One cause of my tearing up this time of year is thinking of Strasbourg. Always one of the most beautiful of cities, its dress is at its finest during the Christkindelsmarik when every house, every business, every church, every street lights up the oldest Christmas Market in Europe. Started in a.d. 1570, this market resulted from a time when Rhine Valley dwellers believed that children should present gifts to the Christ Child. Till recent times, those gifts were presented on Christmas Eve, the night when the Christmas tree was put in place. Yes, the Christmas tree, created if not in Strasbourg, then in Colmar, or somewhere between, was not put up till the night before Christmas. There is little doubting that the Christmas tree originated in Alsace, probably to brighten the longest, darkest nights of the year.
Today’s Christmas Market reflects the secularization of Christmas by opening a couple of weeks before the holiday but without losing any of its Middle Ages romance. Market stalls — an estimated 300 of them — resemble miniature Alpine chalets and spread throughout the main city squares around the cathedral, city hall, the train station, and the municipal theater.
Wherever you stroll (and yes, you must stroll as even in normal times there is no driving in the center of town), you catch aromas of pine and cinnamon and chestnuts and oven baked fruit tarts and overhear the oohs and ahs of those glimpsing for the first time the main Christmas tree, a hundred feet tall in the Place Kleber.
The market is truly beautiful. The ambiance is overwhelmingly joyous. The crafts and ornaments and snacks are world class. But, alas, for this correspondent, the drink of the festival is mulled wine, usually served gently heated, heavily seasoned with spices such as cloves and anise along with orange. I have to confess; I just don’t like mulled wine. Even so, I love the season, especially in Strasbourg, and my nostalgic tears are genuine.
Why entertain for the holidays with humdrum drinks when you can make everything sparkle. Here are some recipes and ideas for entertaining in style!
This is my own recipe, simply because I like this more than the other recipes I found!
Hanukkah Champagne Cocktail
Star fruit, sliced in 1/4″ slices to make a star shape
Silver decorating sugar
Fill a Champagne flute with 1 ounce of Blue curacao and top with Champagne or sparkling wine.
Garnish with star fruit slice and sprinkle with sugar.
This is a beautiful red drink, designed by Michelle Magidow, manager and bartender of Seattle’s Lark restaurant:
3 oz Moscato d’Asti
1 oz Campari
1/2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
1 orange twist
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add all of the remaining ingredients except the orange twist and shake well. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with the orange twist.
New Orleans chef John Besh created this recipe–incorporating the Champagne to make it more festive.
3/4 c sugar
3/4 c water
1 1/2 cups packed mint leaves, plus 12 sprigs, for garnish
6 limes, cut into wedges
2 cups light rum
3 cups Champagne or sparkling wine
1. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water and cook over high heat just until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.
2. In a large pitcher, combine the sugar syrup with the mint leaves and lime wedges and muddle well with a wooden spoon. Add the rum and stir well. Strain the drink into another pitcher.
3. Fill tall glasses with cracked ice and pour in the drink, filling them about 2/3 full. Top with Champagne, garnish with the mint sprigs and serve.
New Year’s Eve
This classic recipe is New Orlean’s style, using cognac rather than gin, from famous NOLA mixologist Neal Bodenheimer:
1 1/2 oz VSOP cognac
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the cognac, simple syrup and lemon juice and shake well. Strain into a martini glass, top with sparkling wine and serve.
From Nashville Tennessee’s Merchants restaurant:
1 sugar cube
Lemon twist for garnish
Put sugar cube in a Champagne glass. Lightly sprinkle the sugar cube with Angostura bitters and pour in enough sparkling wine to fill the glass. Garnish with a lemon twist before serving.
Now, as pretty as these all may be, I think it is fun to add a bit of color and sparkle–cranberries, pomegranate pips, maraschino cherries, slices of star fruit or frozen grapes, are a great addition to the drinks, as are ice cubes frozen in shapes, made from fruit juices. Use colored sugars to rim the glasses, or sprinkle sugars on the top of the drink.
At dinner the other night, a guest said he doesn’t know if the wines he likes are really good wines because he doesn’t know how to assess them; he just drinks what he likes
“Good,” I said, ” you have resolved the first issue in appreciating wine. You drink it and you use it.” Liking wine is the most important step in learning about it. While I like to say — and truly believe — that one should drink the wine he likes, wines become more interesting as you experience more and more of what they can offer. That’s why I often remind anyone who cares that judging wine, as for a competition or for buying for a restaurant, is not the same as drinking wine or enjoying wine. When judging, we concentrate on colors, aromas, impact on the palate, length of finish — subjugating taste to any and all of those traits.
When drinking for enjoyment, you don’t want to spoil the occasion or the conversation by overdoing the intensive assessment of a judge. You can, however, make observations that don’t require deep concentration or sharp focus. Try at first to explain, if only to yourself, why it is that you like this wine — or don’t like it. Pay attention to how it feels on the mouth and in the throat.
Always take time to appreciate the hues in a wine’s color. That can pave the way for a general description as you start to sip. Seek layers of flavors, and don’t be disappointed if they are hard to come by. Complexity in wine is, well, complex; but a well made, properly cared-for wine will reveal more than one dimension. And don’t feel bad if you don’t sense all those flavors of red fruit, citrus, tobacco, mineral, and others that you read about. First of all, they are not ever-present in all wines, but in time you will get to where your palate will distinguish some complexity.
Look for balance. Are the sweet-sour flavors in harmony? Does it feel good from first whiff to the swallowing? As the old joke made clear about how to get to Carnegie Hall: “Practice, practice, practice.” So it can be with wine.OLDER POSTS »