Winter Comes, Solstice Drinks

Life goes. Some winters are colder than others. Spring springs later or earlier. Summer may not hit until autumn. But, if things don’t work out on THIS circle around the sun, there’s always the next one (unless there isn’t), so DO dig into celebrating the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, and keep an eye towards hope. The solstice celebrates the coming of sunshine, warmth and rebirth—the cycle of the year, and of life. After the last few years of madness, if I know nothing else, it is that we go on. Welcome to my solstice. The entrance blazes with red candles even though it’s only 16 o’clock. Shadows bounce and flicker off the walls, elongating shadows making everything forbidding, but in the right company (mine is always correct), it reads as welcoming anticipation. It’s so warming that winter coats come off before the threshold is even crossed. AND! As guests come through the fiery portal, they are handed a welcome glass of Inferno, that delightful Nebbiolo from Valtellina being as I am a very literal host. Inferno. As in fire. As in sunlight… The Carmina Burana might be playing, not just because there are songs in it celebrating spring and whatnot, but also, it gets the winter vibes done. Once inside, which if I throw this party in my Los Angeles home, may just be outside, possibly with heat lamps if our increasingly tardy cold season comes in late December. There is the social greeting and embracing and kisses to either cheek, or on the lips if they’re the right ones, and then comes the time to gather round the Yule log lighting. Everyone is given a small touch of Scotch, from Islay, to compliment the smoky notes that will soon be emanating from the fire. Ideally, someone who is more qualified than I, seeing as I am only a former Wiccan (“you’re not even a real witch” was my ex’s fave insult), leads rituals—all are encouraged to gaze into the fire, and envision what they desire in the coming year. After we ritual it up, we toast and drink the Scotch. We congregate. I refill the glasses and encourage everyone to think of the blockages, the negativity, the things they need to let go of, and then to pantomime dumping the Scotch (wasting would be tragic) on the Yule log. We pretend and feel cleansed of evil. Serious stuff aside, it’s time to party-ish. While everyone finishes the Scotch, we were pretending to dump out, there are snacks. I’d have set up pewter goblets alternating between toasty nuts, pomegranate seeds and perhaps cubes of aged cheddar, because cheese, plus bouquets of pine branches and holly berries. These snack goblets line a sideboard near the door leading from the greeting/Yule log-stuff room to the dining room. Once everyone is more peckish than nuts and pomegranates can sustain, I summon them into the dining room (striking triangle or gong, you make the call) but OOPSIES! Just inside the door is a sprig of mistletoe! I mean I won’t MAKE my Scotched-up guests kiss; that’s no way to be. But if they were wondering if they should…I’m just supplying the opportunity. From here on restrained chaos may reign. The dining room looks warm and seasonally appointed, but also a hint menacing, like “this is a big solstice and magic may happen, and you need to make the right choices here! But also, please take your seat and have fun!” It’s assigned seating to avoid awkward milling about. Seeing as I am a Virgo, and we have agendas. The sun-themed soundtrack begins. There I go again being literal. We’ve got “Let the Sunshine In” from the musical Hair, “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash, “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles, “Sunrise” by Norah Jones, “Island in the Sun” by Weezer, and many many more, and lest things get too happy, “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden and then “Blister In the Sun” by Violent Femmes pepper the playlist for good measure. Meanwhile, I implore everyone to accept the water of their choice is—flat or bubbly—as everyone finds their seat at the table. Once everyone is seated and hydrated (I like to throw boozy yet hangover-free parties), caraway cakes, which are believed to aid the digestive system and goddess knows this is the time we all need this, accompanied by refreshing lo-abv cider to perk the appetite. Giant platters of feast-able fair follow—I could tell you about my dream feast but I’d prefer you conjure your own. Roast goose? Even this vegetarian will allow it. Tamales? Of course. Pizza? Sure. Impossible burger? Personally, I’m averse to anything resembling meat, but you do you. Whatever the feast is, it is accompanied by a white that will convince “I only drink reds” people that they’ve been missing out: Roussanne. It is solstice warmth and glow and rebirth encapsulated. And if they realllly only drink reds, I’ll give them more Inferno. But hopefully, they give Roussanne a chance and push their boundaries. That is rebirth. And now the drinks! 2012 Ar. Pe. Pe. Valtellina Superiore Inferno Fiamme Antiche Nebbiolo from Valtellina is more user-friendly up front, but even more so when it has had some time to age! The nose is super savory, with hints of leather and dried cranberries and something that makes me think of dried mushrooms—super umami baby. On the palate, all the structural elements are in balance. It’s less umami, more mineral-stony salty rocks and fruit leather, with hints of bay. 2005 Lagavulin Islay Single Malt Doubled Matured Scotch Smoky but cheerful, like a Midwest day in the park—softball and tee-ball teams are having cookouts? The random sorority is there. Scotch calls to mind the outdoors and the smoke that may sting your eyes if you get close enough but smells appetizing at a distance. Hot dogs more or less in the most complimentary way. Smoke aromas float off, then also intense bread shop yeast notes coast through. Then bright and birchy green and branchy notes. And it is gooood. 2018 Trabanco Poma Aurea Cider Named for its golden color! Super tart and apple-y, with a goodly dose of yeast—like dried apple slices on toast but carbonated. Reminiscent of a sour ale but less beer-y. More apple-y. Feisty enough without being overly sour or yeasty. 2019 Stolpman Vineyards Roussanne Riches and glory! That is what I feel drinking this. Gloriously golden, overflowing with dripping citrus and blooming honeysuckle. On the palate, the wine expands; vanilla fleshes out a kaleidoscope of wicked ripe stone fruit (all sorts) on top of all the aforementioned aromatics with a texture and body that, well, it’s a wine that secures the perimeter then moves in all directions, evolving as it does and somehow ending with a bite of frankincense and refreshment. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Want to read more from Ellen? Check out her recent articles: RAW and Natural Wine: Chilled, Unfined, Unfiltered Sugar and Wine and Everything Fine Further Down the TikTok Rabbit Hole Riesling Part Two: Prädikats-Fine-Wine You can also listen to Ellen's podcast , The Wine Situation here . Check out her recent transcripts of the Final Five questions: Wine Situation Final Five! Andrea Jaramillo Wine Situation Final Five! Cara Patricia