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Wine Gifts – A Practical and Pragmatic Guide, Part 2

December 11, 2014 7 comments

Happy HolidaysHere we go again – as promised, a continuation of our Wine Gift Guide (here is the link for the first part, where we were talking specifically about wine as a gift). Please remember our guiding principals – practical and pragmatic. Know what your gift recipient needs or wants. Measure it up for yourself – would you be happy getting the same exact gift. Spend the money as you would for yourself, not as you would think you have to spend to look good.

The theme of today’s installment of the Wine Gifts Guide is Wine Gadgets, often also called Wine Accessories. This category includes everything which helps you to handle the wine or the bottle, and the whole idea behind gadgets is that they help to enhance the pleasure of drinking wine. An elegant glass, a beautiful decanter, an easy to use wine opener, a pourer which protects the bottle’s label, your hands, and white tablecloth – all are the tools helping you to enjoy wine to its fullest.

The subject of gadgets is much bigger than the wine itself – there are myriads of them. Remember, you are presenting the gift to the person you care about. Know what the person needs, or even more importantly, what the person already has. As it was mentioned in the previous installment, getting the second bottle of your favorite wine is never a problem. Getting 3rd set of glasses the recipient has no room for, which will end up in the basement and will never be used, is not what you want, period. Think before you buy. On the positive side, many wine accessories are often small and inexpensive, so they make ideal “stocking stuffers” or can be easily combined for a bigger gift. Last note before we talk about particular gadgets – I wrote about some of the wine gadgets before (wanted to create a whole series, but that didn’t work), so here is the link where you will find detailed references to the accessories I will mention below. Let’s go.

DSC_0602 Wine Gadgets

  1. Wine Glasses. Often an excellent gift, best if you know that the other person needs them – wine glasses are bulky and require dedicated storage space. There are multitudes of glasses available. Yes, you can go to the extreme of varietal-specific top notch glasses from Riedel, which will set you back about $50 a piece. You can also get a universal Riedel tasting glass at around 1/4th of that, or you can get 5 Zwiesel glasses for the same amount. You don’t have to get Riedel varietal glasses – 95+% of the people (I’m generous here) will not notice the difference – but of course do what you think is right. And measure it up for yourself. Example – I don’t like Riedel O stemless glasses – therefore, I will never give them to someone as a present. Okay, I think we are clear on this subject.
  2. Wine Decanters. I love decanters, I own 3 of them. In some cases, you simply need them (think Barolo). Even if you don’t really need the decanter, it typically adds to the pleasure of wine consumption. Don’t buy decanter by the price – if it looks good for you, get it. Nobody will feel the difference in the wine decanted in the $30 and $130 decanters.
  3. Wine Pourers. I personally love those – they greatly contribute to the enjoyment of wine by preventing the spills, red circles on the tablecloth and red fingers. They are also small, so it shouldn’t be a problem for anyone. Some pourers also serve as aerators, so you get the double bonus.
  4. Wine Opener. An interesting category. Yes, there are always new fancy designs, promising to simplify that tough task of opening that bottle of wine. But then so-called “waiter corkscrew” is all you need to open 95% of the bottles… Unlike pourers or wine charms, you generally don’t need a lot of bottle openers (it helps to have more than one, though, as you can always forget where did it go). So again, this is the category where it helps to know what the recipient wants or needs. Also remember that they can be bulky. And – the worst part – some of them don’t work by design, plain and simple. Know what you are getting…
  5. Wine Preservers. I love my Vacuvin, and I use it daily. But – you really need only one, as they are extremely durable. Then again, maybe you want to give your dear friend a Coravin ($250) – it is your choice. Generally, wine preservation solutions are good to have, so go for it.
  6. Wine Stoppers. If you find something super-cool – go for it. But remember that average wine aficionado has about 10 or 15 of those already stuffed in all the corners of the cabinets. Unless yours is amazing, there is a good chance that it will end up last in line – and nobody needs to use 16 bottle stoppers at once.
  7. Wine Chillers. Some look nice (like the frozen sleeve ones) and they actually work. A lot of wine chillers don’t work. I don’t like the icicles, and any electronic chiller is an absolute waste of money and storage space (I have mine stuffed in the corner of the closet – used it once – if you need it, I will ship it to you). Remember that bucket of ice with water will get any wine to the proper drinking temperature in 25 minutes tops – and it doesn’t take any space until you actually have to use it.
  8. Wine Charms. These are typically the least offending – they are tiny, can be stored easily anywhere, and kind of fun at the parties.
  9. Wine carriers. I like this category. They often come handy when traveling with wine, so yes, this gets my vote. Make sure they are actually sized right and can accommodate bottles of different sizes – I have one which will not take a burgundy shaped bottle no matter what, so make sure to check the one you are planning to get.
  10. Wine Luggage. It is generally expensive and would make a great gift – only if you know that the other person actually wants it. Taking a specific piece of luggage to travel with wine requires determination – find out before you will spend money on something which will never be used.
  11. Wine storage solutions. This is a broad and generally useful category – if the other person wants it and needs it. Wine storage solutions are usually bulky – know that the person will be able to fit that 36-bottle wine rack or a wine fridge. This type of present usually requires full coordination on both sides. In this category, avoid tiny wine fridges (6 bottles or less) – they take space, and their utility value is non-existent. As soon as you will store 6 bottles, you will end up with additional 24 requiring storage. It’s a rule, remember it.
  12. Eclectic gifts, or gifts for geeks. Okay, you will be surprised how many accessories can fit into this category. Port Tongues. Porrón. Wine Thermometer. There is no limit to the unusual gifts – and they are generally fine, but you better know your gift recipient. The person who drinks Chardonnay with the cube of ice might not really appreciate the concept of Porrón, so be discerning if you are looking into this category.
  13. What no to get. Anything which promises to manipulate the taste of wine (outside of decanters and pourers/aerators) by putting it in contact with something, or subjecting it to heat, cold and voodoo dolls – those products are a waste of money. In general, if you don’t want something for yourself, don’t give it as a present – that simple.

