There are many things to write about in the wine world, especially at the end of the year.
There are many things to write about in the wine world, especially at the end of the year. One of the fun things to write about is the different kinds of hot punches one can serve guests throughout the holiday season.
Some years ago I came across this simple but very tasty punch which was handed down to me by a special couple who lived in Lake Tahoe not far from my family cabin at the edge of Desolation Valley. This couple, very elderly and from Norway, had decided to leave Europe as a young married couple a few years before the outbreak of World War II. They settled in Lake Tahoe in 1935. Their home was a gingerbread chalet, tucked deep within the forest.
This was the winter of 1970, three days before Christmas, and I was sent by my folks to "close down" the cabin. This was a ritual performed every year when the place was going to be unlived in for any period of time in the winter. There were winterizing procedures to go through and a visit to the neighbors to notify them that we would not be back until the spring. I arrived on Dec. 22 to about 6 inches of snow in the Tahoe Basin.
Working in the cabin, building a fire and cleaning the place up, I was not aware of what was happening outside. It had snowed, I mean really snowed, to the tune of 3 feet, and there was no end in sight. It was one of those snowfalls where the snow was wet, heavy and visibility was about a foot, if that. It was becoming quite clear that even if the snow plow was getting to our remote area, it would be some time before I could get out. Fortunately, I had provisioned for this, having experienced heavy and quick snowfalls in Lake Tahoe over the years. Part of that provision was a half-gallon of red wine, cheese, bread and some fruit. It was in the late afternoon that I decided to visit my Norwegian neighbors.
The Uvstedts lived, as I wrote, about a quarter of a mile away from us in a small clearing surrounded by the darkest part of the woods. As a kid, I was always a bit timid to venture into this seemingly wilder part of the forest, but now, as an adult with wine, bread and cheese to share, I couldn't wait to head off.
I donned my snow boots with leather leggings, floppy woolen hat, pea coat, gloves, backpack and wooden snowshoes and took off. I was alarmed to find myself climbing up from the front porch because of the deepness of the snow. Trudging along the path between the evergreens and pines, the snow was falling the heaviest I had ever experienced.
Down the path I went, happy after five minutes, to see the muffled amber of the Uvstedts livingroom lights reflected atop the snowy path in the distance. This was not all I experienced when coming into sight of their little chalet: the smell of bubbling spiced wine!
I was greeted in their usual effusive manner, hat and coat shaken off and placed on wooden pegs and embraced. Mrs. Uvstedt had decorated the inside of the little chalet in traditional Norwegian Christmas trim, the fireplace was crackling along, cookies were on the table and hot, mulled wine was on the stove. In the corner was a precious little Christmas tree with Mr. Uvstedt's little wooden ornaments hanging from the limbs. It was a far cry from my dank and lonely cabin across the forest. I stayed with them until after Christmas as the snow continued to fall in dump-truck loads. Besides being put to work cleaning the woodshop, gathering fire wood and helping Mr. Uvstedt on his emergency handyman calls, we drank this marvelous hot red wine punch and ate — sinfully.
Mrs. Uvstedt's punch: For half a gallon of red wine — dice two red apples, slice two oranges, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, three cloves, two tablespoons of allspice, one fifth of ruby port, 1 lemon, sliced, 1 tablespoon of ginger and one handful of maraschino cherries. Simmer for about 45 minutes, strain into small mugs. The port wine is the sweetener. If you decide not to use the port, add two cups of brown sugar per half-gallon of red wine. Cheers!
Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.