New Year's Eve: a time for celebration and reflection.
Did we accomplish everything we set out to this year? Did we mend the broken fences in our relationships? Did we set the bar a little (or a lot) higher in our chosen work? Were we dutiful and present with our loved ones? And what seemingly impossible task will we set for the next 12 months?
As a culture it seems as though we are at odds with our own desires so much of the time and on New Year's no less so than any other. We cherish the coming of a "New Day"; a chance to begin fresh... clean slate and all that. And, yet, we often fail at seizing this very opportunity when it presents itself three times a day.
I speak of the family meal; that red-headed step child of modern North American culture. We eschew the ideologies of the 50's and all that they stood for: the blind pursuit of accumulating material goods, of always needing to find a faster way to do things, of always wanting NEW NEW NEW! And yet, for many families here, the 1950's were a time that celebrated - even venerated - the family meal.
This "Big-Band" generation of adults could remember - vividly - that only a few years earlier the world had been engulfed in a war that threatened to consume humanity. Soldiers were separated from wives and children for years, mothers were for the first time (for many) working full-time jobs and forced to leave their children for most of their week. Years of this were endured: the family unit has rarely suffered such long-term torture.
And then - Peace. And with it came the reunion of husband with wife, father with child, wife with family. And the dinner table? In those eyes dinner wasn't a chore (mostly) - it was a gift, to be treasured. This was the time that North Americans began reaching for greater heights with their family time: barbeques became chic rather than rustic and the thought of everyone not convening around the table at 6 pm? Incredulous.
No matter what your definition of family is, we all suffer from a lack of time - proper time - with those we hold most dear. It's no surprise that the fastest growing area of food-sales in North America today is the ready-to-eat meal followed closely by take-out/quick-service. The rate at which we eat a meal in our car is growing faster whilst the rate at which we sit with loved ones and carpe diem is withering.
It was in the 1950's that the Swiss-American chef Konrad Egli popularized the dish fondue and, as with many "new" things of the time, fondue-mania swept the land. Bravo I say! For what creates better ambiance, a better setting, for conversation than the fondue or, in this case, raclette.
In essence, take some hard cheese and melt it under a small heat-lamp until it's soft enough to spread like butter and smear it on fresh bread or, more traditionally, slices of potato with shaved cured meat and some sour pickles/pickled onions on the side. Wash it all down with a few bottles of Riesling or Pinot Gris and you have the dish that has captivated central Europe since the 1200's and probably much further back.
But wait! I hear you claim... Watch cheese melt? Isn't that the culinary equivalent to watching paint dry?!
True my friends! This is why we don't raclette alone (note to my Editor: I've just used a noun as a verb - this is artistic licence not cheese-induced dementia). Whether we're "racletting" or "doing-the-fondue" we always do this as a team-activity: the joy is in the moments between the food as much as the food itself. For, really, what else is there to do when cheese is bubbling happily in front of you, a plate of cold-cuts and pickles to nibble on and full glasses of vino all around - what else is there but to eat, drink and be merry?!
My family discovered this New Year's event quite by accident only last year and, we enjoyed ourselves so much, we decided immediately that it would become tradition. We invite people we haven't seen enough of, buy far too much dairy product then can be good for a body, slake our thirst with more wine then is prudent and smile, laugh, joke and carry-on into the wee hours. That's when the dark-chocolate-fondue comes out and the belts get loosened a notch or three. It's a bloody good time had by all.
And so whether you find yourself seeking a kitschy last-minute plan for food on New Year's Eve, or needing an excuse to pull old friends 'round your table for a long-awaited night of mild gluttony and excessive cheeriness, perhaps this is the thing for you. The wines we chose for our evening were from wineries that made my list of Top Wines 2014 and are, in my opinion, some of the best value-for-money that can be found today in any market. Each winery has excellent shipping options and should be exercised if you love finding stunning wine at a fraction of its true value.
