That's Entertaining: Holiday Help
Traditions and Events for the holidays, including Wine Glass Etiquette
This issue focuses on entertaining, including traditions, plus food and beverage challenges hosts will encounter. The feature, Wine Glass Etiquette, is an article on what wines to serve with what, the impact of price, and the proper glass. The next issue will focus on November highlights. This issue is purely about getting ready for the festivities!
Header image: New Year's Day in the Temple Bar district of Dublin, Ireland.
Let's start with something that invokes panic when I'm hosting a dinner party. After the allergies, dislikes, religious exemptions, and dietary restrictions are accounted for, what requires upping my hostess game? The words from a guest—"My date is vegan."
Veganism impacts nearly everything—food, entertainment, topic discussions, decor, cleaning products, and attire. What exactly is vegan, and how is it different from a vegetarian? World Vegan Month lets you know.
WORLD VEGAN MONTH
Date: November 1-30, 2022
Champion: The Vegan Society
World Vegan Month kicks off the holiday season by encouraging people to go vegan.
The Vegan Society organizes food festivals to convince people to cease eating meat and using animal products by embracing the vegan lifestyle. Vegans believe their lifestyle is better for human health, animals, and the environment.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO "GO VEGAN?"
Vegan is an ultra-austere offshoot of vegetarianism, requiring drastic lifestyle changes. The idea began in 1944 with British woodworker Donald Watson (1911-2005), who coined the term "vegan," defined its parameters, and founded the Vegan Society. Unlike vegetarianism, with its roots in ancient religions, veganism is agnostic and tied to the fringes of the animal rights movement.
Vegan purists refrain from eating, using, working with, wearing, or enjoying human activities with animals. To become an authentic vegan, there are a few things you'll need to change.
GENERAL VEGAN GUIDELINES
1) No eating meat, poultry, game, dairy, fish, eggs, honey, gelatin, or aioli (mayonnaise).
2) No clothing, products, or home furnishings made from animals, including leather, fur, wool, ivory, bone, shells, or silk.
3) No products tested on animals; no services using animals, including transportation.
4) No attending, participating, or watching entertainment that uses animals, including film, television, circuses, aquariums, zoos, races, sports, rodeos, hunting, and wild animal parks.
5) No animal husbandry.
6) Most vegans, but not all, are antivaccine and anti-medication due to the necessity of testing new drugs and vaccines on animals.
7) Many vegans reject having pets, though the pet issue is unsettled and debated in the community.
WHAT IS A VEGETARIAN?
In contrast, most vegetarians eat animal products like milk, cheese, yogurt, and eggs. The key is that vegetarians don't eat dead animals. Honey is a staple, often replacing sugar in recipes. Vegetarians will wear silk, wool, and leather, visit zoos, enjoy films with animals, and support humane farming and ranching. Vegetarians, as a group, do not have issues with medication, and many happily have pets.
Pescatarians are a hybrid between omnivores (the majority of global humans who eat plant and animal-based diets) and vegetarians. Pescatarians eat fish but do not eat beef, lamb, pork, game, or poultry.
INTERNATIONAL SANDWICH DAY
Date: November 3, 2022
Champion: Historical Anniversary.
Sandwich Day honors one of the portable methods of serving food, the sandwich.
The first recorded sandwich originated with Hillel the Elder, a rabbi who lived in the first century BC. Hillel mixed chopped nuts, apples, spices, and wine creating a chutney paste that he spread between two matzoh flatbreads. His is the first known version of this popular meal, and the "Hillel sandwich" is still served during Jewish Passover celebrations.
The term "sandwich" was first recorded in 1762 by the English author Edward Gibbons. The cooks at London's Beef Steak Club, a gambling club, invented the bread-flanked sandwich we know today.
The word sandwich is the namesake of Lord John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792). An avid gambler, he took his meals at the card table. Whenever he was hungry, his servants would bring him cold cuts placed between two slices of bread. Soon, his gambling mates began ordering "the same as Sandwich."
Lord Montagu was born before the switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. This day, November 3, corresponds to his birthday in the Julian calendar of November 13, 1718.
Date: November 20, 2022
Location: The United Kingdom, Australia & Canada
Plum Pudding, also known as Christmas pudding, originated in England and is traditionally made five weeks before Christmas, on Sunday before Advent begins.
A day of preparation, "Stir-up Sunday," is a family affair. Prunes are the main ingredient, ergo plum pudding. Each family member stirs the pudding and makes a wish. Silver coins for increased wealth, wishbones for good luck, a silver thimble signifying thriftiness, a ring to protect or create a marriage, and an anchor for safe harbor and security complete the pudding batter. It is then stored until Christmastide.