I honestly think I exhausted my list. Yes, there are many more wine accessories which I didn’t cover here ( open any wine accessories catalog) – but I hope that I gave you some of the ideas which might help you in your wine gift shopping, where it is not that difficult to get lost.

And … we are done for today, but we are not done with the subject. To be continued…

Wine in the Outdoors: GSI Outdoors Wine Carafe and Nesting Wine Glasses, Platypus PlatyPreserve Wine Preservation System

August 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Yesterday I came across this post by Winingdaily, which will be perfectly fitting into my Wine Gadget’s series. In case you plan to spend time outdoors and still enjoy a glass of wine in style, you might find this information quite useful. Cheers!

Wine in the Outdoors: GSI Outdoors Wine Carafe and Nesting Wine Glasses, Platypus PlatyPreserve Wine Preservation System.

Wine Gadgets: Wine Chillers

June 27, 2013 16 comments

This post is a part of the Wine Gadgets Series, where we are discussing different tools enhancing wine appreciation. These posts are usually published on Thursdays, however, it doesn’t mean “every Thursday”. In case you missed some of the prior posts, here are the links: Series Intro, Wine Pourers, Wine Preservers, Wine Travel Tools.

It is hot outside! I want to drink that bottle of Riesling which I just brought from the store – but it should be coooooold (yes, that cold, please). Okay, no problems, let’s put in the fridge, and while I put few veggies and the cheese on the table, it will be ready to drink, let’s say, in  about 20 minutes, right?

Nope. Wrong. You see, air is a terrible conductor of cold (and heat too for that matter). Assuming your wine was at 68°F (20°C), and you want to drink it at 50°F (10°C), it will only take you about…3 hours! Yep, so much for the great plans (dropping the wine in the freezer is no help either – the  bottle is not going to chill any faster). So, you think I’m destined to drink warm white wine on the hot day? Not really – please keep reading, will talk now about few solutions we actually have.

When it comes to chilling the wines, you generally have two issues to solve.

  1. Make the wine cold
  2. Keep the wine cold for as long as you need it.

There are a number of tools which can help you with solving those two issues. In no particular order, here is the list of some of them – note, however, that I will go as far as including cellar as your tool for chilling the wine – but I really don’t plan to discuss it at any depth…

Here we go:

  • Cellar – I’m happy for you if you got one – we will not be discussing this here, but I will talk about wine storage solutions at some point.
  • Wine Fridge – nice to have, we will talk about them as part of wine storage discussion
  • Rapid Ice Chiller – simple, easy to use, easy to store, inexpensive and cool looking
  • Chiller/Holder – available as stainless steel, marble, ceramic, double-glass wall and may other types. This is a “keep cold” tool
  • Electronic wine chiller – conversational piece and… waste of money?
  • Ice Bucket – best of the breed, the most efficient and the least expensive tool out of all!

