Yes, we all know that line, the first verse to Auld Lang Syne by the Scottish Poet Laureate Robert Burns. And even though the poet is credited for the work of every corny New Years Eve cliché it was inspired by James Watson with his poem Old Lang Syne which loosely translates to Once Upon a Time.
Regardless of the meaning, the song and sentiment seem an appropriate means to a toast at the dropping of the ball when we drink some bubbles and make ourselves promises that we will never keep. But I was wondering the other day why January 1st when almost every ancient culture celebrated their new years on any date but.
Once again we have to thank the Romans for this. Yes the folks that brought you planet names, the calendar and plumbing. It’s incredible to me that a culture so far removed from us today still makes our cultural world go round. The name January comes from Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings who had one face looking to the past and the other looking forward. Our New Years stems from his celebration. Symbolically this seems apt but I’ve been wondering why not the Solstice which marks the 1st official day of winter. The shortest day seems like a great starting point to me. Or, how about the equinox that awesome day when you can balance an egg on its side. These days seem more magical as well as scientific and universal. No one is excused from the rational of science no matter how hard they try.
Or we could shift our New Year’s around like the Chinese. Perhaps it can reflect our position to the sun. Our next closest pass to the sun will be January 4th. Maybe this is too much for our tweeted generation #Jan4#close to sun#still cold. But no matter when or how we celebrate there are traditions that transcend a date. It could be eating grapes in Spain, lentils in Umbria, crowding into a tiny bar while kissing a perfect or not so perfect stranger or running around the block with luggage in tow for a Colombians hopeful wish of travel. These traditions seem to feel hard wired in our emotional past but whatever they are they always feel like a doorway into another sense of being where anything is possible.
When we think of the New Years Eve we think one drink and one drink only, Champagne. This is another puzzle to me. Champagne is truly one of the greatest gifts we have ever given ourselves. It is a perfect match for food pairings and yet it is one that we ignore until a toast is in order. Could it be the toasty quality due to the bottle conditioning? Coincidence perhaps. I am no exception to this however and when we say good bye to one of our Friends in either Saloon or Foundry on Elm I am more than happy to open a bottle of Perrier Joulet Belle Epoque and even though I know how these flavors delicately pair with food I only seem to open them when it’s a special occasion. Perhaps it is the labor and time that goes into Methode Champenoise that makes me reluctant to pop a bottle while eating a ham sandwich (If the bread is toasted it makes be a bangin’ pairing). The story of Champagne goes back to another age millions of years ago. Old Lang Syne there was an ocean over the region we now call Champagne that left intense calcium deposits and fossilized sea anemones. This gives the wine an immensely mineral backbone with a subtle smoky and saline finish.
Because it is so cold in Champagne the grapes never ripen like they would elsewhere. The Chardonnay grown here is not the sweet, juicy, tropical flavored profile found in Sonoma, nor is it not the creamy, apply brightness you find in Chablis. Here it is lean, highly acidic and minerally. Pinot Noir, the star of Champagne does not carry the same weight and fruity aromas that it would in warmer climates where it is widely planted either. Yes, I said Pinot Noir. The famous black grape made more famous by a silly movie of two friends in Santa Barbara gives Champagne its sophistication. Why a red grape in a white wine? Bill Russell of Westport Rivers Winery some 40 miles south of Boston once told me “Pinot Noir wants to be a white wine and has all the flavor components of one. Every now and again it’s willing to be red and when it is it can be the greatest red there is.” I tend to agree with him on this as there is nothing like great burgundy in a great year by a great producer but it is constantly a perfect fit for Sparkling wine. Westport Rivers is nestled close to the shoreline of Horse Neck beach. Not only is this one of the best beaches in Massachusetts with water you can actually swim in but also has some of the geologic compounds found in Champagne. If you ever take a trip down you may notice all the sea shells on the driveway. I would say that he is one of the best sparkling wine producers in the country. He also makes some great beer too.
Contrary to popular belief, it was not the famous seventeenth century Dom Perignon who created bubbles in wine, it was actually the simple process of fermentation. When yeast eats sugars they poop alcohol. If stored in an enclosed space the alcohol being a gas has nowhere to go thus Carbon Dioxide is born. What the famous Dom did was understand wine making techniques within the cool climate of Champagne. Like Bill from Westport, Dom Perignon believed that Pinot Noir wanted to be a white grape. He lightly pressed his grapes to have little to no color extraction with the run off juice. These delicate, sparkling wines developed their finesse and elegance with the intuition and foresight of the Monk
The most plausible story was told 100 years prior to the most famous Dom’s legend in the Pyrenees region of Limoux (Lee-moo) with once again a group of monks. In 1531 there were detailed descriptions for the production of Blanquette Limoux (little white of Limoux). These wines which are now always frothy were said to have cork stopped flasks’ which was not the common practice of the time, in fact wine was often consumed in a sheep’s bladder. Once bottles became more prevalent the use of cork was the next step to make wine as we know today. Cork itself was easy for the monks to obtain as they bordered a cork forest. Once that piece to the puzzle was solved secondary fermentation that makes what we call sparkling wine would have been easily achieved.
Leave it to the monks to make the best of anything. They truly were and are the keepers of culture, I mean what else is there to do other then make bread, cheese, beer, wine, spirits, cordials, write books, create art and learn. This is almost selling point to me.
Most of the Champagne cocktails we drink today are only sour cocktails finished with a bit of bubbles. I prefer the simplicity of a sugar cube and bitters. The true toasted quality of the wine remains a prominent fixture in the glass. This is a simple play on the classic Champagne cocktail coming from a Foundry/Saloon alumni Tracy Witkin.The Opening Act (this is an apt name for a New Year’s cocktail)
This is built in a Marie Antoinette rather than a mixing glass
1 sugar cube
3 dashes of Peychauds bitters
3 dashes of Fee Bros. Rhubarb bitters
¾ oz Dubonnet rouge
top with sparkling wine
Whatever your New Years Eve tradition is and whichever resolution you break I wish you all a prosperous and happy 2015 and beyond