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Here’s to wishing everyone a very healthy, happy, and prosperous 2016. We’re all familiar New Years traditions such as broken resolutions, black-eyed peas, Champagne, and fireworks. Today, however, I realized I knew very little, if anything, about the origins of the holiday. So, here we go...

Celebrating the new year is one of the oldest continually celebrated holidays in our history, and dates back 4000 years ago to ancient Babylon. To the Babylonians, the new year began on the first new moon after the vernal equinox, about March 20, when day and night are equal length.

The Babylonians celebrated with an 11 day religious festival called Akitu, a Sumerian word for barley. During this celebration they also crowned a new king, or reaffirmed the old one.
Throughout ancient times, the new year was tied to the seasons and astronomy. The Chinese New Year began on the second new moon after the winter solstice, while in Egypt it was inked with the annual flooding of the Nile which coincided with the rising of Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.

As different calendars evolved with civilization, they fell out of sync with the rhythm of the seasons and the stars. In 46 BC, Julius Caeser called on Rome’s greatest scientists to create the Julian calendar, which is very similar to the Gregorian calendar we use today.

Julius Caeser also proclaimed January 1 as the first day of the year. January is from the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings. Janus had two faces, one that looked to the past, and one that looked toward the future.

With the rise of Christianity in the Middle Ages, Christian leaders took a dim view of celebrating the new year on January 1; viewing it as a holiday rife with paganism. Efforts to make it a religious holiday (December 25 or March 25) failed when, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII officially established it as January 1.

I know, Jeff’s Corner is supposed to be about wine, so let’s make this legit. If you have a bottle of our GCV 2013 Euphoria on hand, it may just well be the perfect bubbly for New Year’s Eve. My last bottle is going in the fridge as soon as I send this off.

ALSO, Kathy and I are off to California next week, where I’ll judge the extremely prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. www.winejudging.com is the competitions’ website. You can check out my judges page by clicking on the group photo of judges and then scrolling down a bit. I’m lucky #7 in the media section.
Next week, I’ll have some news and photos from Sonoma, and once again...

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

In our new Port, Jason and crew have once again created a masterful blend; not just of different grapes, but different vintages as well. This delightful fortified wine is about 63% Touriga Nacional (the Portuguese grape for Portos) from the 2012 vintage. It also has 21% Syrah and 13% Merlot from our Port crafted in 2011 and 2009.

The color is a rich reddish brown edged in garnet. The initial aroma is one of sweet, bright cherries that reminded me of Luden’s cough drops from when I was a kid. After about 45 minutes, complex aromas of almonds, hazelnuts, and cashews mingled with the fruit.

The alcohol (18.2% ABV) showed on the nose, but not the palate. The flavor is all about holiday spice, with layers of vanilla, cinnamon, clove and allspice. True to Jason’s style, it is not super sweet at around 5% residual sugar. It avoids what I call the Robitussin Effect that occurs when Ports reach 10% residual. The finish is elegant and creamy in texture, with perfectly balanced flavors that linger for a long time.

Maybe after a Christmas dinner featuring Prime Rib and Potatoes Au Gratin, we should try our Port with a dark chocolate almond mousse. All you Black Label Wine Club members will need is the mousse, since the Port will be heading your way sometime next week.

Enjoy, everyone!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Habari Gani, and Seasons Greetings! However we celebrate, it’s definitely time for some holiday cheer.

So, today we have a super-awesome recipe for a very Christmasy, Crock Pot mulled wine coming to you from Heather De Laurentis. She is Brian’s oldest daughter, as well as my Facebook editor extraordinaire.

Heather is responsible for all our social media venues and posts Jeff’s Corner every week. I send it to her, and somehow it magically appears. Plus, she keeps me from stepping out of bounds when Dionysus takes control of my pen.

Let’s start with a little history. “Mulled” wine has long been associated with the holidays, but its history dates way, way back. Mulled means “heated with spices”. In ancient times, wine that had spoiled was heated with honey, spices, and herbs to make it once again palatable. Later, in medieval times, mulled wine was called “Ypocris” or “Hipocris” after the Greek physician Hippocrates. It was given to the sick as a healthy alternative to contaminated water.

As a holiday beverage, mulled wine is found throughout the world. In Germany, it’s called Gluhwein (glowing wine) and in France it is known as Vin Chaud (heated wine). In Nordic countries it’s called Glogg, and in South America, Navegado.

Mulled wine can be sweetened with honey or sugar, and traditional spices include cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, ginger, vanilla beans, orange peel, and fruit juice. Almonds and raisins might be added, and it is frequently fortified with brandy.

Heather, after some intensive research and tasting, brings us a delightful recipe (derived from the Kitchen Treaty blog) that will not only fill your home with lovely aromas but also have you and your guests warm and glowing. I recommend doubling it, but the recipe below is measured for 4 servings.

Cranberry-Orange Mulled Wine

Ingredients:
Crock Pot (3 quart or larger)
1 bottle of our Grand Rouge (semi-sweet red wine)
1.5 cups orange juice (make sure to get 100% juice or fresh squeeze yourself!)
1 cup fresh or frozen whole cranberries
1 medium orange
2 tablespoon granulated sugar (add more to taste)
2 tablespoons whole cloves
2, 3-inch cinnamon sticks
Garnish with cinnamon sticks, orange slices, and fresh cranberries

Add Grand Rouge, orange juice, whole cranberries, and sugar to the Crock Pot. Stir the ingredients to begin dissolving the sugar. (No need to heat yet)
Stud the (whole and unpeeled) orange with the cloves. Poke it all over with a toothpick first to make holes for the cloves.
Add the clove-studded orange and the cinnamon sticks to the wine.
Cook on low for 1.5- 2.5 hours, or until the berries are soft.
Remove the orange and the cinnamon sticks, then carefully pour the mulled wine through a fine-mesh sieve into a large heat-proof bowl. Using the back of the spoon, press on the cranberries to get all of the juices into the bowl.
Ladle mulled wine into cups, garnish and serve// or return wine to the Crock Pot to keep warm for later (low heat).

Cranberry mulled wine

Our GCV Grand Rouge might just be the perfect wine for this, but any fruity red that is light in oak and tannin will do well. Also, VERY IMPORTANT! Do not heat this above 160*. Alcohol vaporizes at 168, and if you heat it above that it goes off into the atmosphere and is lost forever.
Thanks, Heather. Kathy and I can’t wait to enjoy this!

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