As usual, here are some pictures:

Now, let’s talk about these gadgets. As I said, we will discuss cellars and wine fridges at a later time, so let’s focus on the rest.

Rapid Ice Chiller: The idea is simple. You store it in the freezer. When you want to drink the bottle of wine which needs to be chilled, you pull this chiller out of the freezer, put it on the bottle, and it does the job in under 10 minutes (personally tested many many times – this is not a marketing claim). The advantages – it is inexpensive, doesn’t take much space, easy to use, very efficient. Drawback – not all rapid wine chillers will fit bottles of sparkling wine, so you might need to have multiples. Also – you really should have one in the freezer, it doesn’t help to store it elsewhere. Overall – this is a useful device, and can be also a conversational piece. Ahh – and the added benefit – these can double as an ice pack, especially if you need to put it on child’s arm or even leg. Not that I’m suggesting this as a reason to get it, but kind of good to know. Here is the link for Amazon in case you would want to get one: Rapid Wine Chillers.

Chiller/Holder: They come in various shapes and forms and can be made out ceramics, metal, plastic, marble, etc. These gadgets typically will not chill the bottle of wine (never mind the claims) – but they might be able to keep it cold for a while. Some of them require to be pre-chilled to be efficient. I think these are more conversational pieces than useful devices -but it is almost inevitable for a known wine lover to get one as a gift. I have multiples and use them truly once in the blue moon… In case you need one, again, here is Amazon selection for you: Wine Bucket Coolers.

Electronic wine chillers: Yes, there are tons of them, but – I honestly don’t believe they have any use. They look fancy, sure, and promise a lot – but I have seen some in operation – lots of noise and very little efficiency (if you disagree – please, use comment section, pin me to the wall…). The one you see in the picture above I got as a gift – the box still stands unopened, collecting the dust (if you want it – make me an offer : ) ).

Ice bucket: simply the best! When it comes to rapid chilling the wine bottle, nothing works better! Two little tricks will make it work best for you. First, you need to add water so the bottle is resting in the mixture of ice and water. Second – add salt to the water, this will slow down melting of the ice. What makes it the best? Remember the beginning of the post? To chill the bottle of wine in 20 minutes? The ice bucket will actually do it – in the mixture of water and ice, the temperature of the wine will be dropping at one degree per minute(!), so it will take less than 20 minutes to chill the bottle from 68°F to 50°F. Most likely you already own an ice bucket of some sort, so this is free, simple, and very efficient. Well – you have to have the ice though. Oh yes – and the ice bucket will keep your wine cold like nothing else, so this is actually the most universal out of all the chillers we discussed here. And if you need a fancy wine bucket – here is what you can find on Amazon: Wine ice buckets.

Of course we need to run our traditional poll:

[polldaddy poll=7211185]

And we are done! Stay cool, and drink nice cold and refreshing wine. Until the next time – cheers!

Wine Gadgets: Traveling With Wine

June 20, 2013 32 comments

Few weeks ago, a fellow wine blogger Jeff, better known as The Drunken Cyclist in the wine blogging world, decided to challenge the wine bloggers to create blog posts relevant to the specific theme (this is a very popular trend among photography bloggers). The theme of the first challenge is Transportation. The post I’m about to present to you was supposed to the written in any case as part of the Wine Gadgets series, but it also very conveniently fits the theme of the challenge, so here we go.

A little intro: this is the fourth post in the Wine Gadgets series, where we are discussing different tools enhancing wine appreciation. In case you missed any of the prior posts, here are the links: Series Intro, Wine Pourers, Wine Preservers.

Can we use the words “wine” and “travel” interchangeably? Of course not, what kind of silly question is that! But think about your travel for a second. How often your travel plans include visiting the winery, no matter where you go? If you are reading this blog, I can safely say that for the most of you, if you are within the day travel from the winery, you are willing to make a detour. Do you visit the wine stores when you are visiting a different state or a different country? Of course you do! Thus it is safe to assume that your travel includes some happy encounters with wine.

But (oh, you knew the “but” is coming) – how many of you dreaded the trip back home, with all that wine you fell in love with, especially if that trip home include the scary, shiny beast called…a-e-r-o-p-l-a-n-e? The thought of the bottle of red wine in your luggage and then red liquid thinly covering your favorite shirt and dripping blood-like from the suitcase all over the luggage carousel can be paralyzing, no questions. But – there is no reason to be afraid of that scary, shiny beast. All you need to do is to use … of course, the wine gadgets.

