Celebrating? ‘Tis the season. Let’s open some wine and lift the spirits! But remember, there are so many other reasons to celebrate life that we could almost toast with wine every day.
Let’s start with the obvious: Champagne or sparkling—the most common and much celebrated occasion wine, but it’s such a versatile wine that it is a shame it is not consumed more often for everyday pleasure. Today, you can celebrate and toast with various price points from prosecco to cava and sparkling to Champagne. Celebratory drink does not have to cost a fortune to toast these occasions. And there are myriad ways to make the toast special: speeches, clinking, smashing or stacking the glasses; and—one of my favorites—sabering the bottle of Champagne (cutting the top off—glass and cork¬—with a sword).
Another is vintage wines. When celebrating milestones such as a 50th birthday or a 10-year wedding anniversary, why not find a particular vintage wine from the year that started it all? Collect wines from the particular year over time and open them at milestone moments. I had a customer recently celebrate their 10-year anniversary milestone by purchasing 50 bottles of wine. Two bottles of wine (based on estimated ageability) would be opened to celebrate each upcoming anniversary year for the next 25 years!
Remember the greatest bottle you ever experienced? Maybe it was a wine you tasted at a special dinner or a particular wine bottle and vintage. Truth be told, vintages vary from year to year, so your favorite wine may not taste the same as your first experience with it. If it is by vintage, over the years, it could start to fade. Choose a wine that can withstand the length of time accordingly. So if it’s a wine you want to open in 20 years, you want a Bordeaux or a cabernet sauvignon that the winemaker made specifically to age that long.
Next, let’s take a look at port, brandy and Sauternes. These late-night celebratory sippers all are about reflection and what brings families and guests together.
Vintage port is used for many celebratory occasions, from weddings to the birth of a child. Port also is used simply to celebrate the moment—sitting down with close friends and relaxing over a glass of port is special on its own, and is perfect for the holidays.
At the end of big meal, it’s all about the brandy—a wine that should be sipped and savored, ideally toward the end of a night or celebration. Cognac is a type of brandy from the Cognac region of France. The more the brandy has been aged, the smoother it is and the more balanced it becomes. And as a digestif, it helps to settle the stomach after a festive and decadent meal.
And then there is the surprise of Sauternes, a golden, luxurious French dessert wine, often poured during special occasions. Delicate and sweet, it originates from the French region of Bordeaux. It can only be grown in certain climate conditions to allow the grapes to continue to develop on the vine several weeks after normal harvest. This is risky, as climate can change and ruin the entire harvest—and that’s part of why it can be expensive. Sauternes is a wine with a long life, with some aged up to 100 years. It pairs well with foie gras, Roquefort or blue cheese, light desserts or roasted nuts, and makes a perfect ending to an elegant evening.
Whether you go for traditional bubbles, the age-worthy wines or the classic after-dinner wines, the best part of the night is when all your guests are sipping away, relaxing and enjoying what the celebration is all about.
Tasting Tip: When choosing a Champagne or wine for a party of six or more, see if it comes in a magnum-size bottle (the equivalent of two bottles) or double magnum.
When smelling brandy, tilt the snifter and smell from the upper rim to allow the alcohol to disperse so you just smell the aromas. They are very festive and just opening and pouring will surely liven up any occasion.
Wine Recommendation: Looking for a sparkler to celebrate? Don’t be afraid of pink. My wife, Arlene, and I got engaged, married, celebrated the birth of our children and the birth of our business with our customary bottle of Champagne: Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé. It remains our favorite celebratory wine and each time we open a bottle, we cherish the memories, the moment and the celebrations to come.