I could never understand Christian teetotalers. After all, according to the Bible the first miracle by Jesus was turning water into wine. Throughout the history of the Roman Catholic Church, wine has played an important role.
As Easter is the most holy of Christian holidays, it’s only natural to celebrate with wines. Before we delve into the subject of saintly Easter wines, let’s take a look at the origin, popular customs and foods associated with it.
Important religious holidays often have pagan roots and coincide with changing seasons and celestial occurrences.
Since the earliest recorded history, people have held celebrations and rituals during the vernal equinox that occurs on March 21st of the modern Gregorian calendar.
These ancient festivals celebrated warming weather and rejuvenation associated with spring.
The exact origin of Easter is unknown but many believe the name derived from the Teutonic goddess of fertility and spring named Eostre. The Church changed these pagan festivals to a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus in 30 AD. In 325 AD, the Church Council of Nicaea changed the date of Easter to the first Sunday following the full moon on or after the vernal equinox.
Contemporary celebrations of Easter may retain some of the original religious significance, but the holiday also has a commercial side. Bunnies, eggs, baskets and candies have all become an important part of Easter. There are no cute cotton-tailed bunnies in the Bible nor are there any stories about children painting and hunting for eggs, but these customs have become an integral part of modern-day Easter celebrations.
To understand how bunnies became associated with Easter we have to go back to 12th- and 13th-century pre-Christian German states and the Teutonic goddess Eostre.
As the goddess of fertility her symbol was the rabbit because of the animal’s astounding reproductive abilities.
Eggs likewise were an ancient symbol of fertility. The first documented Easter Bunny appears in Germany in the 1500s.
As a child growing up in Connecticut, I didn’t really care so much about the history of the holiday but I loved coloring eggs, going on Easter egg hunts in the backyard and getting chocolates from men in funny looking giant bunny costumes. But perhaps my fondest memories are of the Easter Sunday feasts.
Traditional Easter foods vary from country to country with the English enjoying sweet spiced cross buns, the Italians partaking of light cream pastries referred to as crema pasticcera and the Russians savoring a pyramid-shaped mound of soft strained cottage cheese called paska.
The much-beloved and now omnipresent chocolate egg is a relative newcomer to Easter celebrations having originated in the early 19th century in France and Germany.
In 1875, the first Cadbury Easter eggs were made.
The two most popular Easter meats are roasted ham and spring lamb. Before the advent of refrigeration, pigs were commonly slaughtered during the autumn when the animals were fat and the meat that wasn’t consumed fresh was usually cured.
About half a year later or just around the Easter holiday the cured hams were ready to be enjoyed. In many countries like the USA, an Easter celebration without a large gammon of spiced or sweet glazed ham is unimaginable.
The practice of eating lamb on Easter Sunday actually predates the Christian holiday when Jewish people enjoyed roasted lamb during Passover.
As some Hebrews converted to Christianity, they naturally didn’t want to give up this savory tradition. Lamb in Christianity dates back to the book of Genesis, when Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son.
By the 6th century whole roasted lambs were already a staple dish at the Easter feasts of Popes. It also helps that baby lambs are at their most delicious about Easter time.
What wines should we savor with these scrumptious Easter foods? The answers are deliciously simple.
In the true spirit of Easter what’s better than celebrating with a saintly wine? There are numerous splendid wines with saint in their names that match perfectly with Easter dishes.
If a roasted ham will adorn your Easter table allow me to recommend a nice bottle of Saint-Amour Beaujolais. Not to be confused with one dimensional examples of Beaujolais Nouveau wines, Saint Amour is the most northerly situated of 10 Cru level Beaujolais.
These wines like all Beaujolais wines are made of Gamay grapes and have a particular affinity for ham. Their light, fruity and fresh qualities are the perfect foil to the saltiness and fattiness of hams.
For those desiring a more weighty red with their ham, I suggest a Saint-Chinian wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south of France. Made from Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache and perhaps some Mourvedre and Syrah, these are full-bodied, spicy reds that will embellish even the most tasty of hams. Even better, like many of the wines from Languedoc, they’re reasonably priced.
If you prefer a white wine with your ham then a Saint-Aubin wine from Cote de Beaune in Burgundy is a great choice. This 100 percent Chardonnay wine has all the fresh acidity and fruitiness that partner nicely with roasted ham.
Top premier cru Saint-Aubin wines are comparable to the better known Chassagne-Montrachet and Meursault whites and are quite a bit more affordable.
Should lamb be your meat of choice this Easter, then a bottle of Saint Joseph red wine from the northern Rhone is ideal. Made predominantly with Syrah grapes with a little of the Marsanne and Roussanne white varieties sometimes thrown in to add freshness, these are rich, full-bodied wines with lots of dark fruit and spicy flavors.
Another divine partner to roasted lamb is a good bottle of Saint-Emilion red wine from the right bank of Bordeaux. These Merlot, Cabernet Franc and sometimes also Cabernet Sauvignon wines are usually softer and more approachable than their Cabernet Sauvignon centric left bank cousins.
Grand Cru Classe Saint-Emilion wines deliver a whole lot of sophisticated tastes and complexity for relatively reasonable prices.
Yet another blessed partner to your lamb would be a Saint-Estephe wine from the northern most sub-appellation in the Medoc. These are big, tannic and heady wines that pair beautifully with all roasted red meats including lamb.
When eating sweet buns or Easter chocolates your ideal wine solution is Vin Santo or “holy-wine” from Italy. Made using semi-dried grapes, these are intensely flavored sweet wines that still retain mouth satiating freshness. This makes them wonderful wines to enjoy with sweets.