So let’s talk about wine travel tools which you have at your disposal. And of course, not all the trips which include carrying of the wine include air travel – most of them will not, absolutely – thus we will talk about different tools, suitable for long distance wine travel and not.

Here is the list of some of the useful wine travel tools:

  • Wine Picnic Carrier (can be called a Picnic Tote) – usually a short haul solution
  • Wine Skin – pretty universal, but more applicable for the long haul
  • Wine Luggage/Wine Transporter – mostly for the long haul
  • Wine Tote – there are multiple versions, all for the short haul
  • Wine Bag –  definitely short haul, but most useful when visiting the wine store

Now, here are some pictures:

DSC_0700 wine bag

Wine bag

Now, let’s talk about these tools one by one.

Picnic wine carrier is a simple tool, suitable for short distance travel, or at least a travel where your luggage is not a subject of rough handling – having that wine tote in the trunk of your car is really not considered a “rough handling”. Added bonus is thermal insulation – if you will put a cold bottle of wine inside, the temperature will be preserved for a while. Many different kinds of the picnic tote are available, with capacity varying from 1 to 6 bottles.

Wine luggage is a serious tool. I bought mine about 5 years ago. For the most of those 5 years, I kept contemplating whether it is suitable for the trip or not. Problem is that this suitcase is really suitable just for wine, so traveling with two suitcases in the times when you only want to have carry on, doesn’t really sounds exciting. Besides, every time I would look at that suitcase, a fearful thought would visit – will it be actually able to protect the wine? Finally, for my last trip to Portugal, where I knew I will be around the wine I decided that it was now or never moment, and just went ahead. That was actually an excellent decision – wine suitcase performed perfectly, and I brought home 12 bottles of wine, all safe and sound. As you can see in the picture above, all the bottles are secured by the two straps, with the dividers between them. The suitcase also has sturdy sides and top and bottom, which protects your precious content quite well. From now on, when my plans will include carrying around substantial amount of wine, the wine suitcase is “it”.

Wine Tote is a simple tool to conveniently carry around a bottle or two of wine, also keeping it at colder temperature if it was previously chilled. I typically use it when I need to bring a bottle of white wine to the party. Then again, if you primarily travel by car, this tool has very limited value. If your travel includes public transportation and/or long distance walking, this can be quite convenient.

Next tool is called Wine Skin. Bubble wrap padded thick and sturdy plastic poach cut in the shape of a bottle – this tool is pure genius in my opinion (here is a link which explains how wine skin works). The poach has a bottom flap with adhesive, so you can completely enclose the bottle inside, air-tight. Even if your bottle will somehow break, the liquid will stay inside. Theoretically, this is single-use device, but I have my set of wine skins which I’m using and reusing for the past 4-5 years, and yet didn’t discard a single one – the adhesive still holds quite well. The great thing about wine skin that it has no weight, and it takes literally no space in your suitcase. Thus you have it with you in your trip, and in case you come across the wine you want to bring home, you can do it safely and without worrying – and if you don’t, that’s okay too.

Last tool for today is Wine Bag – at some point many wine stores carried them, and they were typically sold for $2.99. The wine bags are great for their intended purpose – to bring wine back from the wine store. Same way as it is popular now to go to the store with your own bag, the same idea works here. Wine bags are definitely a lot more convenient than a cardboard box which is hard to carry and then they should be disposed of, or the paper bags. But – I guess the problem is that a lot of wine store visits are very spontaneous, and people forget to bring the bag! Anyway, I have a few of those, and when I remember (!), I always bring them over.

If you are interested in any of these wine travel tools, here are few links from Amazon: Picnic Wine Carriers, Wine Skin, Wine TotesWine Luggage. Also, specifically for the wine luggage, I believe IWA Wine (an online/print catalog) has better selection than Amazon – take a look here.

And as we have done before, here is our gadget poll:

So, what do you say? Do you have your preferred wine travel tools? What do you think about tools we discussed here?

In the next Gadgets post, we will talk about chillers. Until then – cheers!

Wine Gadgets: Wine Preservers

June 13, 2013 18 comments

Here comes new Gadgets’ Thursday. Today we will talk about Wine Preservers (in case you missed previous post where we talked about Wine Pourers, here is the link).

