Poured with Pleasure

Bill Marsano’s blog on wine and spirits and cocktails: "If it’s good in a glass, I’m pouring it."

Category: Barware

Loathercon 2014: Bad Gifts for the Drinking Class

LoatherCon, our annual festival of cringe-making gifts for the drinking class, convened once again at Parade’s End, corner of Lois Lane and Della Street, for the customary mockery and merriment. And for lagniappe we even came up with some good gifts. ¶ For example, making ice balls no longer requires Williams-Sonoma’s $1100 appliance now that less

tovo govino

than a sawbuck scores a mold from Tovolo [better and cheaper is Tovolo’s King Cube tray, which turns out Titanic-menacing 2-inch bergs]. Beer-lovers will admire GoVino’s new outdoors-friendly polymer beer glasses: 4 for $15, unbreakable, BPA-free and a big step up from waxed-paper cups. ¶ But now let the fresh hostilities begin! Claire de Loon, the ditzy musician, brought two nice Pinot Noirs [Kenwood’s and Rodney Strong’s] as well as her roommate, Fussy Galore, the relentless primper. Fussy brought her ‘limited edition’ sunglasses, whose frames are made from old Robert Mondavi barrel staves.

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They’re advertised as ‘uniquely awesome,’ so of course they cost $120. Flemish Bond, the Belgian mason and secret agent, brought some Gabbiano Bellezza Chianti Classico [yay!] and a pair of wooden martini glasses [boo!]. Sure to spoil the look of any cocktail, they’re $110. ¶ Irk Bogarde, the cranky matinee idol, brought a bottle of Stag’s Leap Pine Ridge Cabernet and a Buck Rogers weapon to open it with: the $50 Skil iXO Vivo cordless corkscrew. Heavens to Betsy! The iXO Vivo may be fine for caterers, but for home use? Noisy. And beware:

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when it’s on it’s at full power, so it can tear fragile corks in two. Still, it comes boxed with a foil cutter, stopper and screw driver bits. What next, a screwcap remover? ¶ When it comes to storing leftover wine, your best bet is still that old stand-by, the VacuVin, because the alternatives are largely Dumb and Dumber. Notably Metrokane’s Rabbit Electric Wine Preserver, a $40 failure that was lugged in by Bangalore, the lubricious Bollywood chanteuse. We tested it on her Zaca Mesa Syrah and found it [the Rabbit not the wine] wanting. It takes three times as long as a VacuVin to form a vacuum that isn’t nearly as good. Two vacuums, actually: the second is between the Rabbit and the stopper itself, so it’s tricky to remove the Rabbit without breaking the vacuum in the bottle. Baba Ganache, eastern mystic and chocolatier, padded by with her $25 Air Cork. Looking disturbingly like an 1890’s quack medical device, it’s a squeeze bulb with a hose and an air

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bladder: push the bladder into the bottle and pump it up; later deflate and remove as needed. It worked well enough on Baba’s MacRostie Pinot Noir, but online are many beefs: the fragile bladder readily ruptures or leaks or falls off the tube. In any event, the thing is hideous. ¶ My nextdoor neighbor Gary Indiana, a deservedly neglected Pop Art hanger-on, turned up with the oddest gift of all, a $70 pair of Inside-Out champagne flutes from the Museum of Modern Art Design Store. Marginally known for a single derivative sculpture, Gary complains that a] he’s been overtaken by a Facebook icon and that b] the flutes, like so much of modern design, are longer on looks than on function. The I-O flute is merely an insulated glass with a fancy price. Yes, it will keep bubbly cool and yes, it has the snazzy look of a field marshal’s baton. But now the bad news. Its thick lip makes for sloppy slurping rather than sophisticated sipping, and it holds a skimpy three ounces, not the claimed four. Worse, you can’t actually drink all three: a vacuum forms in the skinny stem of the


glass, preventing some from pouring out. Not much mind you, but when it’s miserly three-ounce pour, I want it all, whether it’s Henriot’s Anniversary Brut or Schramsberg Reserve, J Brut Rosé or Happy Bitch Frizzante. After all, hosts who offer their guests stingy three-ounce pours don’t serve seconds. Instead get Riedel’s Celebration flutes, which cost about half as much but hold more than twice as much. ¶ A trio of what marketers call ‘gifts for those who have everything‘ []i.e., gewgaws] was brought forth by Baskin’ Robbins, the Audubon Society tanning champion. First up was a cork presenter from Alessi, the high-style and high-priced Italian design outfit. This $32 objet is a wee sort of tray whose ‘role is fundamental in the courtesy of the contemporary serving style’ of, I imagine, your very

