Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Mistletoe and Wine - Chateau Sainte Hélène

Nowadays the Christmas decorations are glittering in the shops well before the beginning of December but in times past winter greenery was not allowed over the threshold of many houses until Christmas Eve for fear of ill luck. Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire is holding its annual Mistletoe Auctions on 25th November, 2nd and 9th December and the Mistletoe Festival starts 6th December. You'll find the traditional Holly and Ivy there too. If you can't get there then try shopping online with Tenbury English Mistletoe Enterprise. Luckily for us the old apple orchards around here are festooned with spherical balls of mistletoe so provided Nick is happy to hop up the ladder we can gather own.

As for a wine to drink under the mistletoe why not try a luscious sweet Sauternes? Chateau Sainte Hélène is a lovely one which retails at £15.49 (£4.50 cheaper than the recommended price). It has the creamy sweet taste of honeysuckle, orange peel, apricots, cinnamon and honey and you can buy it at www.bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk with free delivery until Christmas.

Mistletoe is connected to wine via the Romans and their bacchanalia during the festival of Saturnalia which celebrated the Winter Solstice. This festival honoured Saturn and he was an agricultural god. To keep him happy, fertility rituals took place under the mistletoe. Today, we don't quite go that far under our mistletoe (at least not usually) but it does explain where the kissing tradition comes from.

In the 18th century the bough was transformed into a 'kissing ball' under which hopeful young women waited for a kiss. The girl who received 7 kisses from 7 different men would marry one of them within the year. In Victorian times the kissing continued but for every kiss a berry had to be removed and when there were no more berries there were no more kisses.

The common name, Mistletoe, is derived from Old English—“mistle” meaning drizzle or mist (quite appropriate for our weather at the moment !) plus “tan” which means twig. As the Roman Empire crumbled and Christianity spread, a rumour began in France that the cross upon which Jesus died was made of mistletoe. Mistletoe is also associated with peace making - during the time of the Roman Empire, Roman soldiers would lay down their arms under the mistletoe and embrace their enemies.

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