Raise a Glass: Toasting 101

Everyone I know drank to someone’s health (or prosperity, or a new job, or world peace) in the last two weeks – but did we do it correctly?

Toast medium

[Photo, “Toast to 2012,” courtesy of Hakee Chang via Flickr]

We’ve been practicing long enough that we should be able to get it right by now. People toasted each other as early as the 1st century BCE, when Roman citizens were required to drink to the health of Emperor Augustus at every meal. In A Gentleman’s Guide to Toastingauthor David Fulmer writes that people continued toasting into the Middle Ages, but they weren’t exactly singing each others’ praises: back then, poison was a common means of getting rid of enemies, so people poured a bit of wine into their rivals’ glasses to prove the wine hadn’t been poisoned. Drinkers who trusted each other skipped the tasting part and just clinked glasses; some historians claim the clinking noise chased away evil spirits.

The word “toast” may have evolved from Elizabethan times, when ale houses placed a piece of spiced toast in glasses to flavor drinks. The toast also supposedly soaked up the dregs. By the early 1700s, a toast came to mean “a sentiment expressed just before drinking to someone.”

We all get pressed into toasting duty eventually. When your turn comes, drinking etiquette experts (yes, some people actually specialize in booze manners) offer these pointers:

  • Before you speak, get the group’s attention – don’t begin your toast while people are talking – and make sure everyone has a glass. Include teetotalers; they can toast with water or soda.
  • Raise your glass to eye level, make eye contact and begin your toast. Keep it to two or three sentences. Don’t wax on.
  • Your toast should be appropriate to the occasion. Don’t mention dead people at a festive celebration or be too casual at a formal or serious event.
  • Don’t begin your toast with a story about yourself. Sorry, but nobody cares.
  • Don’t use a script – surely you can remember three sentences.
  • Make it original. Resist the temptation to include clichés; they’re cop-outs.
  • And even if you’re the biggest potty-mouth in the room, don’t curse during a toast. Never, never, never.

Wine Lingo:  Punt = the indentation at the bottom of a bottle of sparkling wine. The punt has a practical purpose: during production, six “atmospheres” of pressure, or up to 90 pounds per square inch, build up inside the bottle. That’s more than twice the air pressure in a car tire, and the reason why you enjoy up to 100 million bubbles in each bottle. The punt helps to distribute that pressure. Other wine bottles sometimes feature punts as well.

Yarden Blanc de Blancs

Vino ‘View: I toasted a lot this season, and the best glass I raised was 2009 Yarden Blanc de Blancs (12 percent alcohol, $30.99). This Israeli sparkler from Galilee is produced by the traditional method and aged at least four years. The bubbles were fine and aggressive, just the way I like them. Yarden is known for its sparkling wines and this one delivers medium body with a surprising mix of crisp citrus and tropical tastes on top of homemade bread. Orange and honeydew melon were the prominent and lingering flavors, with a touch of grapefruit. This vintage will keep another two years; Yarden bubbly generally can age for a decade.

[The Yarden Blanc de Blancs was sent to BigSexyReds for review.]

Cheers!

Mary

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My Top 10 Wines & Spirits in 2017

As you might guess, I enjoy an adult beverage (or two) pretty much every day. That adds up to a lot of different wines and spirits. Selecting 10 favorites was a challenge – but holy Zinfandel, was the research fun!

These bottles range in price from super-affordable to impress-the-boss splurge, but none are ridiculously pricey. Any would make superb holiday gifts.

In no particular order, these are my 2017 picks:

 

 

