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: Glassware

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

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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?


A Holiday Garland

To one and all although time be fleeting,
To you each bring I this Christmas greeting:
Of drinkers books I proffer a bevy,
Some light as air are, yet others heavy.
These holiday burdens that freight my shelves
Lie heaped by eager squads of vinous elves.
Come, ease you my bookcase’s weary groan
By transferring some of them to your own.

Ahoy, mateys! As you have guessed already I’m back with another pro-reading rant, but I promise this will be a bit different. I will toss in a couple of non-book gift ideas for lagniappe [including, mirabile dictu, Metrokane’s wine-imagechilling-carafe, at left, which actually works] and something to drink, too. And the rant will be brief. I want merely to recall the headline of an ad campaign about hiring that ran in the 1960s: Send Me a Man Who Reads. The idea was that people who read will make better employees. Smarter, more adaptable, more productive employees. No ‘studies’ were quoted to support the idea, it was simply set forth as common sense, and it’s valid now as then. If you’re dealing with the Department of Motor Vehicles, Thirsty Reader, or an 800-number help line, a store clerk or whatever, would you rather talk to with someone who reads or someone who’s the cat’s pajamas at playing Grand Theft Auto V on his Xbox 360 or spends weekends binge-watching Monster Truck Rally on a 70-inch flat-screen TV? And frankly I am doubtful that we’ll ever see ads headed Snd me a dude who txts. ¶ Two stocking-stuffer reprints appear in the form of The Hour, by Bernard DeVoto, and Shake Em Up!, by

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Virginia Elliott and Phil D. Stong. DeVoto was a writer, critic, historian and champion of civil liberties and conservationism. He was a drinking enthusiast withal, committed if a tad rigid: he admitted to the canon the slug of whiskey and the martini, and no more; he celebrated America’s achievements in advancing alcoholic civilization.  America’s Indians had the ingenuity to develop corn, he grumps, but regarded it as ‘a mere food. [This recalls the Swiss, whose principal achievement with malted barley was to turn it into Ovaltine.] He took a firm stand in support of good drink and was relentless foe of fads and frippery [he was perhaps fortunate to die before the age that produced Almond Moo-Moo]. In all his stiff-necked prickliness, he’s a grumpy pleasure to read. He chose his ground and he took his stand. That itself is a pleasure and perhaps a lesson to our wussy, wimpy age, in which
We needs must choices make not mere excuses,
Which open all to numberless abuses:
Suffer we then because we lack the guts
To take a stand: no ands, nor ifs nor buts.
–Fr. Gassalasca Jape, S.J.
Likewise but in a softer, lighter vein good Elliott and Stong, who ‘twixt them had the temerity to publish their ‘practical handbook of polite drinking’ in 1930, which was early in the Depression and late in Prohibition. Self-protectively referring to ‘non-alcoholic’ liquors, they offer sound and sly advice to People Who Fling Parties, People Who Go to Parties, People Who Just Have a Table of Bridge, People Who Don’t Really Drink But Feel That a Cocktail or Two Enlivens Conversation—in short, for the American People in the Twelfth Year of Volstead, 1930.’ The cocktail and snack recipes conjure up a simpler time but also a harder time, when it was a struggle to get any drink at all and parties featured nothing delivered by Fresh Direct. These books are small, so buy both. ¶ A Scent of Champagne: 8,000 Champagnes Tasted and Rated is by Richard Juhlin, who accounts himself the ‘world’s No. 1 Champagne expert.’ zzzchampagne

