Every year since I was little my family has gathered around Christmas time to make tamales. If you don’t know, a tamale is a delicious food made from masa (corn meal dough). Masa is spread inside a corn husk and filled with pork and chile sauce. It is sealed and steamed before eaten. Now, this is how my family makes them; they can be made in a variety of ways with many different fillings. Some cultures use banana leaves instead of corn husks.
Like clockwork, when December rolled around, all the ladies in the family congregated at Nana’s house to “tamalicize” 40 or 50 pounds of masa. It took all day. But, come night time, each family had enough of these holiday treats to last until after New Years. As the years progressed, families got busier and our group size decreased. Alas, this year, there were only three of us and we only made 10 pounds worth of masa, but I still felt like I was 8 years old standing there with my mom and Nana, listening to them chitchat in Spanglish about the family drama. The speed at which they can produce a single tamale still impresses me; I’m still eons away from their level. The foodie in me got the best of me this year and I experimented with fillings like artichokes, roasted red peppers and pepper jack cheese. They were good, but just not the same. This is my Christmas time tradition.
Two years ago I began working at Ponte Winery and adopted a new tradition (in addition to the tamales, of course): Magnum sized bottles of Zinfandel. Every November the winery releases a magnum sized bottle of reserve Zinfandel, made from the oldest vines in the vineyard. I buy one but don’t open it until the following year. When I do finally open it the response of those lucky enough to share my bottle is overwhelmingly positive. Too positive-often when I go to pour myself a second glass it’s gone. Ahh well, there’s always next year. I’ve learned to be sneaky, er, maybe even a little greedy. This year I’m opening the magnum on Christmas Day mainly because my dad’s side of the family will be coming over but they don’t drink wine. Ha!
So, why do I wait a year to open the bottle? It’s simple: the aging capability this fancy grape juice has is phenomenal. If any of you readers have a 2004 magnum Zinfandel I urge you to open it this year and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Now, all Ponte wines are released ready to drink; the current Zinfandel is very good but, mark my words, it will be mind-blowing next year. The 1.5 liter bottle size is perfect for this time of year because it serves twice the amount of people as a regular sized bottle of wine…well, if you’re like me you’ll be hoarding most of it for yourself. The wine is consistently divine-full of red berry flavors and just the right amount of spice. It tastes the way a good California Zin should taste. And the bottle itself makes a great display piece as the label is always adorned with beautiful Christmas colors. Give it a try. A new tradition just may be in your future!