Saturday, August 2, 2008

Staples of Our Feastday Celebrations Part Two: Wine

Otherwise entitled "Feasting for Adults through the Liturgical Year, Part Two." Continued from Part One: Bread. I just loved Mary Ellen's Feeling Wine-y. She echoed so many of my feelings about wine and alcoholic beverages in general. It so wonderful that as a Catholic we don't have to be ashamed to enjoy alcohol. Along with bread, wine is the other component of the Eucharist. All over the world grapes are grown, wine is made and shared. For many years people drank wine (or other alcoholic beverages) instead of water because of poor sanitation. Our courtship and marriage has been highlighted by the enjoying of various wines, for extra-special occasions and evening hours after the children are in bed. And for family get-togethers the two questions are always raised, "Who is bringing the wine?" and "What kind?" Generally my extended family enjoys reds, usually Cabernets. Dh and I do try different varietals and various countries of origin. A few years ago we were enjoying all wines Spanish, especially the Rioja. We love trying rich Zinfandels (the red kind). I enjoy finding some French wine that isn't overpriced. Now that it is warmer we like the drier white wines which are more refreshing sipping wines. We got over our intimidation with wine after reading the "Tastings" Column in The Wall Street Journal by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher. We've also read their books, such as:

All their books are quite practical and easy reading, helping the ordinary man enjoy wine. There is no snobbery involved, but just help in understanding a bit more about wine, and making memories. I never had the opportunity like Mary Ellen, so I'm no expert, but we do enjoy the adventure. Wine was used for the institution of the Eucharist, at the Last Supper. Now it is daily used at Mass all over the world, before it is transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. I also love to think about Our Lord's first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana. Jesus and his mother were probably at a celebrating with family or close friends, and wine was a necessity, not a luxury! It was part of the social feasting aspect. What more blessing can we have for enjoying wine in social gatherings?