Traditionally, plum pudding is kept without refrigeration. When the family was ready to eat, steam is applied to return the moisture.
Date: December 23, 2022
Champion: From the television show Seinfeld.
Festivus originates in a 1997 episode of "Seinfeld," an American ensemble comedy on television. It's celebrated within multi-faith cultures and large cities and provides a reason for people of various backgrounds to celebrate the season together.
The originating episode goes as such: George Costanza's father, Frank, is the person to "blame" for Festivus. Jerry says that when George was a kid, Frank got tired of all the commercialism associated with typical holidays, so he decided to create his own. Frank said: "Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way. A new holiday was born: Festivus for the rest of us!"
Now, one might ask: what does a Happy Festivus mean? Well, it includes a Festivus dinner, an unadorned aluminum Festivus pole, practices such as the "Airing of Grievances" and "Feats of Strength," and the labeling of easily explainable events as "Festivus miracles."
Festivus is a reason to have a party not associated with a religion or ethnicity in which all are welcome!
Date: December 21, 2022
Champion: Winter Solstice; Ancient Tradition.
"Troll the ancient yuletide carols, fa la la la la..." If you've been in a Christian country during the holiday season, no doubt you've heard a reference to Yule in the carol "Deck the Halls." This event is the song's topic.
Yule is the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, the shortest day of the year. Pagan faiths previously, and Wiccans today, believe the Yule, or Alban Athan, occurs on the year's longest night. The faithful believe this night marks the sun god's death and the earth goddess's rebirth. Feasting, bonfires, and singing mark celebrations.
Enter Rome. Pope Julius I, who shepherded the Christian faith between February 6, 337 - April 12, 352 AD, chose December 25 as the birthday of Jesus Christ. The date coincided with the pagan Roman holiday "Dies natalis solis invicti," which translates to "the birthday of the invincible Sun," permitting those who hadn't converted to celebrate their traditions with others, including caroling, feasting, and fire.
Fire brings us to the symbol of the Yule log, which originated in Scandinavia. The Yule log was an entire tree set alight at first on the solstice and later on Christmas Eve to entice the sun to return. The tree would burn for twelve days, and its ashes were folded into the soil at spring planting to ensure a bountiful harvest. In modern times it is tradition to burn a large log on the fire on Christmas Eve. Streaming services also provide a Yule log screen saver for those without a fireplace.
WINE GLASS ETIQUETTE
The picture above is the view from my "happy place" balcony in Jounieh, Lebanon, five hundred feet below the Apotres Ghosta. The wine is a Chardonnay from the Ksara winery in the Beqaa Valley.
Even if you don't drink alcohol, a time may come when you need to serve wine with style and class. You'd be amazed how often I've been in a five-star hotel or fine restaurant and served a Malbec, Pinot Noir, or Cabernet in a Chardonnay glass. It is scandalous!
Maybe scandalous is a bit strong.
However, you're not doing yourself (or vintage) any favors by serving it in the wrong glass. Wine glasses are designed to highlight the keynotes of the beverage by allowing it to touch the right part of your mouth and provide the optimal environment to enjoy the scent. The proper glass improves the wine's taste by at least 20%, in my experience.
HELP! WHICH WINE DO I SERVE?
People often wonder if the price makes a wine better. The price indicates the brand, how full-bodied the wine is (time aged), and its complexities. Expensive wine is not always the best choice for the dish you wish to complement. In general, comfort foods like casseroles, basic pasta dishes, hamburgers, pizza, simple Mediterranean cuisine, most hors d'oeuvres, and firm cheeses like cheddar, swiss, and jack go better with simple (moderate to low-priced) wines.
High-quality meats and fish like venison, quail, filets, salmon, halibut, and complex spicy dishes go better with more expensive wines. Ham is a "sweet meat." Pair it with a Riesling, Moscato, Chenin Blanc, Rosé, Lambrusco, Grenache, or Zinfandel.
Rule of thumb: The higher the quality of the food or the bolder the taste, the more expensive the wine.
Happily, most party foods are easy to prepare and involve simple tastes. Go with a mid-level Pinot, Cabernets, Merlots, Malbec, Zinfandel or Shiraz. White wine works well with veggies, chicken, and white fish, but turkey, especially dark meat, is more decadent and is enhanced by a dry red. Well-marinated grilled meats find a compliment in more expensive Cabernets, Malbec, Merlots, Zinfandels, Bordeaux, and Burgundy wines. Lamb is best with medium-body dry reds.