The idea behind wine preservers is simple but equally difficult to achieve. As soon as the bottle of wine is open, the oxygen gets in the contact with the wine, which sets of a rapid ageing process. The wine changes its taste as the result of this ageing process. While wine is in the closed bottle, it ages very slowly, as only trace amounts of oxygen (or none in case of screwtops) are getting into the contact with wine. As soon as cork is out, the ageing is fast and irreversible. The best defense – finish the bottle in one day (I know – this is what many of my readers will say) – but in a lot of cases, this simply doesn’t work this way. My wife likes wine, but sometimes she would prefer another drink or none at all – which leaves me one on one with the bottle. Can I finish it? Yes, and it happens from time to time. Is that a good thing – not really, may be for the wine it is, but not necessarily for me. Thus I want to make sure my wine still tastes good on the second day. If necessary or happened to be – on the third too. This is where you reach out to the wine preservers.

How do you preserve the wine from going bad once it is opened? By not letting oxygen get to it, of course. So there are few solutions which can be used here – not all of them are gadgets, but I will list them anyway:

  • Box wine: Of course box wine is not a gadget. But the whole point is ( outside of environmental friendliness and low cost) is that by the nature of the design, box wine allows you to pour wine into the glass without letting oxygen inside the sealed bag. Once you “open” the box of wine (opening typically means getting the spout out of the carton), you can continue using it for the long time without any loss in the taste.
  • Wine kegs: while not widely used, the wine can be distributed in the stainless steel kegs which are used by the restaurants to serve the wine on top. Not really an option for the home users (unless you entertain tremendously out of your house). Same as above, the wine is preserved as no oxygen gets back into the keg
  • Inert gas preservers – the idea is based on using the inert gas, such as argon (which is heavier than oxygen) to displace the oxygen on top of the wine in the open bottle. There are few options available which are based on this approach:
    • Enomatic wine dispenser  – I kind of wish to have one at home (see picture below) – allows to have multiple bottles open at the same time, so consumers can run a “self-guided” tasting.
    • A wine preserver system in the can (a can with the inert gas which can be sprayed into an open bottle to displace oxygen)
  • Vacuum pump – allows to remove oxygen from the open bottle by pumping it out.

Here is the same, with the pictures:

Enomatic Wine Dispenser. Do you think I have one at home?

From Wikipedia: Enomatic Wine Dispenser. Do you think I have one at home?

Wine Vacuum sealer

Wine Vacuum sealer

I have both vacuum pump and gas can, and I have to tell you that I use vacuum pump literally every day. Just to explain the usage:

For vacuum pump – insert rubber cork into the bottle, put vacuum pump on top, and pump the air out for as long as it is easy to move the handle – once the resistance becomes substantial, you know that you got all the air out.

For gas can – insert the straw into the bottle, push the top – you will hear the flow of gas under pressure. Keep pushing the top for about 2-3 seconds. Take out straw and quickly close the bottle with the cork.

Both vacuum pump and gas can allow you to accomplish the same goal – extend the life of your beloved beverage once the bottle is opened. Vacuum pump is very inexpensive (one time investment of $12.99 or so), and it will last you almost forever (mine is still working fine for the past 10+ years). At about $9.99 we can’t call gas can an expensive solution either, but you will have to replace them more often. One advantage of the gas can – you can use it to continue keeping wine for much longer time compare to the vacuum pump. I had a few times the need to taste the wine months prior to that wine actually being consumed. What I have done is open the bottle, pour out the amount I needed, use the gas can and put the cork or screwtop back and put the bottle back into the storage – it worked just fine and the wine tasted perfectly when it was opened much later.

Bottom line: I highly recommend using the wine preservers, whether it is a vacuum pump or gas can – they really help to remove that fear of opening the bottle only because you think that you will not be able to finish it and half of the good bottle will go to waste. It is one of the best of the useful, simple and inexpensive wine tools which help you to enjoy the wine more.

Now, to get your opinion on the subject, I created the poll which I plan to continue using for the future gadget posts – let me know what do you think about it. Please keep in mind that answering the poll questions is not a substitute for leaving the comment : ). I definitely would like to hear your opinion on today’s topic.

In case you have an urge to get one of the wine preservers now, here is what you can find on Amazon: Wine Preservers.

And with this – we are done! Cheers!

Wine Gadgets: Pourers

May 30, 2013 14 comments

As it was introduced a week ago (here is the post), we are starting to discuss a subject of the wine gadgets in the Thursday posts. Gadget post might not happen every Thursday – but at least you are about to read one now.

I don’t plan to rate gadgets – but I will tell you if I think you should own one. I will tell you what I like and don’t like. I will tell you why I think the gadget useful – or why I think it is not. I don’t really plan to acquire new gadgets just for the purposes of these posts – but this might change in the future.

Now, let’s proceed with our first gadget – The Pourer.

Even with such a simple accessory as a wine pourer, there are many many different types available:

  • Standard pourer
  • Measuring pourer – you mostly see those at the wineries and wine tastings. They allow you to dispense the exact amount of liquid with every pour
  • Pourer/stopper combination
  • Aerating pourer

I own a substantial number of pourers of different forms and sizes:

2. VacuVin Wine Server Crystal - my favorite, most elegant

2. VacuVin Wine Server Crystal – my favorite, most elegant

Why would you want to use pourers? I see two reasons:

  1. Aesthetics of pouring wine into the glass. Somehow, I find it more aesthetically pleasing looking at the wine going into the glass when the pourer is used
  2. Cleanliness of the bottle, hands and tablecloth. Using of the pourer prevents the wine from dripping all over the bottle, which subsequently leads to round stains on the tablecloth (especially when you deal with the red wine).

Just so you can relate to what I’m offering here, compare this two pictures. First one – pouring wine just standard way:

Pouring wine

Pouring wine. See that drip in the making?

and this one – pouring wine using Crystal Wine Server:

Pouring wine using Crystal Wine Server

Pouring wine using Crystal Wine Server

Which one do you find more elegant (and I’m not even talking about dripping)?

Are all of the pourers the same? Not at all. Not all pourers will fit all the bottles (interestingly enough, some of the screwtops offer a particular challenge for pourers as they often have a bit wider neck than the regular bottles). Some of the pourers are more versatile, some of them less. Some allow an easy addition of wine stopper, and some just don’t. Some of them also can work as aerators, but I will reserve that subject for the time when we will talk about aerators.

If you look at the five I presented to you above, they are all slightly different. #1, VacuVin Black Wine Server will fit a lot of bottles, will be okay with most of the screwtops and will allow the use of any bottle stoppers. This is definitely an advantage.

I find #2, VacuVin Crystal Wine Server the most aesthetically pleasing. However, it might have challenges fitting the screwtops (might simply fall out of some of them), and has probably the shortest lifespan (the bottom cracks). No stopper can be used together with this pourer.

When it comes to #3, it doesn’t even look like a pourer, right? But this ring performs an important function of stopping the drips, so as far as I’m concerned, it is pretty much a pourer. And it will fit on majority of the bottles, which is also a plus.

Pourer #4 is a flexible pourer – it is more or less a piece of plastic which you can fold and insert into absolute majority of the bottles. Works similar to #2, classic pourer and of course it should be taken out when you will need to recork your bottle. The advantage is that it is quite universal and will fit various bottle types.

Pourer #5 is a pourer/stopper combination. It works quite well, but has limitations – it will not fit some of the bottles with the thinner neck. Otherwise it is simple and I think looks pretty good.

Bottom line: considering that pourers are inexpensive for the majority of the cases, I would recommend to have variety on hands, so you will be prepared to enjoy bottles of any forms and sizes in style, and without annoying drips.

Variety of pourers can be found on many web sites and in catalogs – here is selection which can be found on Amazon: Wine pourers.

What do you think? Do you own pourers, and if you do, do you use them? Do you think they make sense or do you think they are just waste of the money? Comment away!

And now, to make it even more entertaining, I’m adding a simple poll here – with every new poll I will provide results from the previous one. Let me know if these are good questions or if you want to know something else.

Whew, and we are done here. Cheers!

Wine Gadgets!

May 23, 2013 32 comments

Wine accessories, or gadgets for short. What is your take on them? Do you find all those wine gadgets to be a nuisance, a waste of money and useless? Or do you have your favorite bottle opener you swear by as nothing else can deal with the bottle as quickly, neatly and efficiently?

Being an oenophile, I find myself surrounded with all those little wine tools – some I buy, some I get as presents (dear friends: two dozens of bottle stoppers is quite enough, no matter how fancy they look like, I think I’m set for quite a while, so please bring the wine instead). But the important part is that I actually use many of those little gadgets – some pretty much daily, like bottle openers, pourers, glasses or vacuum pump. Some occasionally, like bottle chillers, Champagne bottle stoppers, aerators and decanters. Some are reserved for the OMG moments only, like that Wine Away spray. Some are used only when guests are coming, like glass charms. And then there are those which are priceless when I travel, like bottle sleeves or special wine carriers and even suitcases.

