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-chilling-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
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.’
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 less 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 in
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.