|Heavenly Wines for the Holiday Season
In the opening scene of the hilarious animated short "The Spirit of Christmas" (from the creators of South Park), Jesus comes down from heaven to settle a score with Santa Claus. Appearing before a group of children on the day before Christmas, Jesus declares that tomorrow is his birthday; yet all is not right. Knowing perfectly well that this guy is Jesus, one of the kids innocently replies: "Your birthday's on Christmas? Dude, that sucks!"
With all the gift-buying, feast-making, hall-decking, tree-trimming, party-throwing and credit-card-maxing the holiday season brings, it's easy to lose sight of the guy behind the whole shebang. You know, the one with the long hippie hair and the beard. Not Santa Claus, you heathens: Jesus!
What better way to offer your friends and family a subtle reminder than with wine? Religion and wine have been intertwined for centuries, resulting in some wonderfully "inspired" label imagery. So why not put the "holy" back in the holidays (hey, it's in there somewhere!) by picking up a couple bottles adorned with the likeness of Jesus, a wine-sniffing saint or a big Jewish guy looming over Israel and the Golden Gate Bridge? Not only are these divine elixirs aesthetically perfect for your holiday festivities, they taste way better than that watered-down stuff they give you at Midnight Mass.
ST. SUPÉRY 1996 MERITAGE
Napa Valley White Wine - $20
Described by one of my friends as "the Eddy Vedder Jesus," the angelic figure featured on this label is actually illustrator Curtis Parker's vision of St. Supéry. It's one in a series of St. Supéry's immaculately conceived (sorry, I couldn't resist) labels that adorn the winery's top-of-the-line Meritage wines. Parker's St. Supéry appears to be a clean-shaven cousin of Jesus, with tiny wings sprouting from his shoulders and a grapevine in his hand. As for the wine, it's a blend of 57 percent semillon and 43 percent sauvignon blanc with enticing aromas of citrus and Act II buttered popcorn. The flavor is surprisingly rich -- similar to a buttery chardonnay. Tastes as great as the label looks! Try it with your holiday turkey.
ST. SUPÉRY 1994 MERITAGE
Napa Valley Red Wine - $40
Here we have another rendition of St. Supéry, this time presented by illustrator Maira Kalman. Kalman's saint is more monk- than Jesus-like in his brown robe, sniffing a glass of wine among hilly vineyards. A blend of 90 percent cabernet sauvignon and 10 percent merlot, St. Supéry's first red Meritage wine is a festive garnet color, with ripe raspberry aromas and a little licorice in the background. Spicy flavors of cigar box, berries and black pepper, too. Smooth and very tasty! Full-bodied and generous, just as you'd expect a saint to be. The label is so pretty, you might want to put a candle in the bottle afterwards. This one's drinkable on its own, but you might want to pair it with a red meat, like prime rib.
RAMOS-PINTO LAGRIMA - $16
Nothing says "Christmas" like a big, golden Jesus head on a bottle of white Port. With a name that refers to the "tears of Christ," Lagrima is a blend of extremely ripe malvasia fina, codega and rabigato grapes from Portugal's Douro River Valley. It has a rich golden color with heavenly aromas of orange peel and flowers. A small sip reveals a very smooth, nutty and pleasantly sweet wine with a bit of orange flavor. Lagrima should be served chilled, either with a sweet dessert or instead of one. Beats the hell out of frankincense and myrrh in the gift department.
BOUCHARD PÈRE & FILS
1995 Beaune-Greves Vigna de l'Enfant Jesus - $63
One of Burgundy's oldest and most respected houses is responsible for this pinot noir, derived from one of the best vineyards in the Beaune-Grèves appellation. Prior to the French Revolution, the Vigne de l'Enfant Jesus vineyard belonged to an order of Carmelite nuns especially devoted to the Infant Jesus. Legend has it that the nuns were so enamored of the wine's silky texture that they exclaimed, "It slips down the throat as easily as the Infant Jesus in velvet pants." (I am NOT making this up!) Strangely, Jesus is wearing some sort of royal dress on the label, rather than velvet pants. This was a little disappointing (who wouldn't want to see the baby Jesus in velvet pants?), but the wine more than made up for the fashion faux pas. Vigne de l'Enfant Jesus has drool-inducing strawberry aromas with hints of Swedish fish (the candy, not the critter) -- which is a high compliment, in my book. Fruity and deeee-lish, with intense berry flavors. I think those nuns got it wrong about the velvet pants; the wine's smoothness is more akin to satin pajamas.
SHMALTZ BREWING COMPANY
He'Brew Beer "Genesis Ale" - $3 (22 oz. bottle)
One look at the bright orange label with a big Jewish guy holding up two beer bottles will tell you that He'Brew is a microbrew with chutzpah. Touted as "the chosen beer," Genesis Ale is the ultimate beverage for your Hanukkah celebrations. Just ask 29-year-old Jeremy Cowan, whose divine inspiration to create a Hanukkah beer began as a joke 12 years ago. Over time, Cowan collected so many puns for the brew ("don't pass out -- pass over," "king of the brews," "the chosen beer") that he couldn't put the idea off any longer. Contract brewed by California's Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Genesis is a yummy light brown ale with a nice fruity aroma. It's light yet flavorful, along the lines of Newcastle Brown. The bonus? It's kosher, with no preservatives (or gefilte fish) added. Great with turkey reubens and pastrami sandwiches. Available in California, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul and (in the near future) New York City. To mail order, check out He'Brew's website at: http://www.shmaltz.com, or call 800/966-7835 (Western US) or 800/777-9137 (Eastern US).