DSC_0602 Wine Gadgets

The fact of the matter is that I use the wine gadgets, and many of them actually help with the wine appreciation. Like the simple bottle pourer, which helps to avoid red smudges on the wine labels and red circle on the table cloth. Or elegant glass, which exhumes with excitement as soon as it is filled with golden or purple liquid.  Where am I going with all this? Simple. As I do it with wine, I want to share my gadget experiences with you – and to tell you what worked for me, what didn’t work, and what you might find useful.

At this point my plan is to have a wine gadget posts on Thursdays – there are plenty of little tools to talk about, so I don’t know whether this will be a weekly feature or not, but time will tell. And if you have any “yay” or “nay” to say about this idea – your comments are always welcome. And until the first gadget post – cheers!

P.S. Don’t forget that today is Chardonnay Day! Celebrate one of the world’s most popular grapes in style!

Holiday Gift Guide For Wine Lovers

December 14, 2011 4 comments

Got a wine lover, wine aficionado or a wine geek in your life? You are in luck, as finding the right gift for someone who enjoys wine is easy, and I would dare to say it gets easier every year.

Looking at a big picture, your three big gift categories for the wine lovers are wine, wine accessories and wine education and experience.

Let’s start with wine. Don’t dread it – giving someone a bottle of wine she or he will enjoy is not as difficult as it seems. You should start with a good wine store – it can be neighborhood store or an online store (at the end of this post there is a listing of my favorite wine stores). Now, based on what you know about wine preferences for the gift recipient, there are few possible approaches for selecting the wine. If you only know the type of wine the other person likes (let’s say California Pinot Noir), the easiest bet is to get the wine at the actual “brick and mortar” wine store, where you can ask for the advice. If you know particular wines and/or wineries the other person likes (let’s say Catena Zapata Malbec or Peter Michael Chardonnay), it is equally simple to buy the wine in the store or online, as long as you can find it at the price you are willing to pay.

Now, in case you are unsure about the wine preferences, you can try a different approach. Do you know of any dates which are special in other person’s life? Birthday, anniversary, children birthdays, buying the first house – as long as you know the year of that special event, you can look for wine, port, scotch or champagne made in that specific year. Think it will be too expensive? Not necessarily – check Benchmark Wine Company’s selection of the older wines, and you might be pleasantly surprised. You can also ask your trusted wine retailer – many back vintages are still available, and often are quite affordable. Try it – I’m sure you will make someone very happy.

I’m not going to give you any particular wine recommendations (it really depends on the preferences as we discussed above and your price range), but I would like to suggest what not to get the wine lovers – stay away from the wine clubs. There are many wine clubs offered by various newspapers and “thingy of the month” establishments – the wines in such club selections usually don’t have a good value (you get a case of wine which looks inexpensive as a case – problem is that the person might enjoy only one or two bottles from the whole case, which immediately makes it a bad value). You can give a winery club as a present – if you know that the other person would enjoy the wines from that particular winery. However, if you still set on the wine club idea, the only clubs which I can wholeheartedly recommend are the ones run by D&M ( please see reference below) – their scotch, cognac and champagne clubs are amazing and represent a real value.

Let’s move on to the wine accessories. All wine lovers appreciate good accessories which make wine drinking more enjoyable. Everything goes – glasses, decanters, bottle openers, pourers, glass charms, bottle stopper, wine preservers, bottle holders – the list goes on and on. However, you need to keep in mind two things:

  1. it would help immensely to know what the other person might need/want, or at least doesn’t have already. Glasses and decanters take space, and nobody needs three estate wine openers.
  2. keep it simple. If the accessory is super fancy, like electronic bottle chiller, there is a good chance that it will be used only once or never. Wine accessory should be simple to use and “obviously” useful for the person to actually enjoy it. If someone is going to spend lots of time thinking “what am I going to do with this and where am I going to put it”, I wouldn’t call it a good gift.

The easiest way to buy wine accessories is through the catalogs (few recommendations are at bottom of the post), but don’t forget to check Home Goods stores – they offer a lot of different wine accessories at the great prices.

Last but not least category – wine education and experience. You don’t need to know anything about the wine in order to enjoy it – however, knowing something about the wine you are drinking greatly adds up to that enjoyment. When it comes to the wine education, there are many resources. First, there are books and magazines. Many wine books are truly enjoyable and educational at the same time – try the books by Matt Kramer, for instance. Some of the books contain a tremendous wealth of information – for instance, the books by Jancis Robinson. Any of these books would make a great present for your wine loving friends (Important! Try to make sure they don’t yet have the book you intend to give!).