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toniest sommeliers in your very toniest restaurants. Anything for a laugh, I suppose. Next came Le Creuset‘s cork catcher, only $40, and in ‘antique chrome,’ too. It’s for hopeless cases who can’t broach the bubbly without risking ballistic catastrophe. Apparently there are enough such folk that some bottles, notably those from Woodbridge and Barefoot Cellars, now actually bear warning labels, doubtless breaking the hearts of lawyers everywhere. Finally, the Vinamor: it’s the latest entry in the wine-aeration game, surely not the last but probably the most original. Does it work? Opinions on aerators are bitterly divided. The nays may be mere skeptics and the yeas may be guided by the powers of suggestion, faith and imagination. What’s certain is

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that the Vinamor sits a tad precariously in most stems, and that with each use you have to deal with something that’s large, clumsy and dripping. Still, the Vinamor did win support on Shark Tank, the television show that matches cash-poor inventors with arrogant well-heeled suits. As for the rocket-science behind Vinamor, it’s simply this: a wire sink strainer of the type sold in multi-packs at dollar stores and a glass ball to spread the wine a bit. That leaves adequate room for profit in the $25 list price on the Vinamor website, and that seems fair. The thing is properly made of glass, not molded plastic, and so it must be hand-made. And greedy Amazon demands $40 for the same item. Way to go, Jeff Bezos. ¶ And that’s it for LoatherCon 2014. All in all, a charmingly lame collection, and there’s surely much we couldn’t cover, because bad gift-giving, like many other crimes, is notoriously under-reported. Like the chumps who spend fortunes on counterfeit wines, many victims are too ashamed to fess up; others cynically resort to re-gifting. None of either reside at Parade’s End, just as none got, or would use, a Le Whaf. That’s a device which for reasons


mysterious and obscure turns your drink into a cloud or mist which to be inhaled through a straw. Truly. Thanks lots, but I’ll just sip and savor, OK?


LoatherCon 2013 Scores Gift Bummers for Wine Lovers

It’s the most won-der-ful-l-l t-i-i-i-me of the year! Yes, Thirsty Reader: Your grumpy correspondent’s annual rant about the hideous gifts foisted on we who accept alcohol as our personal savior. There will even be a Year’s Worst selection. [Hint: it makes ice out of ice . . . .] I am rested and ready, too, having taken several months off, with much time spent expensively in a dentist’s chair. Also dealing with family feuds, a pregnant daughter-in-law’s fainting scare, the demands of grandson Henry, rotating flu-like illnesses and uxorial dentistry too, and finally the arrival of a second grandson, Charles Langley Day Marsano, to make the yuletide bright. He’s the first male of the family to be named for an aircraft carrier. ¶Now then: Gift giving is simple if you heed the sage: the perfect gift for the man who has books is more books. For drinkers, substitute drink and Bob’s your uncle. But beware the word –related. Wine-related, with its poisonous hyphen, crosses the Gadroon Border into wine accessories. That way madness lies! Riedel me this and I am yours

        Riedel                              Brand X

and yours alone, but Anchor Hocking me that and you risk a Miss-Otis-regrets-she‘s-unable-to-lunch-today moment. So: anything from a catalogue in the seat pocket of Hal-Al, the booze- and highjack-proof Islamo-Judaic airline, is just out of the question. OK? ¶ Finalmente a date was fixed and the word went forth announcing what is known in Gotham as LoatherCon. First to arrive was my downstairs diva Opera Winfrey, the Wagnerian soprano, towing her consort, Canon Mañana, sometime Heldentenor and lackadaisical evangelist [‘Save your own soul’ is his motto]. What they brought to the party, apart from a fine bottle of Wild Horse’s excellent 2009 Cheval Sauvage, made from the picked pickings of the Santa Maria Valley, and probably artisanally, too, was assorted icky jewelry and picnic junk.