For vegetarian or vegan menus, full-bodied unoaked white wine like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and most white wines produced in Australia will dazzle.
Although Chinese and Thai cuisine is spicy, they're the exception to the spicy rule. Go with a Pinot Grigio, dry Riesling, Chablis, or young white Bordeaux.
Full-body oaken white wines, including Chardonnay and several French varieties, should be at least three to eight years old. These pair best with rich seafood like lobster and scallops, roasted chicken, and foods that include smokey flavors like wild mushrooms or roast tomatoes.
Medium-body Chardonnay and French whites (aged one to three years) go best with egg dishes, late summer vegetables, squashes, rich fishes like salmon, sea bass, or turbot, and cheeses, especially cheddar.
Light-body Chardonnay, Chablis, and white Burgundy (aged six to 18 months—or boxed wines) and wines from the Puligny-Montrachet region of France enhance delicate fish, vegetables, oysters, pasta, and foods common in spring.
DESSERTS & SWEETS
Dessert wines, including Port, are excellent with dark chocolate desserts. Champagne and sparkling wine adore fresh fruits, especially berries.
Go "down under" to the Australian wine aisle for pumpkin pie pairings. Excellent complements include Liqueur Muscat (very high alcohol content), Malmsey, Madeira, Marsala Dolce, and sweet Riesling. (Of course, dark rum, a liquor, also blends beautifully with pumpkin spice.)
One more tip? Inexpensive wines like "Two-buck Chuck" and boxed dry red wines, including Franzia, Almaden, and non-alcoholic red wines, make fantastic mulled wine (hot wine with spices). Mulled wine simmering in a crockpot is a wonderful, cozy, inexpensive adult beverage to serve at holiday parties. Simmer covered with spice packs for four hours before the party and use a ladle to scoop and serve in coffee mugs. Garnish with a cinnamon stick. Another bonus? People tend to drink hot drinks slower, lowering your liability risk as the host.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE GLASS
Why is the glass important? Your tongue, soft palate, and throat include regions, with each area optimizing a particular taste. Where the wine first falls in your mouth and what you smell impacts the taste. Specialty wine glasses enhance this experience. My favorite brand is Riedel, a company that designs wine glasses around the flavor of the wine to optimize the experience. I'm using some of their research in this article.
Riedel holds regular wine-tasting classes in Santa Monica, California, and it is truly mind-blowing to experience the difference the right glass makes. What stood out when I attended was how markedly the taste of various wines changed depending on the glass. An excellent wine loses its authentic flavor when served in the wrong glass, and a marginal wine improves. Decanting, which allows the wine to breathe, is also critical for mid to high-quality red wines.
This video is similar to the Reidel course mentioned above,
BENEFITS OF WINE GLASS SHAPE IN TASTE
A proper wine glass has a smooth rim without ridges. When you put a moderate to high-acidity wine into a rimmed glass, the wine enters your mouth, hitting the part of the tongue that accentuates the acidity. Rather than taste the smoothness of the wine, you taste a bite.
Once you've found wine glasses without rolled rims, look at the shape. Red wine glasses are deeper and larger than white wine glasses, except Chardonnay glasses, which look like a fishbowl. Port and Sherry glasses are about half the size of regular wine glasses.
SIP AND SERVE LIKE A PRO
Always hold the wine glass from the stem, not the bulb. Fill the glass one-third full for red wines, one-half for white, and three-quarters for sparkling. The difference relates to the necessity of aerating and smelling the wine, which is why red wine glasses are larger and deeper.
WINE GLASS SHAPES AND FOOD PAIRINGS
This section shows the type of glass that goes with different varieties of wine. Below I briefly describe the taste and pairings of the wines featured. Hopefully, my drawings help you see the differences!
Sauvignon Blanc is a refreshing dry white wine of green fruit, grass, herbs, gooseberry, and white asparagus undertones. It compliments pork, strong cheeses, shellfish, chicken, and fish.
Riesling is an all-purpose white wine and can be dry or sweet with hints of peach, citrus, and apple that blend beautifully with pork, sausage, fruit, fish, nuts, chicken, soft cheeses, and Thai cuisine.
Sémillon is a fruity white wine with hints of nuts, honey, and orange peel. A dry wine, Sémillon pairs well with curry, shellfish, sweet bread, chicken, fruits, and ham.
Often served before the meal as a palate cleanser, Gewurztraminer is a semi-sweet to sweet white wine bursting with tropical fruits and spices. It compliments Thai cuisine, curries, spicy Chinese, and ham.
Pinot Grigio is the most versatile white wine to serve at cocktail parties. Dry and white, it has understated flavors of pear and grape and is the perfect complement for melons, fish, calamari, bar food, vegetables, chicken, ham, pesto, and typical cheeses.
