Holiday Wine Trivia

Midnight grape picking and other international holiday wine traditions


Ever wondered why some people make hot eggnog and others serve it cold? Think all there is to celebrating New Year’s Eve is counting down, exchanging kisses and toasting with champagne? Think again. There’s a whole world full of holiday wine and drinking customs full of history and hidden meanings

Many people love drinking hot wine mulled with spices during the holidays. Did you know glühwein actually means "glowing wine" in German? Perhaps a reference to the way it shimmers with heat and makes your face warm when you drink it.

If you were in the Midi-Pyrenées village called Viella, you could go to New Year’s Eve mass and then head to the vineyards to help create the rare French wine called Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh. Grapes (usually petit manseng, gros manseng, and courbu) that have become raisinated on the vine are picked after midnight for this dessert wine. If you’d like to try it, we tracked down the BRUMAIRE Pacherenc du Vic Bilh 2005 (Southwest France) $44, which tastes of roasted pineapple and stone fruits, with good sweet-tart balance.

In Spain and other Latin countries, the New Year’s Eve pairing is a glass of cava and a handful of grapes. To ensure a lucky new year, when the clock strikes midnight, people (try to) eat one grape per chime and then wash it down with a glass of cava like U MES U FAN TRES (1+1=3) Brut Cava (Penedes, Spain) $14.

Spiked eggnog — the popular holiday drink that can be served hot or cold — started out in 1700s England as a hot drink called posset or sack posset, according to foodtimeline.org. People would whip whole eggs with wine, cider, or ale. Americans added milk to the mix and rum or brandy replaced the wine. By the 1830s, eggnog was a cold drink — in most of the U.S.

You know that little baby with a sash that’s a symbol of the new year? That started with followers of the Greek wine god Dionysus, who would parade around town with a baby in a basket to celebrate his yearly rebirth. Dionysus’, not the baby’s.

In Chile, people celebrating New Year’s Eve drop a gold ring into a glass of bubbly — perhaps the CONO SUR Brut, non-vintage (Valle Central, Chile) $11 — and then drink it carefully. The gold ring is a symbol of prosperity.

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