I have a few unorthodox suggestions for expanding and trying different wines, and incorporating them into family and feast day celebrations at home. Of course wine connoisseurs may not agree with some of my suggestions, but truly, we've found some very fine wines this way. It's fun to experiment and wander away from the usual standards. First start reading about different types of wines, the varieties from various regions in different countries. What piques your interest? Sweet wines? Bold reds? Dry white wines? Traditional varieties, or the new grapes? What countries do you want to "visit"? After all, wine doesn't only come from France and California. Then have fun trying out different wines. In my local area Trader Joes, Costco, Total Wine, and even Wal-Mart have many wines priced very reasonably, so one can experiment without breaking the bank. Read labels and descriptions and pick something that appeals to you. I'm in no way advocating buying "Blue Nun" for a blue bottle for a Marian feast or a sister's habit for a nun's feast day, but if some of the choices do come down to a choice of a label, go with what appeals to you! There are hits and misses, but the madness of this method is for a twofold purpose: enjoy the wine, and get to know a saint more deeply.
  1. Follow the feasts in the Church that incorporate wine and blessings. The older form of Roman Ritual contains several blessings for wine or the New Roman Ritual. There are specific feast days officially connected to the blessing of wine, such as the feast of St. John the Evangelist on December 27 and St. Blaise, February 3. There are also local church traditions connected with wine, such as the upcoming feast of the Transfiguration in Rome. In France on St. Martin of Tours, November 11, Beaujolais Nouveau is drunk. Both celebrate the new wine in various stages. There are also annual blessings of grapevines in spring and of the harvest of grapes in the fall.
  2. Find a winery or type of grapes grown near where the saint was born or lived, or even where his remains are held. It's fun to pinpoint the region of origin or mission territories or relics of saints. Finding out about the wine of the region helps one understand the local climate and geography. Arid and dry? Very wet all year? Mountainous or coastal? I find I can understand the saint and his daily hardships when I learn about where he/she lived. How about a Spanish saint, such St. Josemaria Escriva, who was born in Barbastro, Spain? He was born near the Somontano Region, which produces several varieties of wine. For more Spanish ideas see Spanish wine and map of regions. Cava, port, and sherry would also fit into the Spanish heritage. Frascati, a refreshing white wine, would be perfect for any pope's feast day, particularly those that fall during summertime. While on a trip to Rome, we had a day excursion nearby the pope's summer residence, Castel Gandolfo. We enjoyed with our dinner the local wine, Frascati, and found out that it is a favorite with Romans (including the Pope) during the summertime. St. Robert Bellarmine was from Montepulciano, which is a town in Florence, but also a type of wine grape is from that area.
  3. Find the type of drink from time period of saint or an old winery that dates from around time of saint. Since the majority of saints on the calendar are mostly from Europe, the choices will generally be European wines. But Blessed Junipero Serra is an outside example. He founded many of the older vineyards during his mission work in California. According to the fun book The Bad Catholic's Guide to Wine, Whiskey, and Song: A Spirited Look at Catholic Life & Lore from the Apocalypse to Zinfandel by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak, Mission wines have been used in the United States since 1769. The priests needed wine to say Mass, so they planted their own vineyards. Angelica is the first variety produced. "Private companies raising the old Franciscan grapes include Robert Mondavi and Gallo. Angelica is often bought by churches for use as altar wine at Mass by priests..." (By the way, I highly recommend The Bad Catholic's Guide to Wine, Whiskey, and Song. Don't be put off by the title. The book is sometimes irreverent, but nothing sacrilegious or contrary to the faith. It's an A to Z approach to various beers, ales, wine, etc. with short lessons on the Catholic Church, the Catechism, history, and culture. It's delightfully written and has good recipes, too.) Loosely one could use American Mondavi or Gallo wines to cover feasts like the angels, Saint Anthony, Saint Francis, Saint Junipero Serra and any other saints used for Californian missions.
  4. Find vineyards/wineries named after saints, feasts, religious orders, popes, maybe same country of origin. We've tried California's Franciscan for Franciscan saints, Italian Feudi di San Gregorio for our family's name saint, St. Gregory and other Italian saints. One special treat wine for us is Châteauneuf-du-Pape. According to Zmirak, "[t]his spicy, dense variety of wine is usually red, and typically excellent". The name means "the pope's new Chateau or Castle", with the papal keys usually found on the label. The vineyards were established during the time of the Avignon Papacy or Western Schism. So I would consider using this wine for a) French saints near this region, b) for saints like St. Catherine of Siena, who worked so tirelessly to bring the pope back to Rome, and also for c) Papal saints, just because the visual of the papal keys on the label is great for discussions.
  5. Match the wine to the type of personality of the saint. For St. Jerome, St. Paul how about fiery, red, bold wines, like Zinfandel? For St. Therese the Little Flower seems fitting to have a dessert or sweet wine. St. Francis and St. John Bosco seem so fun and joyful that a bubbly or sparkling wine would imitate their personality. And for St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas, it seems only a scholarly port would do.
  6. Choose a seasonal saint wine. Consider cool whites for summer saints and reds to warm oneself during the winter months. Also consider Wassail or mulled wines for those cold times.
  7. Have the liturgical colors reflected in the wine. For feasts of Virgins, Popes, serve white wines. For feasts of Martyrs, Apostles, Bishops and Cardinals, serve red. For the Solemnity of Pentecost, serve red wine. For the Solemnities of Easter and Christmas and Epiphany, serve white and maybe white sparkling wine, like Champagne or Cava. It does go against our family tradition to suggest whites for the high feast days, because our favorites are reds, and for big feasts and family events, red is the wine of choice. We just spend a little more for a fancier wine.
It looks overwhelming written out, but I'm really not suggesting anything out of the ordinary or difficult. It's the process and the enjoyment of wine in a social setting that's fun.

A toast to the love of our Mother Church and her saints! Pin It


  1. Very enjoyable! I'm sorry to say that alcohol gives me migraines, but my husband enjoys his nicer boxed reds since he can't count on me to help him kill a bottle in any reasonable amount of time!

  2. What a delightful post! Enjoying good wines has been a part of my family's celebrations ever since I can remember. This made me think of how fun it is to share a new find with them or taste whatever new bottle my father has discovered. Very warm and and joyful memories.

  3. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post! As a wine lover, Catholic, and, ahem, wine lover, this is fantastic! Thanks for the great ideas and I will have to pick up that book!

    I've been giving so much thought into how to bring in the liturgical year in my home with crafts and food, that this is the perfect end to the night of celebration. Hair full of homemade play-doh after making little altars, or ornaments, or holy water fonts? Have a glass of wine. I was probably going to do it anyway, now I have a great reason to find a new wine to celebrate the day!