zzzzcorkscrew-cufflinks ‘Just imagine’, saith Canon M., ‘wearing silver cufflinks inlaid with tiny oak chips, or modeled after wee corkscrews. Waving your wrists in the air, desperately hoping someone will notice.’ As for the picnic tools, they put me in mind of Christopher Hitchens’ line about picnics being among ‘the four most overrated things in life’. Right: Plates on laps, plastic forks, bad seating, poor climate control and bugs to boot. The current offense: neck harnesses for stemware and even holsters for those who prefer
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shooters from the hip. These people should be fed alive to Joan Rivers. ¶ Cole Junger, noted outlaw psychiatrist and salad-bar entrepreneur, denounced his clumsy and largely useless Corkcicle. Yes, it’s still here, partly because of dubious raves by Oprah Winfrey, who deemed it a ‘favorite thing’, and on Amazon. Of which more anon. Reader Ted Hope disagreed: ‘The haughty and leaky Corkcicle has struck’, wrote he. ‘Fresh out of its box, into the freezer, into a warm, part-bottle of good Malbec for 15 minutes and into a glass. It was at this point discovered, upon tasting, that the Corkcicle had a leak’. ¶ Voici le problème: The -icle part is of thin plastic—two shells, glued together—with a 20-inch seam that’s destined for failure. We figured this out over Cole’s Château St. Jean Cinq Cépages, a nifty Bordeaux blend that was excellent company. FYI, clever Ted has now returned to chilling with two or three frozen grapes. ¶ Also back: electric corkscrews. I skanced them last year, but Chem & Chaw, the irresolute Catskill tummelers, got one this year, and they brought it along with Ravenswood’s Barricia Vineyard Zin, which is the reason they’ll be invited back for next year’s do. C&C found an Ozeri Nouveau II, in their stocking; see and hear it here: http://vimeo.com/47489581. Amazon’s average
customer rating is 4.5 stars out of 5. Honest? Chem explains that some Amazon raves are fakes, especially if they are brief and vague, like ‘Wow! Sensational idea. Great stocking-stuffer!’ ‘When you see 200 raves and hardly any pans,’ Chaw says, ‘read the pans.’ So I did. And most critics reported poor performance and even total motor failure; some noted flimsy construction. So why all the raves? A hint comes from reviewer captainramius: ‘ . . . I received a message from the manufacturer explaining that they’re a small business, U.S.-based [even though the product is made in China], blah-blah-blah, and encouraging me to write a review [a positive one, they clearly hoped] . . . my only advice is simply don’t buy this one.’ ¶ Moving on . . . Excessively and even sickeningly dainty, cute, sentimental or cornball: the Brits have a word for it: twee. Sad to say, but wine attracts twee as blue serge draws lint. This came up with the arrival of Agnes Day, a pious do-gooder, and Mae, her hapless and accident-prone sister*. They drink communion wine religiously, so they brought B.V. Georges de Latour Private Reserve and Louis M. Martini Cabernet, which qualify as spiritual experiences**. Their gifts were, on the other hand, were ungodly. A pretentious uncle who uses gift as a verb sent his ‘favorite acolytes of Bacchus’ some items of décor for their apartment’s ‘vinous nook’: a set of ‘bistro-style’ chalkboard bottle tags and an embarrassing plaque.
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They’ll use them once, on his next visit, then send them to the admirable Housing Works thrift shop. Things were worse for Tragic Johnson, the failed NBA star. He brought some very welcome Mad Hatter Napa Red and a less-welcome 5-liter oak barrel, personalized in a mean attempt to prevent re-gifting. This low point in bar-top décor cost $120 at The New York Times Store, which was a shock because a] we remember a time when the Times was a newspaper and b] the thing is lots cheaper from Wine Enthusiast. You’re supposed to age wine in it, which I heartily disrecommend. You’ll commence to
bigbarrel gabbling about kiln-dried staves vs. air-seasoned, split vs. sawn, also the angels’ share—pretty much the whole geekish clamjamphry, in fact. Old friends will begin avoiding you. By the time you realize that the FedEx guy is just ringing your bell and bolting for his truck it’ll be too bloody late. ¶ Spirits- and cocktail-lovers were blighted as well. Housemaid Grenadine, our own all-star Caribbean mixologist and charlady, brought a bottle of George Dickel’s fine new rye whiskey, with which she made a clutch of Manhattans, and an electric mixer, with which she refused to mix them. ‘A drink is a social gesture, above all’, H.G. says, ‘and mixing it, especially at home, should be a warm and personal act of generosity, with batteries not included. Of course if shaking is just too burdensome for poor little you, then you might as well go whole hog: b
uy pre-mixed cocktails in cans. Just don’t invite me.’
Brandi Alexander, the tall and tan cocktail waitress, brought American Harvest, the new organic-wheat vodka from Idaho [which is apparently short of potatoes] and the Worst Gift of the Year: the Japanese Ice-Ball Maker. A little background: Tokyo consider itself a world c
zzzzmetrokaneocktail, and Dale DeGroff, whose Craft of the Cocktail is a barman’s bible, says ‘the Japanese invented the hard shake, the merits of which are limited to the theatricality of the technique’ [YouTube: ‘Japanese cocktail shake’]. They also invented their own big chill: ice balls
which melt a bitmore slowly
than cubes and fascinate folks who are given to staring into their drinks. The artisanal type, carved by hand with planes and scrapers, on the spot, by the bartender, is preferred by demented purists. For the rest of us, and for our Brandi, there’s the ice-ball maker, which turns ice into . . . ice. Slowly, too. And at enormous expense. ¶ Thus: Day before, make a batch of ice blocks in the special molds supplied with kits from Williams-Sonoma, japantrendshop.com and others. Day of, warm the device in tap water, then insert a fresh block of your specially molded ice and sit back while warmth and weight melt the block into a ball. Have a baby or take a college degree online while you’re at it, for the magic [endothermic reaction is the term of art], proceeds at a glacial pace. Then empty the drip pan, if supplied, or mop the counter, if not, and extract the ball. Repeat. Endlessly. ¶ There may be trouble ahead: Most most of the online videos are deceptive; you won’t make many balls before the zzzziceballmold
fiddlers have fled because you get only one ball of one size at one time. Many sizes are available, and the bigger balls are, by the way, real heavyweights. Brandi says she shattered two hand-blown glasses by casually dropping balls in. Williams-Sonoma’s $700 model makes a ball a bit smaller than a pool ball in about 40 seconds; its $1100 model makes baseball-size spheres and takes even longer. The thing gets slower with use and must be reheated periodically, thus the maker’s posted output of a mere 30-40 balls an hour. Simple arithmetic says that’s an average 90 seconds to 2 minutes each. And there are larger and slower models for up to $1435. All in all, a good argument for small, intimate gatherings. ¶ So that was LoatherCon ’13. We cried for madder music and stronger wine, were true to each other in our fashion, and broke up before the cops came. And at least no one amongst us had the ill-luck to find one of these beneath his tree:
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I’m sure these got lots of raves on Amazon too.