Viognier is a delightful taste of spring, a dry white wine brimming with honeysuckle, citrus, blossoms, gardenias, and peaches. It balances shellfish, rich fish (black cod, sturgeon, shark, salmon), spicy poultry, root vegetables, Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisine, mild curries, and chutneys.
White Zinfandel is a fruity sweet white wine that enhances citrus, white sauce pasta dishes, cheese, chicken, fish, hamburgers, pizza, and Asian cuisine.
Chardonnay is a full-bodied, dry white wine, best when aged in oak barrels. Oak gives it a "buttery" taste, and tropical fruit, apples, and lemon are its keynotes. It is a classic served with salmon, pork, cheeses, chicken, ham, curry, white fish, vegetables, and squash.
Chablis is a light-body white wine, neither sweet nor dry, which is a Chardonnay without the oak, aging, and with a touch of salinity. It tingles on the tongue, complementing salads, seafood, brie, vegetables, egg dishes, and Chinese and Thai cuisine.
Madeira is an amber wine that can be dry or sweet and is known for its smokey, fruity flavor. Typically Madeira is served as an aperitif or as a dessert cordial. The older it is, the better. It is best paired with poultry, fish, cheeses, and savory dishes.
Champagne from France and Prosecco, Moscato, Cava, Sekt, Espumante, and other sparkling wines are known for their fruity flavor and bubbles, ranging from dry to sweet. These celebratory wines accompany chicken, pork, desserts, citrus, berries, and sherbet.
Barbera is the perfect affordable comfort food wine. This dry red is a wonderful ensemble of blackberries, cherries, raspberries, and plums. Barbera takes Italian dishes like pizza and lasagna to new heights and revitalizes casseroles, stroganoff, stir-fry, and veal.
Malbec is the saxophone of wine, smooth, full-body, dry, and red. It features plums, black pepper, and blackberries and is the perfect companion to smoked or spicy foods, including chili, dark chocolate, strong cheeses, beef, lamb, and dark meat turkey.
Shiraz is similar to Malbec but slightly tangy and not as full-bodied. Black pepper and blackberries highlight its dry taste, yet it is light enough to sizzle with Texas-style barbeque, wild game, bison, lamb, and spicey Latin American cuisine.
Zinfandel is for red wine lovers that prefer their wine sweeter. It's flavored with blackberries, boysenberries, and plums, allowing it to pair beautifully with veal, pork, chicken, beef, vegetables, and curry.
Bordeaux is an investment wine, full-body, dry and red. Key flavors include dark berries, cassis, and cedar, allowing it to enhance expensive steaks and filets, prime cuts of venison, strong cheeses, lamb, and monkfish.
Cabernet Sauvignon is an affordable version of Bordeaux that is very popular at cocktail parties and gatherings. Dry and full to medium body, its taste hints at dark berries, cassis, and various woody undertones. Enjoy it with lamb, chocolate, beef and steak, nuts, hard cheeses, wild game, turkey, and rich Italian dishes.
Merlot is a happy red wine, medium-body and dry with plum, cherry, and floral notes. It's another popular cocktail party wine that enhances pizza, pasta, mushrooms, lamb, and grilled meat dishes.
Pinot Noir is the winter champ, with its baked cherry, plum, and earthy undertones. It's the perfect red for holiday dinners and blends splendidly with anything smoked, figgy pudding, complex chicken dishes, green vegetables, potatoes, beef, lamb, and all dishes with tomato sauces.
Port is a sweet red wine intended as a cordial or aperitif bursting with blackberries, boysenberries, and plums. It's traditionally served with dessert and compliments chocolate, flan, custard, cheeses, and cheesecake.
Sherry can range from white to rose and can be sweet or dry. Often it is fortified with brandy and consumed after the meal. The dry version is often used in cooking, and its taste includes maple, toffee, and fruits. Sherry compliments vegetarian dishes, pork, avocados, fruit, tapas, and cookies.
Chianti is synonymous with Italian food, but it also goes very well with barbeque! This legendary wine boasts fruity and oak flavors that tend toward dry and are neither heavy nor light. Best of all, it is affordable!
Well, this newsletter got rather long, but I had a blast writing the Wine Glass Etiquette. What's my favorite wine right now? Shannon Family Wineries 2019 Bourbon Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon. Fortunately, it's too expensive for regular sipping, but it's a fabulous treat when I do!
The next issue will cover key events in November, the start of the holiday season in much of the world. Until then, thank you so much for subscribing. Please share!
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