For most of us, our wine traditions extend to the humble toast – raising and clinking glasses to wish one another good health, or to acknowledge absent friends. Historically, this simple act is said to drive malevolent demons away from social gatherings, while some believe it has roots in demonstrations of trust, as there are fewer opportunities for poison and sabotage if everyone drinks together. But we’re not alone in our observation of this wine ritual, and those from other countries are more curious still.
Georgia is known for its ancient wine varietals, and for the many, many toasts that accompany their consumption. The country has more than one hundred basic toasts and plenty of more complicated ones, and it’s not uncommon for the toast master, or ‘Tamada’, to raise a toast up to 20 times in just one meal. So if you ever find yourself at an authentic ‘supra’ (feast), be sure to pace yourself.
Throwing a glass of wine in someone’s face is usually a sign that at least one person is unhappy with the situation, but that’s not the case in northern Spain’s La Rioja on the 29 June every year. On this day, the whole town gets together for the Haro Wine Festival. Dressed in white, the townspeople celebrate the Feast of Saints Paul and Peter by throwing around as much red wine as they can. After a spectacular wine fight that leaves everyone drenched, the people gather together for an evening of traditional dancing.
Ukraine wedding tradition dictates that any guest that manages to steal one of the bride’s shoes is allowed to playfully boss around the other guests – in jest, of course. One comman ‘demand’ is that they drink a toast out of the stolen shoe. Nowadays, it’s more likely that a glass will be attached to the shoe to drink from, but you’ll still have to bring it uncomfortably close to your face. And of course the bride will likely have to find alternative footwear – white shoes won’t fare well in the face of that kind of revelry.
Across central France, most of Central Europe and some regions of Eastern Europe, wine producers are likely to practice an old Celtic tradition called Wassailing. This ritual takes place in early January, and sees farmers and villagers celebrating with music, dancing, burning tapers – and lots of wine – in order to encourage the spirits of the vines and trees to bear a good harvest the following autumn. In some parts of France, they still present the oldest or largest vines with special offerings.
It’s customary for a newly-wed bride to offer her new husband a cup of palm wine in a ceremony called ‘Igbankwu’, or wine carrying. The father of the bride pours the cup and gives it to his daughter, who must then find her husband among the wedding guests – their job, though, is to make this as difficult as possible (playfully, of course). Only after she has found her husband and presented him with the wine are the couple considered married.