Cheers: 11th-hour Santa

Except for having to learn a certain amount of Latin, being raised Catholic in the pre-Vatican II era had many liberating facets. Chief among these was the right to bestow upon a loved one a magical bounty called a “spiritual bouquet.”


Spiritual bouquets are compilations of prayers — 100 Our Fathers, for example — that you have allegedly said. You could assign the redemptive power of these prayers to another person, usually spelled out in a devotional card with a picture of St. Teresa of Avila on it. The secular version of the spiritual bouquet is the collateralized debt obligation.

My brother, four sisters and I heaped spiritual bouquets on one another every Christmas. The gift of time off from Purgatory was — literally — priceless. And, truthfully, there was no way of proving that you had not said the stated number of Hail Marys.

The spiritual bouquet was, therefore, the perfect 11th-hour Christmas gift as it involved no preparation (unless you actually said all the rosaries you claimed) and no outlay of funds.

Eventually, in our house, we started demanding of each other actual presents that came from stores and were purchased with money. Once again, the consumer society trumps true worth.

This comes to mind because today is Dec. 24 and — admit it — you haven’t gotten something for everyone on your list. Maybe you didn’t even draw up a list. You can try a spiritual bouquet but they appear to be out of fashion. Besides, they only work on other Catholics.

Better buy wine.

Here are our top picks. For all you high rollers out there, you cannot go wrong with Marques de Casa Concha, a 2005 Merlot from Chile. It is a velvet cloud of dark fruit. If it were any more sophisticated it would quote Oscar Wilde. Oddly, it’s in limited supply. The Blue Hill Wine Shop has it at around $13 — down from $20. We learned last Thursday that Global Beverage Warehouse (Myrick Street, Ellsworth) was about to lay in a supply of the ’04, itself highly praised for its supple grace and plummy perfection. Global plans to offer it at $11. Total bargain.

If you are part of the under-$10 cohort, you can do no better than the 2008 Borsao from Spain, a blend of Garnacha (75 percent) and Tempranillo (25 percent). This is a nicely structured, full-bodied red. Smooth and flavorful. Available most everywhere, supermarkets included.

And if you refuse to spend more than $9, there is still hope for you. Nay, salvation: Leese Fitch. We found it at Rooster Brother for $8.45 and loved it. Dark ruby in color, this California Cabernet is all about cherries and chocolate and subtle notes of we don’t know what. John Edwards also carries Leese Fitch.

All three wines will work well under a tree or in a stocking. And, like a spiritual bouquet, you probably don’t want to announce how much you invested in it.

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