In light of the many hours spent in 2014 interviewing all the people who contributed insights to my forthcoming book, Access to Asia, I now have many more colleagues and friends to toast with a glass of champagne in the New Year. Of course, most of you know that in Asian countries with significant Chinese populations—like China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan—Chinese New Year is celebrated later than January 1st – and will occur on February 19th in 2015. But regardless of when, where or how you choose to celebrate or toast this traditional event, keep the following in mind:
- Non-alcoholic toasts: Toasting is about the sentiment of the occasion and part of the New Year’s Eve festivities in some countries. Due to religious or health reasons, many guests refrain from consuming alcohol. People undergoing medical treatment, in recovery, or taking certain prescription medication cannot take even “just one sip.” It is impolite to insist that they do because they can still acceptably join in the toasting with a sparkling beverage, ginger ale, club soda, seltzer, or juice. If you do not drink and are offered an alcoholic beverage, simply say ‘no thank you.’ Remember: it is about celebrating the occasion, not the liquid in the glass.
- What is Champagne? Champagne, once traditionally served only at the coronation of French Kings, is now strongly associated with New Year’s Eve festivities around the world. This sparkling wine comes from the region of Champagne in France, located northeast of Paris, and is reputed to have been invented in the 1600s by the monk Dom Perignon. He discovered that the best Champagnes were made from blends of the Champagne grapes (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay) from different Champagne vineyards. Champagne is still-wine that has had sugar added and has been through a second fermentation and it is this that leads to its effervesce. The smaller and faster the bubbles, the finer the champagne. Scientists have determined that there are 95 million bubbles in a bottle of champagne!
- Champagne Bottle Opening: There is a proper way to open a bottle of champagne to avoid the spray, injuring someone with the cork, or spilling a drop of this precious liquid! It is best to hold the bottle at a 45 degree angle, grasp the champagne cork gently with the one hand and turn the bottom of the bottle firmly with the other hand. Be sure to twist the bottom of the bottle slowly, until you feel the cork gently release in your hand.
- Sabering Champagne: Legend has it that Napoléon’s mounted artillery officers started the trend of sabering. While riding a horse, these soldiers used a blade to cut the top off a champagne bottle with the cork still attached to it. Today for an experienced wine connoisseur to accomplish this feat, precise preparation must occur. The bottle should rest upside down 60 minutes in ice, and must be very, very cold. Remove from ice, slowly turn the bottle upright, hold it at a 45 degree angle with no fluid touching the cork, touch the blade on the shoulder of the bottle, then use a follow-through movement with the blade using the elbow; not the wrist. This action was said to remove the cork quickly. However, please do not attempt to saber your champagne, as this is mostly a lost art and could result in shattered glass in your champagne!
- Toasting Etiquette: You may choose to clink or not to clink your glass with another party-goer. The best rule is to be sure the guests are comfortable. It is best to avoid comments like “I do not clink” as this will cause discomfort. Etiquette is about others feeling comfortable in your presence.
- Observing Toast Boundaries: New Year’s Eve toasts are extremely brief, 10-15 seconds, and occur with much fanfare when the clock strikes midnight! If you don’t want to be kissed by others, it is best to stay close to your date, extend your hand for a handshake, turn your cheek for an ‘air-kiss’ or excuse yourself just before midnight.
Stay tuned for Part Two of our Blog when we share international New Year greetings from around the world.