 *No modernist she, Agnes remains devoted to the King James Bible because, she says, ‘it shows that Our Lord spoke such beautiful English.’ For her part, Mae is so humble she cannot bring herself to ‘call my Creator by his first name’ and so addresses her prayers to ‘Mr. Almighty’.

**George and Louis, bless them, sailed through the Prohibition years by making communion wine for Catholics and sacramental wine for Jews. Nationwide, congregations grew exponentially; locally, G. and L. grew rich.

©2013 Bill Marsano

January Clearance and Rant

Having been good-for-goodness’-sake for the whole of the Christmas-Hanukkah-Kwanzaa-Festivus season, I feel entitled to a little bad behavior on the subject of gifts.

Each year truly ridiculous gifts have been pressed upon me by members of the He Likes Wine, So I’ll Get Him a Wine Thingy crowd, who are victimized by evil retail clerks looking for quick sales and dubious if not grossly inaccurate online descriptions. OK, I play the game: I smile and say thanks; I accept them with aplomb while regarding them with qualms [or maybe it’s the other way round; I keep forgetting]. But now the Time of Nice is over and I’ve held a  January Clearance of gadgets that are silly, unworkable, pretentious or all of the above; that are embarrassing to own save by that stunted generation whose role models are event planners, deejays and nightclub doormen. I invited the neighbors and threw a party. And now I’m going public.

zzzcorkcicleinbottleYour correspondent opened the festivities with a gift called the Corkcicle, a plastic ‘icicle’ filled with clear gel coolant that, when frozen solid, is supposed to shoved into a bottle to maintain pre-chilled wine at serving temperature. And it does, sort of, but mostly it annoys you. First you must needs pour a couple of ounces of wine out in order to get the Corkcicle in. Then you needs must remove the thing every time you pour: it’s wet and a foot long, so where do you put it? And as you pour more wine, less and less of the Corkcicle makes  contact with the remaining wine—only a couple of inches when you’ve reached the half-bottle level.  And, of course, three inches of the thing are in the neck of the bottle, where they do nothing at all. 

