‘Tis the sea­son to be jolly: eat, drink and be merry

Shanghai Daily - - SPORTS - Va­ri­eties: Key term:

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.

Pinot Gris

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

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