Spring celebrations are deeply rooted within myths, ancient writings, and the Earth’s awakening with shoots of green pushing up from the damp soil. This time of the year is celebrated globally with festivals of color, food, and drink as we move out of the darkness into longer, brighter days. Whether you have a farm, porch, or balcony, the urge to stick your fingers in the soil and plant something is in the air. Welcome the season with these Spring cocktail and wine pairings.
The festivals highlighted here center around the mood of the season: bringing hope for a season of abundance with a focus on food and drink, and are tied to fecundity, renewal, and rebirth. While this is just a sample of some of the seasonal festivities that are taking place, nearly every pocket of the globe celebrates the onset of warmer months. Bring a part of one of these global traditions into your home or start your own “festival” to celebrate the freshness of the release of Spring!
Spring Festival, China
Beginning with the Lunar New Year celebration that typically commences in February, all the way through the Cherry Blossom Festivals that can run until May, Spring festivals kick off the year in many East Asian countries. China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan each have their own customs and ceremonies to celebrate the seasonal milestones, with some overlapping customs that are recognized globally.
Celebrating the wildly beautiful blooming of the cherry trees in Japan and China, as well as throughout the US, has become one of the biggest seasonal attractions worldwide. The Chinese have a saying, “It’s not a celebration without alcohol!”, so you’ll find a variety of alcoholic beverages interwoven throughout the festival. During the festivities family, old friends, and toasts to abundance and good fortune reign.
Spring Cherry Festival Cocktail
Martini Glass (or fancy coupe)
Collins Glass (or other tall glass)
Long-stemmed Bar Spoon for Stirring
¾ oz fresh lime juice
½ ounce simple syrup
2 oz Vodka (Cherry flavored if possible)
½ oz Campari (or Punt e Mes)
Garnish: 2 sprigs of mint
Stir all ingredients together in a tall Collins glass (except mint). Then pour into a Martini glass. Finally, garnish with sprigs of mint.
In addition to this delicately sweet blush-colored cocktail, the Japanese have begun exporting a few liquors with an infusion of sakura blossoms for a delicately floral and fruity experience. For a lighter liqueur, try the Kirakira Cherry liqueur that includes the sakura blossoms in the bottle. For a stronger option to mix into cocktails or enjoy on the rocks, look for the Kokoro Cherry Blossom Gin liqueur that comes in a lovely cherry blossom pink hue. Also, if you’re a fan of Japanese whiskeys, you may be interested in the Suntory Kanade Sakura, a cherry blossom liqueur produced by Suntory. The Japanese whiskey brand was popularized in the West by Bill Murray in the film Lost in Translation.
Called by various names, the “Festival of Love” and “Festival of Spring” employs vibrant colors in décor, clothing, and spices. The colors are to bring positive vibrations into our lives, and this famed Hindu festival is full of joy, letting go, and celebrating. Vibrantly colored fabrics are thrown into the air, handfuls of brightly colored powders and colored water are thrown onto stretched white fabrics, creating a kind of homage to the art of Jackson Pollock. All generations, from toddlers to grandparents, get in on the action. The drink to mark this festival is the non-alcoholic refresher and all-around favorite, Thandai, made from nut milks, spices, and sugar. To add some kick, you’ll also find the drink is often laced with bhang.
Neha Mathur, of the blog Whisk Affair, has done the work of creating a step-by-step Thandai recipe for us all to follow to prepare the perfect traditional Thandai, and offers some additional background and variations on the drink. Don’t let the 12 ingredients scare you away, though, it’s easy to make and the results will delight you.
Centuries before the current teetotaling rulers banned the consumption of alcoholic beverages, historically, Iran had a vibrant drinking scene, downing Arak, a liquor often compared to Grappa. Dating back to 550 BC, King Cyrus the Great and his Persian lawmakers often over imbibed before their deliberations. The next day, when clear-headed, they began the debate afresh. If all were still in agreement, the laws passed. This debate method became the birth of the Persian saying “Masti O Rasti,” which best translates as “drunkenness and truthfulness.”