Enjoy the slideshow and HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Cipes Blanc-de-Noirs 2008
$35 CAD (in BC)
92 points, EXCELLENT value
SILVER - National Wine Awards of Canada, 2014
... someone once said "It is the duty of all wines to be red!". Well, whether in a red dress or a white one, Pinot Noir shows an impeccable ability to pair off a variety of foods without weighing down the palate. Perfect choice for New Years Eve when, we know, there will be food and drink a-plenty running the length and breadth of the evening (and early morning). This offering from Summerhill is certainly one of my favorite sparkling wines of this style; the restrained elegance showcasing the Kelowna terroir as much as it does Eric von Krosigks' winemaking deftness. Light golden hues with bright silver highlights would indicate a youthful wine but, as one pauses over the glass to inhale, the aromas show a sophisticated maturity. Traditional notes from the Methode Champenoise are expected: the toasty-brioche-fresh-from-the-oven and almonds, but, then comes the Okanagan soil with it's burst of lime zest, young apricot and cranberry finished by a light spice much like good ginger tea. Finessed pearls of small, creamy goodness wash over the palate and the flavors mimic the nose with ease. EXCELLENT balance, structure and concentration this wine will cellar well for several years and is a joy to drink now. Enjoy 2014-2018++ FOOD PAIRING: a new treat for me, I'm enjoying south Indian/Asian with bubbly - mango, ginger and cilantro absolutely adore this sparkling wine!
McLean Creek Road Vineyard, Okanagan Valley DVA
$40 CAD (BC)
92+ points, STUNNING value
... to many: there is Pinot Noir and then there is Burgundy. I would be remiss if I didn't stipulate that, to me, Burgundy is as much a frame of mind as it is a geographical location... it's been explained to me that Burgundy is as much, if not more, a sense of respecting the land, the soil, the forest, wind and rain. Natives of that oenological haven explain that to be truly Burgundian (as a winemaker) is to observe the land, listen to the vines and only then does one start to help the land produce the wine it wants to make. It is a selfless passion.
... The team at MFV are consummate Burgundians. This wine sings with precision and roars with passion; unfiltered - the bouquet carries layers of warm Arabic spice, musky sandalwood, oiled leather, green peppercorns, blackberry pie and raspberry-wild thyme compote. The palate carries brisk yet inviting medium+raspberry/currant acid and medium+ ultra-fine tannin with substance to them; the flavors convey an utter symmetry to the aromas. Excellent balance, structure, concentration - this would be a bargain at $150 from Musigny and, indeed, I've seen wines of this caliber reach $300. Cellars well for years, drinks superbly now without any need for decanting/aerating: enjoy 2014-2020.
(and with the chocolate fondue...)
Painted Rock Merlot 2012
Skaha Lake, Okanagan Valley DVA
$40 CAD (BC)
91+ points, EXCELLENT value
*MERITS DECANTING OR 1 PASS THROUGH THE AERATOR*
... oh Merlot, you much-maligned grape! So in vogue in the '80's until consumers realized that there were other varietals. Then they turned their backs on you - shameful. Merlot can carry depth like CabSauv, ruggedness like Malbec, minerality like Pinot Noir and all the smoothness of a Michel Bubblé song. Yes - that's right - in a craftsman's hands this becomes a wine of excellence and, with chocolate, an absolute dream. Deep earthy aromas punctuated by red and black floral tones (irises, rosehips) and sticky blueberries, blackberries and Saskatoons bubbling in a pan on the stove. The young palate is tightly coiled precision; medium+ red currant acid plays well with full chewy/chalky tannin that crave some fat for balance. And here's the fun part! Chocolate has just the right amount of fat to balance a Merlot like this impeccably! This wine has excellent balance, structure and concentration and cellars with ease for years. Enjoy 2014-2020++
Many thanks to Ezra Cipes at Summerhill Pyramid Winery, Jak Meyer at MFV: Meyer Family Vineyards and John Skinner at Painted Rock Estate Winery for the very generous sample bottles. As always you can find more recipes, free wine reviews and my notes on premium distillates and cigars on: