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: Wine Gadgets

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

 like2  air

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

pedvinzmor strainers

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.
zzzzplaque zzzzCHALKBOARD-HANG-TAG
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:
zzzzrabbitrack zzzz2276 

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

Christmas Bounty Revisited

No excuses, Thirsty Reader, for my lollygagging, shilly-shallying and wool-gathering. Truth is, the Grandfather Dodge absorbs me. I have indulged in the joys of young Henry William Day Marsano whenever possible and not looked back. Still, my amends are due, so here is the promised screed on aeration [decanting will have to wait].

Aeration is not letting wine breathe but making it. My maestro here was Arthur Godfrey, freckle-faced red-haired ukulele-playing Golden Age radio/TV host. He was the most trusted man in pre-Cronkite America, going by his pitch list: cigarettes, Chrysler, Bufferin, instant coffee, dog food, Reddi-wip, tunafish, Pepsodent and more. He was a tyrant, going so far as to fire one of his ‘Little Godfreys’ on the air, but he had integrity, too, dumping Colgate-Palmolive over ecological issues and Chesterfield over cancer. [Paula Deen, please note.] So when, in the late ‘40s, people griped about the flat taste of the then-new frozen orange juice, Minute Maid got the message and Godfrey got the call. Thus one day on a 7-inch screen TV I saw him gently zzzgodfreylookpour oj from one carafe to another. Aerate it, he said. Works wonders for oj. Did then. Does now. Wine, too. 

Godfrey’s announcer, Tony Marvin, was no ordinary announcer, by the way: it was he who created the role of sidekick, as later exemplified by Ed McMahon. Mr. Marvin, as I knew him, was polished, sleek and handsome. His tan and his voice were both of oiled mahogany. He and his wife, Dorothea, had a brainy and gorgeous daughter named Lynda. I keep waiting for that fact to surface one day in casual conversation because it will kickstart my personal 2000-Year-Old Man moment: ‘Know her? I went with her, dummy. I went with her!’

Alors! Revenons à nos moutons. There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays and aerating wine, and every single one of them is right. Christopher Kimball, the preternaturally boyish Grand Admiral of Cook’s Illustrated, has tested and blessed what I call the Godfrey zzzzbeeraerator Multi-Pour. He also [winters are long in Vermont] tried thrashing wine in a blender, but found it just so-so. Also, you can blow air through a straw or use fish-tank aerators. [Home brewers do, but call them ‘wort aerators.’ The one at left, from Williams Brewing, is for platoon-sized parties. Still, wine loons usually prefer gadgetry.

Take Eisch’s Breathable Wine Glasses, please! At $38 each and up. Air is said to enter through the glass itself. Really? For Christmas I got two, one breathable, one plain, so I could compare and, Eisch hoped, be convinced. Good luck with that. I tried to taste a difference but could not, perhaps distracted by the nagging question why? Wine aerates itself in any glass anyway; so what if air enters through the glass? Eisch, undeterred by such quibbles, is now offering breathable expresso cups.

Aerators go in the bottle or atop the glass; both came to my party. All work to one degree or another; the sticking point—the bone of contention or apple of discord or fruit of the loom—is how much clumsiness, inconvenience and wounded esthetics you can stand. At Casa Nostra, it’s not much. Thus Owen Petard, masochist and devotee of self-inflicted wounds, has a warm loathing for the Centellino [below]: ‘It’s clumsy and fragile. Stick it in the bottle, pray the stopper holds, then pour one way to fillzzzzcentwllino2 the teeny bulb reservoir, then pour the other way into your glass. Twice for each glass! And it’s $55—for an overblown version of the pastis pourers beloved of broken-down petanque players in the South of France?’ Metrokane’s Rabbit, is all black and silver plastic, as if sired by some 1960’s Soviet design bureau. Less hideous is the clear-glass onion-shaped aerator called Soirée. The neatest ones resemble pouring spouts and do their work mostly out of sight: The Nuance Wine Finer, Grand Admiral Kimball’s fave, is shown below. It’s much like the Trudeau, Selection and the poetically named True Fabrications.

Science now comes to the fore, explained by my neighbor Yitzhak Newton, the noted Jewish scientist and godfather of the snack-time cookie industry: ‘Giovanni Battista Venturi (1746–1822) discovered that air can enter a liquid that is flowing and constricted. The Venturi Effect kept carburetor manufacturers in clover for donkeys’ years and dogs’ ages; then in 2007 Rio Sabadicci used it for his Vinturi aerator. zzzventuri3 Hold it over a glass, pour wine into it, and wah-la!: instant aeration. It’s a two-fisted, stand-up process and its sucking hissssss may disconcert. Or not. Up to you. Aerators that sit atop glasses use one-hand and don’t hiss: they aerate by gentle sprinkling. Metrokane’s Swish is of that stripe, as are two handsome Metrokane models that come with carafes included. There is also the WineWeaver, which is available clear or, says Poppa Wheelie, the aging stunt cyclist, ‘in your choice of revolting colors.’

Is forcing air into wine a bit brutal? Jim Ruxin, owner of online’s Village Wine of Brentwood, says ‘Yes, it is too aggressive. It does soften tannins, but it also takes away some flavors and character.’ Others disagree, but Jim’s comment leads me to a point I’ve seen nowhere else: the claim for each of these devices is that one pour will produce a glassful of perfection every time. No way, Rosé! Each device aerates every wine identically, as if all wines were the same, as if all benefit equally from the same degree of aeration. [Vinturi, a bit more refined, has a white-wine version.] Once the wine’s in the glass, there are no Mulligans, no do-overs, no adjustments. Like it or lump it. Thus the Godfrey Multi-Pour beats all: you can aerate as much as you like and stop when you like what you taste.

So much for the Christmas bounty received by we few, we happy few, we band of brothers here at Casa Nostra. My Corkcicle went to Housing Works Thrift Shop right pronto, and much of the rest of the stuff was donated there too, although re-gifting incidents have been darkly hinted at. At least none of us got one of these: