‘Tis the season to be jolly: eat, drink and be merry
One great Christmas tradition is roasted fowl. In ancient and Medieval Europe this meant geese, swans, pheasant and even peacocks. Turkey was a much more recent New World import. Migratory birds played an important role in Greek and Roman mythology and rituals. These roasted fowls were a culinary centerpiece at pre-Christmas pagan festivities held in late December to celebrate the winter solstice. These raucous congregations lasted for several days until the attendees ultimately succumb to drink, gluttony and exhaustion.
The earliest documented celebration of Christmas on December 25 was in AD 354 in Rome and roasted goose and pheasant were on the menu. Other foods at these feasts included dates, figs, apples, wild boar and venison, fish from the Mediterranean as well as numerous desserts and alcoholic beverages sweetened with honey. Like the earlier pagan celebrations, these Roman feasts would last for days and feature superfluous amounts of food and wine.
Medieval nobility continued to favor roasted goose and other fowl at celebrations along with red meats and expensive sweets and wines. Less fortunate peasants had to make due with simple fare like cabbage flavored with onions, lesser cuts of meats and whatever mushrooms Pinot Gris is the third most planted variety in Alsace after Riesling and Gewurztraminer. Oily is a common term to describe wines, usually white, that have a similar mouthfeel to oilve oil. or winter vegetables they could forage from the forest. Home-brewed beer was the prevalent beverage of commoners while the elite favored wines.
When young Queen Victoria’s reign started in 1837, roasted goose was still a mainstay of the Christmas table but little else resembled our modern holiday fare. Turkeys first traversed the Atlantic Ocean to Spain in 1519 but they remained a rare delicacy for the Iberian Peninsula elite. North America natives and early settlers frequently ate wild turkey, this bird wasn’t specifically associated with Christmas in Europe until Victoria’s son Prince Albert championed the giant fowl as ideal holiday fare. The prince is also credited with popularizing Christmas cards and trees in Britain.
By the end of Victoria’s lengthy reign, roasted turkey had already begun to displace the noble goose as the Christmas bird of choice in the British Isles and elsewhere in the Old World. Whether you holiday fowl of choice is goose, turkey or other bird there’s a beautiful white wine that makes an ideal companion.
As the song goes, I’m dreaming of a white Christmas and this year that means the white variety Pinot Gris. The progenitor of the Pinot family is Pinot Noir with Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc the genetic descendants. In terms of DNA, they are so closely related that only a single mutation of the outer skin differentiates the Pinot relatives. The home of the Pinot family is believed to be Burgundy where the earliest records of Pinot Gris as a distinct variety appear in the 13th century. A century later the grape was well established in neighboring French, Swiss and German wine regions.
Until the 19th century outbreak of the Phylloxera pest, Pinot Gris thrived in Burgundy and Champagne as a favored single variety and grape for blending. I’d dare to wager that most readers didn’t know that for most of the 18th century top Domaine Romanee Conti red wines consisted of approximately 20 percent Pinot Gris. Isacs is the founder and CEO of EnjoyGourmet, a leading gourmet digital (www.enjoygourmet.com.cn) and print media company in China. He has authored over a dozen wine and food books including the awarded ISACS Guides and other gourmet books and is a wine consultant to governments, wine regions and organizations. He also hosts wine events for leading organizations and companies throughout China. Contact John via jcol[email protected]joygourmet.com. The Pinot Gris vines in Burgundy and Champagne did not take well to hybrid grafting to the pest resistant American root stock and because of this and the general pernickety nature of the grape, the variety was gradually phased out and replanted with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines. However, the variety found a happy and successful new home in the cool climates of Alsace and subsequently in northern Italy.
Alsatian town surrounded by vineyards