  • When I served Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva (40 proof, $38) to a few friends, none of them knew they were sipping rum – they thought it tasted like brandy or a honey-infused bourbon. That’s not too far-fetched, since this Venezuelan beauty is aged for up to 12 years in bourbon barrels. Long aging bestows elegance on a fine rum; this one carries notes of fennel, caramel, oak and corn. I wouldn’t mix Diplomatico – savor it neat or cool it with one ice cube.
  • If you haven’t tried reds from northern Italy, the 2016 Colterenzio St. Magdalener, DOC Alto Adige (12.5 percent alcohol, $14) is a good introduction. Its vegetable tone is delicious, tinged with parsley and, as it rests, tea and black cherries. It’s a bit stony, and the ashy aroma continues into the taste with milk chocolate and smoke in the finish. If you don’t like tannins, you’ll love this wine, but keep it for a year or two before you crack the bottle.
  • I drank my 2014 Yarden Malbec (14.5 percent alcohol, $32.99) while I munched on olives, cheese and pepperoni – a typical lazy supper for moi – and it held up beautifully. This Israeli wine, produced in the Golan Heights in Galilee, is a real Big Sexy Red – plums and smoke aroma, followed by bacon, blackberries and a bit of dark raisin tastes. It reminded me of Trader Joe’s dark chocolate covered shortbread stars, but with heat.
  • Whenever I see Zweigelt, I buy it because it’s not that common in the U.S., but I had never tried a Zweigelt rosé. Earlier this year, a friend gave me a bottle of 2015 Josef & Philipp Bründlmayer Grafenegg Rosé vom Zweigelt (12 percent alcohol, $50) and I’m on a mission to find more. Although Zweigelt is a relatively obscure grape in the U.S. it’s actually the most-planted red in Austria. The soft salmon-colored wine is a high-acid gem – “almost fizzy,” my friend said – but creamy and earthy at the same time.

 

 

 

  •  Pinot Noir isn’t always a big-bold red, but the 2013 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir       Carneros (13.5 percent alcohol, $27) is almost chewy, and dark like a California tan. I got an aroma of dark grapes, blackberries and a bit of turkey sausage (and I mean that in a good way). Add black pepper, raspberries, plums, bell peppers and pomegranate on the palate – a well-ordered structure with smoke and mocha on the finish.
  • I discovered Hanson of Sonoma Small Batch Cucumber Flavored Vodka (80 proof, $26) on a trip to Sonoma last spring and when I returned in November, I brought home two bottles. Don’t let the “flavored” deter you; these certified organic artisan distillers infuse their grape-based vodkas with real produce, and you won’t be drinking a cucumber salad – that taste is barely a kiss. It’s only distributed on the West Coast, but I found it online at MissionLiquor.com. Shipping cost for one bottle is exorbitant, but if you buy three or more it gets reasonable.
  •  One of the hottest wine regions these days is Eastern Europe, and 2015 Patricius Tokaj Dry Furmint (12 percent alcohol, $15) is a great example of the quality wines produced there. Tokaj in Hungary is the world’s first designated wine appellation, and Furmint, one of its most abundant white grapes, is used for making both sweet and dry wines. This one is as dry as wine gets – zesty, fresh, with strong minerality and stone fruit flavors, along with a touch of pineapple and banana.

 

 

 

  • I haven’t tasted every rye in the world, but Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Small Batch Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (90 proof, $49.99) is the best I’ve tried. Developed by Wild Turkey’s master distiller Jimmy Russell, it’s one smooth drink. The tastes are a delicious blend of toffee, rye, pecan and cinnamon – and don’t you dare mix it; this is a fine sipping rye. Just make sure it’s labeled “6 Year Old,” because the regular Russell’s Reserve Rye is 104 proof and not nearly as refined-tasting.
  • Casal Thaulero’s 2009 Thalé Montepulciano D’Abruzzo (14 percent alcohol, $40) is that special-occasion bottle you set aside – but just for a short while, because it’s at its peak now. After aromas of red fruit and vanilla, expect a big, bold mouthfeel and tastes of maple, pumpkin spice and dry leaves – perfect for fall and winter drinking.
  • It’s probably not fair for me to include this bottle because a friend bought it in Italy, but Limoncello is my favorite digestivo and always makes a great gift. It’s traditionally made with Sorrento lemons in southern Italy, but I’ve come across some terrific limoncello produced here in the U.S., too. Get recommendations from your liquor merchant; the best limoncello is sweet enough that you know you’re drinking liqueur, but not cloying; and tart but not bitter. Like any fine liquor, it should be smooth and balanced. You can find quality limoncello for less than $40.

Bonus picks – Three choice drinks didn’t make the list: Ferrari Grappa Segnana Solera, omitted only because it’s not distributed in the U.S. (but worth ordering online if you can find it); OYO Bourbon Whiskey, Michelone Reserve, distributed only in eight states but also available online; and Maker’s 46, a great option when you want a not-ordinary bourbon to sip by the fire. All three are in my cabinet…So many bottles, so little time!

Next up – uncommon, last-minute wine gifts for any wine lover – or treat yourself!

Cheers,

Mary