In this large-format coffee-table book or lap-top Juhlin ranges from vine to flute, and strict he is in his selections. Most books on bubbly cover at least a few sparkling wines from wherever and whomever; not Juhlin, who recognizes nothing, rien, grown outside the region’s 357 approved villages, and won’t unless the authorities add more villages. As they’ve been known to do. ¶ No exclusivists we: countering Juhlin, pause we here to drink. And we select little-known Crémant de Bourgogne Marie Ambal, a surprising ‘mere’ sparkler that recently finished first over four Champagnes blind-tasted by journalists, sommeliers and others in the trade. Not finishing first were, in order, Nicolas Feuillatte NV Brut, Perrier-Jouet Brut, Taittinger Brut La Francaise and Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut. The kicker: the non-winners cost about twice Marie Ambal’s $25 price. A good choice for festive
drinking, proving that bubbles never fail but they needn’t cost the earth. If in a Buy American mood you won’t lose by choosing J Brut, Domaine Ste. Michelle, Gruet, Argyle, Schramsberg or Korbel, all having at least some bottles comfortingly priced. Nor can we neglect the French Foreign Legion: Mumm Napa, Roederer Estate, Domaine Chandon and Carneros Estate. Cheers! ¶ And now back to books. 21 Wines is a well illustrated personal tour of great Italian wines by Vic Rallo, a lawyer and cooking-show host whose flour-dusted youth was spent in his family’s restaurant kitchens, and Anthony Verdoni, his pal and consigliere del vino. If you’ve never heard of Cos Pithos Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG and the buried amphorae it’s aged in, see Vic and Tony. Tom Hyland’s Beyond Barolo and Brunello is a discovery tour of peninsular wines, always in search of the arcane, so if you’ve never heard of Cantine Federiciane Lettere, San Felice Pugnitello or La Viarte Tazzelenghe, see Tom. And now let the wild rumpus start with The New California Wine: A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste, by Jon Bonné. An Easterner who took over the San Francisco Chronicle’s wine section a few years back, he put many a nose out of joint with his refusal to genuflect to the local wine gods. So here’s ‘the real skinny on cutting-edge California wine by someone who’s on the ground, knows his stuff and could[n’t] care Bonn_New CA Wineless about offending the establishment.’ Matt Kramer says that. I do not argue with Matt Kramer. Nor do I with Clive Coates; instead I settle for envying him his four decades in the earthly paradise, a.k.a. Burgundy. His My Favorite Burgundies profiles vineyards and domains, assesses vintages and includes his sage general observations, resulting in  a well-deep reference book. ¶ Labels and Bottles of the Craft Spirits Industry is by Bill Owens, father and godfather of that very industry. Here he has pulled together a fine collection of labels that address the need for distinct identity as new brands proliferate. The Patrón Way: The Untold Story of the World’ Most Successful Tequila, is a nicely dishy dish by Ilana Edelstein. The ‘life partner’ [up to a point, Lord Copper] of Martin Crowley, she tells how he built a billion-buck business on a tequila everyone else had missed, with her fair self supporting him all the way. And then they both lived happily every after? What do you think this is, a fairy tale? ¶ The blessed Veuve Clicquot and the other heroines of Champagne have the fame they deserve, and now Fred Minnick, ex-combat photographer champion elbow-bender, confers the halo on a bevy of whiskey women. They’d be lost to history without the chivalrous aid of Gentleman Fred inMinnick

Whiskey Women. After all, did you know that Bessie Williamson, who took over Laphroaig in 1938, had started there as a secretary in 1934—as a temp? Let’s all drink to those heroines, and Fred, too. ¶ A puzzlement is The Way We Ate: 100 Chefs Celebrate a Century at the American Table, by Noah Fecks and Paul Wagtouicz. It poses as a socio-culinary stew of recipes, chefs and history [the Titanic sank in 1912 and the TV dinner was invented in 1953, etc.], but do the recipes, one per chef, truly reflect the food of the time? OK, folks did eat mac and cheese in the 1970s, but so what? It was already a hit in the 1870s. Does Pad Thai really say 1939? Some pairings rely on that weakest of reeds, ‘inspired by.’ Like this: Batman originated in 1937, and he is from Gotham, which is really New York, which is the Big Apple, and so the 1937 recipe is Gotham Buckwheat Apple Tart. Of course. And isn’t Sweden-reared Marcus Samuelsson taking the easy way out with gravlax? Uff da! You can get salmon at Ikea. My neighbor Warren Buffet, the Midwestern salad-bar impresario, ‘this is not a book to buy online; better go to a bookstore [some still exist] to see whether you think the pretension outweighs the recipes and cocktails of Daniel Boulud, Gael Greene, Jacques Pepin, Michael Lomonaco and such.’ Not to forget Gerry and Joanne Dryansky’s Coquilles, Calva and Crème: Exploring France’s Culinary Heritage. If it’s cold where you are, their rich fund of fashion-world gossip, love of regional specialties and tart wit will warm your winter. Many of the current cohort of  bartenders say they’ll have no truck with vodka, which they skance as a tasteless industrial product. Now Tony Abou-Ganim and Mary Elizabeth Faulkner mount a muscular defense in Vodka Distilled: The Modern Mixologist on Vodka and Vodka Cocktails.  ¶ Now what are Twitter Queen Sarah-Jayne Gratton and her hyphen doing in here? Sounding a warning, essentially. S-JG’s book Follow Me! Creating a Personal Brand with Twitter is instructive and corrective at a time when social media seem to conquer all that lie before. Certainly many drinks producers rely on them to the extent of dumping their professional PR people, and bloggers find them useful too. S-JG is telling us it’s a DIY world. ¶ Natalie Berkowitz’s The Winemaker’s Hand ranges widely, with interviews of winemakers from the artisanal to the corporate in some half-dozen countries on [Alliteration Warning!] Talent, Technique, and Terroir. For lagniappe she throws in an aroma wheel and some recipes. ¶ Now for some non-print gifts. Metrokane’s wine-cooling carafe, the Houdini or Rabbit [both names are common], really does provide the Big Chill with its glass carafe, which holds one bottle of wine, and its large ice chamber. It beats competing products three ways: the chamber is of sturdy, quick-chilling stainless, not glass; it doesn’t have to be removed for pouring; and it can chill wine from room temp, not merely maintain an icebox chill. So deep-six your Corkcicles, if you haven’t already. For icebox chilling, Vacu Vin has the nifty Snap Wine Thermometer. It resembles a bracelet: let it embrace the bottle, put the bottle to chill, and check progress occasionally. ¶ Picnic time is coming, so be prepared. Magellan’s, the travelers’ catalogue, sells padded bottle armor but my neighbor Val De Rhee, the insufferable singing mountaineer, touts Magellan’s PlatyPreserve wine sack. It’s made by Platypus, a company that once focused exclusively on ‘portable hydration’ [water!] for hikers and such, until someone realized tyhat wine, too, is a liquid, and then the penny dropped. A leak-proof plastic sack, screw-capped, convenient and easy to pack, it lets you take your wine but ditch the bottle, so that’s about a pound and a half less to lug. PlatyPreserve was, as the illustration below left proves, a favorite of the 12th Century quatrain-scribbling Persian poet known as Omar Khayyám, of Rubáiyát fame.


Any wine left over? Squeeze out the excess air to prevent oxidation. And what to drink from? I don’t risk my Riedels at picnics but rely instead on Joe Perrulli’s GoVino shatterproof polycarbonate wineglasses. They’re light, stemless, easily packed, reusable and they have thumb indentations to aid swirling enow. [Choose your own book of verse and your own Thou.] GoVino has stemless flutes, too, and a decanter that is suitable, mainly,  for half-bottles, also shatterproof.. And, not to lecture, be sure to choose your
The annual round-up of horrible Christmas gifts for wine-lovers will be coming up in due course, and nominations are welcome. Send them to me: [email protected].
retailer or etailer with due care if you want to get the best deal. For example, Vacu Vin’s Snap costs a mere $10, with free shipping, at lots of sites, but it also goes for $14 at deandeluca.com. Plus shipping. Which is not quite a steal at $12! ¶ Now then, Repeat the sounding joy, Thirsty Reader. Repeat the sounding joy! ¶ © Bill Marsano 2014. Montage courtesy of the peerless Darren Tuozzoli.


Blow the Flutes—and Free the Bubbles


About two years ago I was at Del Posto for a dinner and champagne-tasting given by top chien Ghislain de Montgolfier, who is Président du Conseil de Surveillance de Champagne Bollinger, Président de l’Union des Maisons de Champagne et co-Président du CIVC. And descended, if that’s the word, from the 18th Century balloonists who pioneered manned flight. For so notable a personage I managed for once to be on time–early, in fact. Parked at the bar I noticed a distinguished silvery gent discussing stemware with the sommelier.


