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Auld Lang Syne

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

As we look back on 2022 and plan our celebrations to greet a new year, we honor traditions to symbolize the turning of the page on the calendar - the group countdown of the last ten seconds, the singing of Auld Lang Syne, goofy hats and glasses, and the kiss at midnight. More often than not, there is a beverage in hand. As I plan my own celebration, which will undoubtedly involve champagne, I was curious about wine traditions from around the world. I found examples of ways to celebrate the sweetness, vibrancy, and warm spice of life . . .

Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh - a dessert wine from southwestern France, near the foothills of the Pyrennes, is made from late-harvested local grapes (Petit Courbu, Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, and Courbu Blanc). As they are harvested in a raisinated state in late November and early December, the grapes produce a very concentrated and rich wine. The 1991 weather threw a wrench into the harvest by causing a delay that didn’t allow the grapes to raisinate properly and it was decided to harvest the grapes on December 31st – which also happens to be the Feast Day of Saint Sylvester in the Catholic faith. The comradery of the late-night harvest on such an important night was so enjoyable, that it became an annual New Year’s Eve tradition. After a dinner to honor the Saint, harvesters gather at 8 pm to hand harvest the remaining grapes. Post successful harvest, the community gathers around a fire to warm up, drink up, and ring in the New Year.

Speaking of grapes . . . there is the tradition of eating 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight. Attributed to Spain and specifically, the Andalucía region - it quite possibly originated in France, and this lovely custom is now found in many countries. The grapes represent good luck and are to be washed down with sparkling wine, Cava in Spain and Champagne in France. Grapes have been added to my prep list, enough for each guest to have 12 - along with several bottles of sparkling wine. Personally, I love to buy Crémant for the start of the evening, Franciacorta or Cava for the midcourse, and then a special Champagne for the midnight toast.

Not ready to end the celebration on New Year’s Eve? We are nearing the end of mulled wine season, apparently, the last day is the end of Christmastide. Commonly enjoyed in Europe during the winter, especially at the outdoor Christmas markets – it is made to keep one warm with the heat and the alcohol. From personal experience, I can attest to its curative powers that keep one warm as you explore outdoor markets in December in the Austrian Alps. Done well, it’s a delight and is a tradition that goes back to the Roman empire (perhaps even before the Greeks) – where spices and heat were added to wine this time of year to keep the wine from making people ill from spoilage. As the empire expanded throughout Europe, the tradition of heating wine with spices followed suit. The base wine oft reflects the local wines; we tend to consider it made from red wine, yet white wine is even used in Alsace. A two millennia tradition, it’s a charming way to enjoy the spices of the season and to warm up over the colder winter nights.

However you choose to celebrate the New Year, may it be joyful! Cheers to the New year!

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