The Corkcicle, which costs $20-$25, poses vexed questions. For example, why should you have to uncork the wine every time you pour? Could the gel leak into the wine? [The thing is, after all, rather lightly if not flimsily constructed.] And what is so hard about using an ice bucket? Still, an oaf at foodbeast.com was over the moon about it. ‘There’s been plenty of genius ways to keep wine chilled without letting watery residue dilute the taste, but is one of the most epic we’ve seen in quite some time,’ he said subliterately. What is it that suggests he’s never seen one in his life?

zzzzzz2pcchiller316uy2OTjtL__SL500_AA300_Another loser was The Wine Enthusiast’s 2-piece wine-chilling carafe, contributed by Ho’ Chi Minh, a long-time North Vietnamese pole-dancer who was Haiphong’s ‘Slut of the Year’ for most of the 1990s. Now legit [she’s a Girl Scout troop leader, no less!] Ho’ has several beefs, noting that it’s much like the Corkcicle writ large. It too works only with pre-chilled wine [it will not cool room-temp wine to serving temp] and its cooling device, a big glass tube that’s supposed to be filled with ice cubes [you smarties will add water] has to be extracted from the carafe for every pour. The tube is large, heavy and clumsy to handle, which attributes combine uneasily with fragile. The only thing I like about it is the rave review it received from Jill Martin, who reigns as  the resident Shopping Ditz of the Today Show. Artfully blending her primitive vocabulary with her shaky grasp of physics, she said that it ‘will stop your wine-serving case from getting sweaty.’

 Mulligan, Stu was the wrong choice to receive whiskey stones. A punctilious Hibernian librarian and renowned pedant [he once fought a duel over the mis-cataloguing of ‘Lafcadi O’Hearn’], he was enraged that ‘my eejit cousin spent sixty bucks on a bunch of rocks when the same money would have bought three bottles of Clontarf!’ Or two bottles of Black Bush or one of the Redbreast 15-year-old, for that matter. But no. What he got was nine dice-sized rocks and two ineptly designed glasses.


You freeze the stones to chill your whiskey with no melting and no dilution. So far, so good. But sixty bucks for rocks? Even if they are, according to the online poetry of their numerous e-tailers, ‘all-natural soapstones that are proudly handcrafted of soapstone by the great soapstone workers of Perkinsville, Vermont, home to some of the USA’s oldest soapstone workshops.’ And they’re made of soapstone!

I can picture them now, those legendary artisans, strutting about the streets of Perkinsville with their chests all puffed out, or bent artisanally over their ancient and time-stained workbenches, can’t you? You sure? Oh.

These things have been around for a while now. A decade ago someone seeking free ink in Hemispheres sent me the first of their kind, and so I saw them in the original dusk of their being, as it were. Made [proudly, by hand, etc.] of Scotch granite, they cost $80 for two. They came in a wee velveteen drawstring pouch inside a varnished wooden cabinet, which suggested they should be prayed over, like holy relics. Now they are no longer alone. Williams-Sonoma has the same sort of thing in stainless steel and others offer versions in marble and crystal. All are hilariously priced, considering that Jack’s sells aquarium stones for 99¢ a sack.

zzwaring316eGjVXWPL__SS500_Homer Nods, classical scholar and dolt, rarely gets to cock a snook at anyone, but battery-operated corkscrews are a legitimate target for what Brits used to call Queen Anne’s fan. ‘In a word’ says Homer, stu pid. Severe arthritis might be an excuse for the thing, but not for 11 brands offering at least 18 models. There’s even a website that claims to review them, although seldom is heard a discouraging word’ from that quarter, which seems mainly interested in getting you to buy one at prices ranging from $20 to $60. Some have sleek looks and fancy doodads [built-in thermometer, ‘calming blue indicator lights,’ enough might to yank 40, 60 even 80 corks]; others have cheesy looks suggestive of manufacture in Chinese prisons. In all cases, the whine of the electric motor will impart a dental tone to romantic dinners lit by electric candles.

 We went on to deal with wine aerators, but when it comes to decanting and aerating, the sea of ignorance is so vast [and my boat is so small, as the Breton fisherman reminded God] that the light of wisdom must be deferred to another day, when the purple dusk of twilight time is not stealing across the meadows of my heart. As it is just now.