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Champagne has long been associated with celebrations. (Photo: Flickr user: viking_79)
Champagne has long been associated with celebrations. (Photo: Flickr user: viking_79)

New Year's Eve celebrations

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Once again Christmas has come and gone with great fanfare and celebration. I hope yours was as special as mine with family and friends gathered around. Now we head into the next festive occasion of December. New Year's is the one time of the year when everyone will have a glass of bubble whether it’s Champagne, Cava, Sekt or Baby Duck.

New Year's dates back over four thousand years and while the festivity is nothing new, the day has changed over time.

The Egyptians celebrated the New Year when the River Nile flooded usually around the end of September and it was an important event because it allowed the Egyptians to grow crops in an otherwise arid climate.

The Babylonians celebrated the New Year with the first New Moon after the Vernal Equinox, which is the beginning of spring. This was seen as a period of rebirth and the time to plant new crops.

The Romans continued to observe the New Year in March but various emperors tampered with the calendar. In 153 BC, in an attempt to correct things, the Roman senate declared January 1st to be the start of the New Year but it was still meddled with. It was not until 1582 when Pope Gregory XII incorporated the present method of calculating and dividing the year and reinstituted the practice of observing New Year's Day on January 1 that New Year's was firmly established.

One of the most popular songs in the world, which very few know all the lyrics to (especially after copious libations), is Auld Lang Syne, an old Scottish song that was first published by the poet Robert Burns in 1796. Burns wrote down and refined some of the lyrics after he heard it sung by an old man from Burns’ homeland of Ayrshire, Scotland. Auld Lang Syne literally translates as "old long since" and means "times gone by.” The song asks whether old friends and times will be forgotten and promises to remember people of the past with fondness, "For auld lang syne, we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet."

Champagne has long been associated with celebrations and although there is no firm origin of the combination of Champagne and New Year's, it seems appropriate that someone should come up with this pairing.

Only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne. The geography, soil, climate, and the process of making Champagne, is what makes French Champagne authentic. It undergoes a secondary fermentation process whereby carbon dioxide gas is trapped inside each bottle, which then produces the bubbles.

There are several sparkling wines made in the Champagne-style or “Méthode Champenoise.” Spanish bubbly made by the Champagne method is called “Cava” and is a very acceptable alternative to French Champagne and much better value for money. One of the best is the Segura Viudas.

German sparkling wine is labelled as Sekt, a German term for sparkling wine and only a product labeled Deutscher Sekt (German sparkling wine) is made from 100% German grapes. Otherwise it is made at least partially from French, Italian or Spanish wine

Sparkling wine made in the U.S. is called just that, sparkling wine. U.S. sparkling-wine producers indicate how the wines are made by labelling the bottles as “Méthode Champenoise” or “Traditional Method” on the label.

Australia has a few producers of sparkling wine, Seaview being one of the best.

In BC, we have Sumac Ridge, Summerhill, Blue Mountain, along with a host of others, producing sparkling wine in the Champagne-style.

Champagne or sparkling wine should be served chilled. Put it in the refrigerator about an hour or half an hour in an ice bucket filled with ice cubes and a little water before you plan to serve it. Opening it at room temperature gives it a flat taste and prevents the flavours of the beverage from coming out and serving it too cold locks the flavour in and dulls the wine. Furthermore, do not pop the cork. To open Champagne properly, and without sending the cork flying and your guests ducking for cover, twist and pull the cork one way while twisting the bottle the other way. Ease the cork out of the bottle slowly so that the only sound you hear is a slight hissing sound, which is the sound of the gas escaping.

So in the words of Lily Bollinger (1894-1971), proprietor of the Bollinger Champagne house, “I drink it when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and I drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it, unless I'm thirsty.”

New Year's Eve Wine Picks:

The Cristalino Rose NV ($20 PWS) is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Trepat (an ingenious variety). Showcasing beautiful scents of sweet rhubarb, raspberry and cherry on nose with fresh, clean strawberry and cherry flavours and a consistent bead, this is an excellent match for fried appetizers such as calamari or light desserts such as crème brulée. Excellent on its own or with fresh fruit, the finish is clean and crisp and begs for another sip.

A spectacular price for this iconic Piedmontese wine, 2006 San Silvestro ‘Patres’ Barolo ($35 PWS) has an intense dark black cherry-red colour, with hints of crimson around the rim. The nose is loaded with complex aromas of coffee, vanilla, black plum, black cherry/strawberry jam mixed with menthol, sweet tarry licorice, tobacco leaf, Asian spice, rose petals and violets. The palate is rich and full, with a non-stop flavour of black fruit, licorice, plum, Asian spice and smoke. Powerful and intense on the finish, this is a beautifully balanced wine. Enjoy now for the sheer pleasure or cellar for decades.

Only 150 cases were produced of this stunning Cabernet. The 2007 Desert Hills Cabernet Sauvignon ($38 PWS) is an opaque, black, deep crimson mauve colour with superb aromas of violets, blackcurrants and cassis, mouth filling flavours of dark chocolate, cassis, spice and black pepper, soft, velvety acidity, balanced by firm tannins followed by an exceptionally long aftertaste of dark chocolate, violet infusions, blackcurrant and cedar. A killer red.

The 2007 Laughing Stock Portfolio ($53 PWS) is a right bank Bordeaux-style blend of 56% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot. Aged 19 months in 40% new, 60% older French oak barrels, this wine is loaded with concentrated blackberry, cassis, licorice, chocolate, vanilla and toasty caramel. The texture on the palate is silky smooth, spicy and teeth-staining. One of the best BC reds from the 2007 vintage, at a production of 2700 cases, the 2007 is almost half of their total production. There is very little of this vintage left so grab some while you can. Perfect wine to pair with Beef Wellington on New Year’s Eve.

The 2008 Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden Auslese ($63 PWS) is an aromatic wine with delicious green apple, under-ripe pear and white peach with hints of wet slate, petrol and rose petal. Fruit-juicy and delicate with a concentrated, honeyed-apple palate, the palate is plush and dense with crisp, refreshing acidity and a deliciously long, mouth-watering finish that keeps the wine lively and balanced. The Niederberg Helden vineyard is one of the great sites of the Mosel and the complexity from the Niederberg Helden vineyard is due to its gray slate soils.

The Quinta do Noval L.B.V. 2003 ($40 PWS) is one L.B.V. that tastes like a single Quinta Port. Beautiful rich, dark colour with a spicy nose of blackberries, cassis, black cherries, menthol and licorice, the palate is a smooth and velvety mouthful of fresh black and red fruits with a firm tannic structure and a long juicy, hedonistic finish. Bottled without filtration, this wine has plenty of depth, colour and richness of fruit and intensity of bouquet that other L.B.Vs are lacking. This is one serious L.B.V.

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