May Your Days Be Merry

The secret to sanity when assembling toys? Holiday spirits!

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Seeing the beaming face of a child receiving a holiday gift is great. Celebrating the joy of the season and realizing how much we have to be thankful for is incredible.

Giving to the needy and helping the less fortunate is humbling. Those things and so many of the wonders of the holidays are what I thought made my parents so happy on Christmas Eve and the days before it every year.

It took me about 10 years of being a parent myself to realize that the spirit of the season that put the happy smiles on mom and dad’s faces was actually the spirits of the season. 

The frustration of putting together that bike that had about a million parts or that dollhouse that had about 4,000 tiny pieces really seemed to grate on my nerves. I’d start snapping at the girls to get to bed “or else Santa isn’t coming!,” mumble something to myself about Santa at least having elves to help him put all these toys together, give up due to exhaustion, and go to bed. I didn’t know the secret — the secret that my parents never shared with me — the secret of “holiday spirits.”

You see, holiday spirits started when my dad came home from work. They were kept in the room where the presents were stashed, which was off-limits to me and my nosy little brothers. We knew if we crossed that threshold and were caught, Santa really would not be coming.

The secret was one of those old-fashioned travel bars stashed in the back of the guest closet. It contained the fixings for my parents’ favorite holiday cocktail: the Holiday Candy Cane. This potent blend of aged rum, white chocolate liqueur, and 100-proof peppermint schnapps was just what Santa ordered to cope with holiday stress and the seemingly incessant whining and bickering of my brothers (not me, I was the angel, of course.) “I’m going to wrap a present” was the code for “I’m going to the travel bar for a Holiday Candy Cane.” 

Why they were always so eager to volunteer to wrap the next gift — “No, no, you rest and I’ll wrap the next present” — became abundantly clear to me when my oldest girl was about 10. In a fit of frustration and after a litany of swear words over the assembly of the Barbie Dream House (that must have been the reason Santa skipped me that year), I called my dad and asked him how he always maintained that happy smile on Christmas Eve. What was the secret?

He fessed up, explained how he and my mother had a pact to keep the secret between themselves, and told me how it became a game to keep it going even when we were teenagers. If the assembly of a toy caused anguish and got the best of mom or dad, then they were banned from the Candy Cane for 30 minutes. It was genius and a penalty that neither wanted. 

The “holiday spirits” kept the joy in the holiday spirit. Just the thought of it puts me in the mood every year. And the season itself, with gatherings of family and friends, puts me in mind of wines that sparkle with their own charm and complement festive meals.

The savory flavors of many holiday foods, such as roast turkey with herb stuffing, scream out for a wine that will not overpower the delicate herbs and subtle spices. I’ve found just the ticket in the 2008 Domaine Ehrhart Gewurztraminer Harrenweg (about $22) from Alsace. Philippe Ehrhart’s family has been making wine in Alsace since 1725, and the past three generations have farmed organically. This wine is rich and full bodied, with delicious floral aromas, spice notes, and exotic fruit flavors.

The 2006 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir (about $50) is one of Oregon’s most consistently reviewed and highly rated pinots of the vintage, garnering 90-plus ratings. Excellent with roast lamb or a high-quality ham, it has layers of complex fruit, with flavors of dark berry, ripe cherry, spice, and just a touch of earth. Domaine Serene was founded by Ken and Grace Evenstad in Dundee, Ore., in 1989.

Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon has achieved elite status in the world of wine, with some wines earning perfect or near-perfect scores (such as Colgin, Harlan Estate, and Screaming Eagle) with prices to match (up to $750 a bottle on release). The 2005 Rombauer Diamond Selection Cabernet Sauvignon (about $60) combines sublime Napa Valley vineyards with a tremendous comparative value. Excellent with prime rib, it is rich and luscious, with structured tannins that benefit from the extra bottle age. It has flavors of intense black cherry, cassis, mocha, and cedar.

It is very rare to find a sparkling rosé that is both delicious and affordable. In fact, it’s nearly impos-sible, which is why I was skeptical when told of the Touraine Rosé Brut by Domaine d’Orfeuilles (about $18). Handcrafted using the traditional Champagne method from 100 percent malbec (yes, malbec) grapes, it is dry with fine bubbles and flavors of fresh strawberry, blueberry, and toast. It is complex and full bodied and will likely fool even the most die-hard rosé Champagne drinker into thinking that they are drinking a much more expensive wine.

Chardonnay is perhaps the most versatile wine around. It has the sophistication and complexity to be both the stylish and pedi-greed choice. Dave and Emily Miner founded Miner Family Winery in 1998. Two of the most truly gracious and down-to-earth people you will ever meet, they produce consistently delicious wines from prime Napa Valley vineyards. The 2008 Miner Napa Valley Chardonnay (about $25) offers up crisp apple, ripe melon, and citrus flavors that are balanced with toasty oak. This is definitely a wine worth seeking.

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Jensen's Finest Foods has desert locations in Palm desert, Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage.

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