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

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        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
ozeri 
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