This year on December 24, humankind will witness an epochal event of a lifetime (if you're a millennial): The first night of Chanukah will fall on Christmas Eve. That's happened only one other time in my lifetime (I belong to Generation X), in 1978. And it happened only one other time in the last 100 years, in 1940.
The first night of Chanukah has fallen on Christmas Day twice over the last 100 years, in 2005 and 1959. And Christmas and Chanukah (a historic festival and not a religious holiday for self-aware Jews) often overlap. But when the first night of the Jewish festival of lights aligns with the vigil for the birth of Jesus Christ, it just feels different — magical, as if there were some type of confluence of cosmic forces. It can literally take a lifetime for the two to coincide (if you were born in the '80s).
The date for Christmas is determined by the Gregorian Calendar and the date for Chanukah, like all Jewish holidays and festivals, is determined by the Hebrew Calendar, a lunisolar calendar (based on the moon phase and the tropical calendar).
If you're wondering how I figured this out, it was actually easy: I used HebCal.com.
Christmas and Chanukah aren't historically related, even though they often overlap. Only in America is Chanukah associated with Christmas as a gift-giving occasion (a contamination of the Hallmark gift card military-industrial complex). In most countries, children may receive dreidels (dice with spindles) and coins for Chanukah. But gifts are not exchanged.
Sephardic Jews often make and serve doughnuts during Chanukah. That's because doughnuts are fried in oil and oil is central to the Chanukah story: According to Jewish tradition, the amount of olive oil needed for one night during the rededication of the Second Temple (in Jerusalem in 165 BCE) miraculously lasted for eight nights.
Ashkenazi Jews serve potato latkes or potato pancakes, which are fried in oil. Many Texans will recognize potato pancakes as part of their own culinary tradition: Early German settlers in Texas, many of whom came here seeking religious freedom in the 19th century, also enjoyed potato pancakes.
And that's why, in the spirit of coming together and sharing our rich cultural diversity in Trump America, my No. 1 recommendation for wine this Chrismukkah (the bogus pop-culture intermingling of religious rituals) is German-speaking wine.
At our house, we will be lighting our Christmas tree and serving Domäne Wachau 2015 Grüner Veltliner (above), which you can find at the Houston Wine Merchant for $20. It's fresh on the nose and dry on the palate, with lovely fruit and minerality. A one-dimensional wine, for sure, but a perfectly and utterly delicious common denominator for the occasion. The Merchant and Spec's are arguably the best resources for German-speaking wine in Houston. Spec's has the more aggressive pricing and a larger selection, including a wide array of sweet and dry Riesling. And both have excellent high-end wines.
But whether you're looking for sweet or dry wines, don't be afraid to branch out to the German-speaking wines of New York's Finger Lakes (probably the best value) and Washington state (also value-driven).
Here are some other gems that I discovered this week during my Chrismukkah wine shopping spree.
It may seem like a lot to spend for a Prosecco, but the Adami Prosecco Cartizze, the highest designation for Prosecco, is a good deal at $29. Be extremely careful when you buy Prosecco. Make sure that the wine you are buying is the "current release" for the winery and that it hasn't been sitting on a shelf for more than 12 months (I can't stress this highly enough).
The best Champagne deal I found was the Taittinger Brut La Française for around $35 at Spec's (cash price). This is classic and entirely respectable Champagne at an extraordinarily low price, one of those flukes of the highly regulated Texas wine market (perhaps president-elect Trump will fulfill his campaign promise to deregulate the Texas wine trade!). I love this wine and drink it gladly on any occasion. And it's a great value for the holidays.
The best fine white wine deal I came across was the Fernández Gómez 2014 Rioja for $19 at the newly opened Vinology, on Bissonnet. This is one of those wines that will stump wine snobs, thrill wine geeks and be thoroughly enjoyed by the average-punter white wine lover. The unique bottle format and the pretty label also make it a great addition to your table setting.
Another white that I really loved was the Terlan 2015 Winkl Sauvignon Blanc for under $28 (cash price) at Spec's. Even though it's from Italy, it's actually a German-speaking wine: It comes from South Tyrol in northernmost Italy, a semi-autonomous region where German is spoken prevalently. If you're looking for a higher-end bottle of white to give as a gift, this is a great value.
You should never be afraid to serve rosé wine on Chrismukkah or any holiday, for that matter. Both Spec's and the Merchant have excellent selections of rosé still on the shelves. Again, as for any young, fresh wine, make sure that you are buying the current vintage. At Spec's I really love the Balandran 2015 Costières de Nîmes Rosé for less than $15. It's imported locally, by the way. And I could also go for the Copain 2015 Rosé from Pinot Noir for less than $25.
My No. 1 splurge wine this year is the Luigi Tecce 2012 Satyricon Campi Taurasini, made from Aglianico grown in southern Italy, for around $53 at Vinology. This is one of the most highly allocated (i.e., hard to get) and most-talked-about wines in hipster wine circles these days. The shop has only a few bottles left, but this would make a great gift for any fine wine connoisseur who wants to expand her/his horizons. (Note to wife: This is what I want for Chrismukkah).
Another gift-worthy wine I came across this year was the Cadence 2014 Coda from Washington state at the Merchant for around $35. It's a classic Bordeaux-style blend vinified in a modern style but with enough restraint to keep it food friendly. It's an ideal wine to give to someone who likes the big, bold California style, and the price makes it a lot more accessible than comparable wines from Napa Valley.
And the tenth recommendation for Chrismukkah? We live in a golden era for wine in Houston (despite our state's highly regulated wine trade) and the whole world of wine is in your hands: Go to Spec's, the Houston Wine Merchant, Vinology or to Kroger on Shepherd in the Heights (those are the places where I shop) and ask for the salespeople's recommendations. No one knows their inventory better than they do. And no one is more motivated to get you the right bottle of wine than they are. Before you head out to shop, think about the category of wine you want/need (sparkling, white, red, sweet, dry, etc.) and think about your price ceiling and the quantities you need. We live in a city full of talented wine professionals who love wine and who want us to drink well.
Happy Chrismukkah, everyone! It's a special one this year: Make it a good one with a memorable bottle of wine.