Another great educational resource is wine schools and classes. One of my favorite wine schools is Windows on the World Wine School (link below). During each class, you learn about different wine regions and taste different wines – all hand selected by Kevin Zraly, who teaches the classes for more than 20 years. You don’t have to buy the whole series – you can get gift certificates good for individual classes.

As far as wine experiences are concerned, the sky is the limit. Wine travel, wine cruises, wine master classes,  wine appreciation dinners, winemaker dinners – there are endless possibilities for anyone who wants to know more about the art of wine. Okay, let me leave this topic for you to explore – if in doubt, start with Google, it always works for me.

I think this was the longest post in this blog ever (at least as far as the word count is concerned). I hope I was able to give you some ideas, and so I would like to wish you and yours Happy Holidays! Cheers!

Holiday wine gift giving Resource Guide:

Wine:

Benchmark Wine Company – great source of old vintage, rare and unique wines from all over the world – all at very fair prices. Benchmark Wine buys collections, and then sell the wines at a fair market price, no auction. Don’t forget to check their Clearance Bin!

Bottle King – Chain of discount wine and liquor stores in New Jersey. Offers excellent values and great selection, some of the wines being unique just for the chain. Selection of California, France, Italy and Portuguese wines worth specific mentioning. If you are in the area of any of the stores, make sure to stop by.

Cost Less Wines and Liquors – if you live in the area of Stamford, CT or visiting the town, make sure to stop by Cost Less Wines – there are many great values in stock every day for any discriminating wine lover. Just worth mentioning that store was voted “Best in Stamford” a number of times. There are great wines from all over the world, but the portfolio of wines from California, France, Israel, Italy and Spain worth specific mentioning, plus the selection of Scotch and Bourbon is outstanding.

D&M – great wine store in San Francisco. The biggest selection of Scotch, Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, Champagne, Mezcal (you got the idea, right?) of any store that I know of. D&M also has a number of clubs for all the different spirits – well worth the money, as all the shipments are rare and unique.

PJ Wine – One of the best wine stores in New York. Selection of Spanish wines is truly amazing (may be best in the country), French and Italian wines are also well represented. Lots of unique wines, particularly biodynamic and organic. PJ Wine also provides great educational opportunities such as seminars, wine tastings and so on.

Pop’s Wine & Spirits – I have never been to the store personally, however, some of my friends swear by it, and I have seen great values acquired there, therefore I believe the store is worth mentioning here. The store is located on Long Island, but you can also buy the wines online.

WTSO.com – I talked about Wine Till Sold Out many times in the past. Great source of value wines, very simple model (only one wine is offered at a time, free shipping if you buy recommended quantity, ranging from 1 to 4). Might be a challenge to get a specific wine for a specific occasion but well deserves an e-mail subscription in any case.

Last Bottle – another source for amazing “value wines”. Operates similarly to WTSO, periodically offering amazing wines at amazing prices, with the minimum number of bottles to buy (typically 4 – 6, can be less, depending on the type of wine/price) to get free shipping. Selection is amazing, up to and including Petrus, DRC and Screaming Eagle. Last Bottle also runs referral program – sign up a friend, friend gets $10 discount on the first purchase, you get $30 discount after friend’s first purchase. If you are not a subscriber yet, I will be glad to sign you up – use this link.

Wine Accessories:

IWA Wine – offers a full range of wine accessories, from glasses to wine cellars and wine cellar piece parts to wine memorabilia and even wines.

Wine Enthusiast – same as above, offers a full range of wine accessories for all needs and occasions.

Home Goods stores – on any given day, there is a great selection of various wine gadgets and accessories in the store – be sure to check it out, and keep in mind that inventories are changing daily.

Amazon – No question everything can be found on Amazon today, so yes, don’t forget to shop there!

Wine Education:

Windows on the World Wins School – an excellent source of wine education. Taught by Kevin Zraly for more than 20 years, the school offers a series of classes which are very informative, educational and enjoyable. I can’t recommend it high enough.

Wine Spectator Magazine – magazine contains lots of interesting articles, wine ratings, restaurant reviews and chef recipes. I’m subscribing it for the past ten years, and still very excited with each issue. There is also an online version, which requires its own subscription.

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