While many households – and even seasoned wine aficionados – are likely to overlook these wines for the other 11 months of the year, December always seems to herald their move to the front of the liquor cabinet. It’s fortified wine with everything – after dinner, with a cheese board, because the neighbours are visiting, or simply just because – and then come January, it’s relegated to the back of the cupboard again. Just as well it’s got great lasting potential.
Winter wine down under
With all the typical Christmas imagery of snow-strewn vistas, cosy log fires and frosty snowmen, it’s easy to forget that on the other side of the globe Christmas is actually synonymous with peak summertime. As such, Aussies and New Zealanders are more likely to throw a festive barbecue than gather around a table indoors. And to cool off? How about a wine popsicle? These grown-up treats are becoming increasingly popular during hot summers down under, and why not? Australia and New Zealand make the perfect crisp and fruity white wines for them!