The silvery gent turned out to be Montgolfier himself and he quickly chose a Pinot Noir glass. So it would be champagne before dinner and Pinot with? Pinot from the 50-year-old vines behind Montgolfier’s office? Nah.

The upshot was actually better: We would drink champagne from BIG glasses! Just as I’ve always done, but in cowardly secret. It was a validaceous moment for your correspondent. The thrill was–how shall I say it?–more than a frisson but less than a crise. Something between "Do you hear the guns, Fernando?" and George Costanza’s immortal "The sea was angry that day, my friends!"

The fact is I hate wee wineglasses. I denigrate them; I laugh them to scorn. I quote the Italian poet Guglielmo di Genova to devastating effect:

Stann’ infelici
Tanti vini
In bicchierini.

Yes: All wines are unhappy imprisoned in small glasses.

Most folks believe champagne must be drunk from flutes lest a pedantic Frenchy pop out from behind a potted palm or customer and make them put their hands in the de-stemmer. It is one of the unacknowledged hazards of restaurant dining.

At home I do as I wish. I break out the Riedel Burgundy Grand Cru.

Almost 10 inches tall, the RBGC–or Winston Churchill or Pokal Hoch [Tall Goblet]–is a mouth-blown pulled-stem lead-crystal monument to craftsmanship and hedonism. Designed by Claus Josef Riedel and introduced in 1958 as the first wine-specific stem, it stands alone in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.  4400_16-bw

The Duchess of Windsor fell for it like a lodgepole pine and simply had to have a bunch of them some right pronto. Claus Josef delivered them personally, in those dark pre-FedEx days, by car. From Austria.The RBGC glorifies anything put into it or drunk from it, 37 ounces at a time, if you insist or dare (4 to 8 is best).  Rapped briskly with a knuckle, it makes a joyful noise–Gonn-n-n-g-g-g-g!–that lingers about 15 seconds. Pity it costs like hell: $105 from riedel.com and $122 (!!!) if

you are fool enough to consult williams-sonoma.com. (Online I saw it at tableandhome.com for $78. Temporarily out of stock, though. No wonder.)

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Post-Montgolfier I was re-validated by Riedel himself. Or themselves: Georg and his son, Max, who brought their stemware unto the 11th generation, also brought it to The Modern, restaurant genius Danny Meyer’s coolly elegant MoMA outpost. At a private dinner there die zwei Riedel not only served champagne in Pinot Noir glasses (Vinum XLs) but poured it from decanters–the Amadeo model (I checked).

Later, at an uptown lunch, Cinzano introduced its crisp new prosecco. The sommelier didn’t blink when I asked for real glasses instead of flutes, and the Cinzanians went along (OK, maybe just to be nice). But then came the Italian Trade Commission’s Moscato d’Asti tasting. Del Posto provided flutes–of necessity, no doubt: There were 50-odd guests at wee-tiny tables and a dozen wines each to taste.

Still. Although by nature shy and retiring, as everyone knows, I rose to denounce the flute and inform the stunned multitude that Moscato d’Asti requires and deserves the Italian coppa or some similarly generous goblet. The producers present loudly agreed, and they weren’t just being nice: Moscato d’Asti’s fragrance is legendary, and a flute will kill it.

Since then I’ve proselytized, propounded and campaigned: Big Glasses for Bubbly! Any bubbly–champagne, lovely Schramsberg, Eileen Crane’s wonderful Domaine Carneros, Domaine Chandon and Gloria Ferrer, as well as Rollin Soles’ Argyle, Italy’s Franciacorta, Rosa Regale and any other Brachetto d’Acqui. Free the bubbles–let them breathe!

Already I’ve converted a couple of my downstairs neighbors. Biendans Sapeau, the preternaturally optimistic and hard-drinking Franco-Irish poetess, likes big glasses for Champagne Henriot, and Guinness, too. Bull Mousse, champion lumberjack and gourmet camp cook, wants elbow room for his Wyndham sparkling shiraz.

And now even some of those tiresome, flute-flogging champagne producers are catching on. Proof: The peerless Christina Clum has just booked Régis Camus of Heidsieck (Charles and Piper both) to lead a seminar on glasses and decanters for champagne. Rumor has it the dashing Max Riedel will be there.

Me, ahead of the curve. Imagine that.