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Dec 11, 201310:07 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

Gifts for Wine Lovers That Aren’t Wine

Think of something besides a bottle for your next holiday party.

The Vinturi Wine Aerator, available at williams-sonoma.com

Courtesy of Williams-Sonoma

If there is a New Orleanian who is a wine lover in your life, and you are happy to tag along for the other 364 days of the year enjoying good times and good juice, now you are hitting a moment of truth.

When we exchange gifts during the holiday season, the goal is to offer something to the recipient that they will embrace, enjoy and get enthused over. And you, generous and caring person that you are, now have to suddenly achieve knowledge about a topic that from a technical viewpoint is only marginally of interest to you. You make a marvelous consumer when someone else is handling the buying decisions and now here you are in the uncomfortable position of prowling stores loaded with all manner of merchandise, some of it rather expensive, none of which makes any sense to you at a gift-giving level.

Of course, you can always give the gift of wine, but which wine will flip the switch to the on position for your lucky giftee? One approach is to head to a wine store or department and put a flying tackle on some unsuspecting and overworked staffer, begging them to spend 4 ½ minutes with you while you mull the thousands of wine choices sitting on the shelves, themselves providing no clues for your purchasing dilemma. To say that it’s a crap shoot understates the challenge by a factor of 6.

I love the gift of wine. That probably goes without saying. But when one of my friends is generous and thoughtful enough to give me the gift that is always the right size, I feel guilty. I know they went through a lot of angst to make that purchase. They offer the gift almost apologetically (“If you don’t like it, I was assured you can bring it back and get something you like.”) That is not the way it is supposed to be.

So, look, if you are certain what your wine loving husband/wife/brother/sister/dad/mom/uncle/friend/boss wants, then go forth and purchase wisely. But if you feel the gift becomes a me-too item, or it’s just another bottle of (insert wine name here), or if you are casting about with little confidence, not all that much money, and even less enthusiasm, go in another direction.

Give wine lovers items they can use, or may not have bought for themselves. Those are the best kinds of gifts anyway.

I am not a big fan of wine toys. Some of them do an interesting job of accomplishing some task, but for the most part wine does not require a lot of support items. A good corkscrew (wine key, church key) is always needed. Not one of those keep-this-in-the-kitchen drawer things but rather a sturdy, easy to use key. For me, the waiter’s corkscrew is the greatest. Get one with the flexible knuckle in the part that braces against the top of the bottle. And get one that feels strong, sturdy, even a bit weighty.

Then there are decanters. Wine people like decanters. They do an important job of aerating the wine and presenting the wine in a classy manner. Plus, decanters break so you can never have enough. Check out The Wine Breather, available at a few places, like Macy’s.

At the top of this decanter is a rubber coupling, and you fully turn the wine bottle upside down and set it on the top of the decanter. The entire contents of the bottle, thanks to gravity, empty into the decanter. The cool part comes next: you then flip the connected decanter/wine bottle and empty the contents of the decanter back into the original bottle. There you have it, a double-decanted wine, ready to drink, in its original package.

You friends will be amazed and impressed. And the wine will show better.

If that still seems like too large an operation, you can purchase one of several sizes of the Vinturi Wine Aerator. This scientifically correct device sits atop a wine glass or atop a decanter and the wine from the bottle is poured through the apparatus. Then the Bernoulli Principal (don’t ask, I have no idea) does its thing and air is sucked into the wine as it passes through the Vinturi. The wine is aerated in proper fashion. There are no moving parts and no batteries involved which for me is a major plus. The Vinturi and its look-alike counterparts are available at Pearl Wine Company on Orleans Avenue, Amazon, Williams Sonoma, and Macy’s and comes in a wine-glass-at-a-time size as well as a full bottle size.

Most wine lovers can never have too many books about the subject they enjoy and this year’s crop is particularly rich. Here are a few suggestions that should please everyone:

A Scent of Champagne by Richard Juhlin – This miss-nothing, 400-page volume is the ultimate Champagne reference, with more than 8,000 Champagnes tasted and rated. The book is a beauty and would be a proud addition to your library or your coffee table. Stunning.

The New California Wine by Jon Bonne – Bonne is the wine editor for the San Francisco Chronicle and thus has a ringside seat. He is not a full apologist for California wines and they don’t need one anyway. He postures a frank discussion of what is going on, both good and bad, and gives an interesting historic and current view about what has become one of the most important wine growing areas in the world.

The Wine Curmudgeon’s Guide to Cheap Wine by Jeff Siegel – Jeff’s daily blog, the Wine Curmudgeon, is the basis for the book and his belief that good wine can be had at low prices is his religion. Jeff names names and does his level best to convince the reader that paying more than $18 for a bottle of wine is a waste of money. He makes a very solid case.

Cooking from the Heart by John Besh – Yes, I know this is not a wine book but it is a wonderful volume using John’s life experiences as basis for the tales, and using his culinary expertise for the great recipes throughout the volume. John’s previous books, My New Orleans and My Family Table, have set the tone for John’s heartfelt love of his life, his family and his city.

Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them by Jeff Berry – “Beachbum” Berry has taken what many consider a frivolous topic, Tiki, and given it gravitas. It’s all fun but it’s all real. The cast of characters and the progression of incidents and circumstances make this a fun and informative read. New Orleans plays a major role in the tales, made even more so by the fact that Beachbum, the world’s leading authority on Tiki, moved here in the past year. We are honored.

Making New Orleans: Products Past and Present
by Philip Collier – Local designer, Phil Collier, has done his homework about products that were or are now produced in New Orleans, and focuses on the certain flair they possess. Mignon Faget, Herbsaint, New Orleans Rum, Picayune cigarettes, and more are given the historic treatment under the spotlight. On the coffee table, you will pick this book up often during those conversation-lull moments or lame television programs. In other words, you will get a lot of pleasure and use from this volume.



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Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans


In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.


Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.


Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.


Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.


They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.


Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.


Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.


Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.


It’s a good gig. 




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