That homily is printed on the back labels of bottles of Arak Saggi, a triple-distilled (think Vodka) Arak that was created by an Iranian-Canadian desirous of the resurrection of his homeland’s alcoholic history and culture. This contemporary drink is made by distilling sultana raisins (sourced from California). The undertone is a subtle sweetness without being cloying. While Persian Saggi is often enjoyed in celebrating the New Year in Spring, it’s often enjoyed throughout Summer. Serve ice-cold, with grilled lamb. Arak can also stand in for Vodka in cocktails, or simply sip as you would Grappa after a meal.
Arak Grapefruit Cocktail. Serves one
Ingredients: One short cocktail glass, one long-stemmed bar spoon
First, for the Chamomile Simple Syrup
1 part sugar
2 parts water
dried chamomile flowers from a teabag of chamomile tea
Then for Cocktail
Juice of one big juicy pink grapefruit
Persian Empire Arak
2 T Sparkling water float
Garnish: a few sprigs of mint
Make the Chamomile Simple Syrup by combining sugar, water, and chamomile flowers in a pan and heating until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Cool the syrup.
Pour the cooled Chamomile Syrup into the cocktail glass filled with ice. Now add the Grapefruit juice and Arak. Stir to combine. Finally, float the sparkling water over the cocktail by pouring over the back of the bar spoon into the glass. Add the mint sprigs and serve.
Gelato Festival, Italy
While we may not be able to travel to Italy to celebrate their Spring festivals, we can bring some Italy into our home (yay!). In Florence, where it all began, April ushers in the Gelato Festival. This dreamy event is considered one of the most important and most followed food festivals, globally (according to the Gelato Festival press release). The festival clocks over 1,000,000 visitors each year (pre-pandemic). Los Angeles will celebrate its 12th year in 2021 with the US Gelato Festival. And, what could be more Italian than a glass of wine and a scoop of gelato?!
Yes, wine pairs well with gelato — with a few rules and…here’s your cheat sheet!
Prosecco – Vanilla (In a coupe glass, make a refreshing and creamy cocktail of one scoop Vanilla Gelato, and then pour over 2 oz. Prosecco. No need to stir, relax on a sunny afternoon and dream of Capri)
Merlot – raspberry
Pedro Ximenes Sherry – hazelnut or butterscotch
Moscato Rosa with any creamy style – trifle, torrone, and hazelnut/tiramisu gelato
Moscato di Sicilia – semifreddo
Passito & Moscato – chocolate, strawberry, raspberry, raisin
Pantelleria Superior Passito – pistachio or raisin
Vin Santo – coffee, hazelnut, walnut & pistachio
Malvasia of Lipari islands – vanilla & cinnamon or Cassata semifreddo
Tokaji – zabaione and almonds
Ice Wine – Torrone
Brandy and liqueurs – dark chocolate
Marsala Ambra Superiore – Sacher Torta (chocolate and apricot)
Madeira, Port, Rum, and Sherry Pedro Ximenes – extra fondant chocolate
Chianti Classico Riserva – chocolate (great for bringing forward the aromas of vanilla, caramel, and cocoa because gelato has a strong chocolate taste and is not excessively sweet).
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Contributor: Stacie Hunt, Certified Silver Pin Sommelier/AIS; Vice President National Association of Wine Retailers; International Wine Judge, Author, Spokesperson, and Educator. As a television and video producer/spokesperson, she is the winner of several national and international broadcasting awards. When she’s not wearing her other hat as a partner of a digital media company for the music, corporate, and healthcare industries, her passion is hosting in-person and zoom wine events. In 2020, Stacie started “Grooming for Zooming” a media coaching service for executives, educators, professionals, artists and all who want to look and perform their best during zoom meetings.