Blog of Award-winning authors
ANDREW DORNENBURG & KAREN PAGE
Named one of GourmetFood.About.com's "Top 10 Food Blogs"
Named one of The Fifty Best Links for Epicureans
Named to MUG 400 for "distinctive contribution to life in New York"
“The Master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he is always doing both.”
—Zen Buddhist text
Giant pieces of popcorn hang from the ceiling at Garrett
The giant popcorn popper at Garrett Popcorn on Fifth Avenue
The bins of warm popcorn at Garrett Popcorn on Fifth Avenue
"As fans of Pizzeria Uno know, transferring a beloved Chicago food institution isn't easy....Garrett's, said noted food writers Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page , stumbled in the critical early going in New York (where Dale & Thomas Popcorn does very well) by not offering consistently hot and fresh popcorn. 'We wondered whether it was popped in Chicago and simply FedExed,' they wrote, adding the cheese popcorn wasn't as cheesey or salty as it is here. Could there be a plot afoot to keep Garrett's from further expansion? A Chicago conspiracy to monopolize these delectable treats? New York may be the Big Apple, but when it comes to specialty popcorn, we're the Big Cheese."
— Chicago Sun-Times, "Commentary" page (January 3, 2007)
Sunday, December 30, 2007 — We were surprised to learn the reach of our Blog when an entry we had written was referenced in the Chicago Sun-Times a year ago this week, not in the food pages but on the editorial ("Commentary") page. We hadn't realized at the time how seriously Chicago was taking the matter of how its homegrown Garrett Popcorn was faring with its first retail outlets in the Big Apple.
Although we took care to point out that Garrett Caramel Crisp and Cheese Corn are two of our favorite foods on the planet, we admitted that we were disappointed with its New York debut.
Fast forward to this week's appearances on "Good Morning America Now" and "The Leonard Lopate Show" to discuss Champagne and sparkling wines (which, after all, are great matches with popcorn), which took us to Garrett's Fifth Avenue store. The aroma of freshly-popped corn filled the air, fueled by a steady stream of popped corn shooting out of the popper and into the waiting vat. We ordered a small mix for ourselves, and a small tin to take with — and couldn't wait until we reached the busy registers to sample the hot, fresh and fragrant corn. The true test of how much this experience had improved over the one we'd blogged a year ago was that once we tasted it, we literally couldn't stop eating it.
Our congratulations to Garrett for persevering and bringing the perfect popcorn we've long known and loved to our fair city. We're already planning to ratchet up our workout schedule so we can keep visiting. Whether you're nearer the original in Chicago or considering the New York location on Fifth Avenue, Garrett Popcorn is a must-visit.
Garrett Popcorn is at 46th Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Don't miss the Mix, which is on both of our lists of the 100 Best Things We've Ever Tasted. For Karen, it's on the top half of the list!
You can read our latest e-newsletter — distributed today — at http://www.becomingachef.com/newsletter_newyearseve_2008.php
Credit: Julia Ewan
Wednesday, December 26, 2007 — We don't know anyone who isn't thirsty for a few good tips about Champagne and sparkling wines this time of year. You can check out some from us in a series running all this week on "Good Morning America Now" (bet. 9-10 am; click here to view online, starting with today's "What to Eat with Your Bubbly" segment), in an interview with Karen on "The Leonard Lopate Show" (NPR) on Friday, December 28th, bet. 1-2 pm, or in our column "A Sparkling Toast for Every Course" in today's Washington Post:
Until four years ago, we were used to drinking champagne at 12 -- but at midnight, not noon. Then Ruth Reichl, Gourmet magazine's editor in chief and best-selling author of a trilogy of memoirs ("Tender at the Bone," "Comfort Me With Apples," "Garlic and Sapphires") invited us to an all-champagne lunch. It forever changed the way we thought about sparkling wines.
Around her table, we were joined by a dozen heavy hitters in the food world, including restaurateur Drew Nieporent and designer David Rockwell (who worked on Washington's Rosa Mexicano). At the stove was chef-restaurateur David Waltuck of Chanterelle, which has won James Beard awards for outstanding restaurant, service and wine service. With each of Waltuck's perfectly matched courses, our idea of bubblies as simply the go-to beverage for toasting the new year faded. Champagne became fine wine. We were amazed by the range of styles, and their versatility with food, as we tasted our way through a succession of flutes: from lighter- to fuller-bodied, from drier to sweeter and from delicate to richly flavored.
An entire celebratory evening offers even more opportunities to put these so-called grading principles to work and to pair each successive glass with food that will complement it best. Here are some tips from our life-changing lunch featuring Perrier Jouet champagnes, plus ideas for creating your own simplified all-sparkling countdown to midnight at home:
7-8 p.m.: Start with a light-bodied brut (dry) sparkling wine. These are ideal with hors d'oeuvres. At our lunch: Guests were greeted with bite-size herbed beggar's purses and deviled quail eggs, plus shot glasses of chilled beet soup with creme fraiche -- each topped with copious amounts of Tsar Nicoulai caviar. At home: In lieu of caviar and champagne, consider a good-quality American paddlefish roe (at about one-quarter the price) on your blini with Spanish cava or Italian prosecco. Recommended wines: the crisp and refreshing 1+1=3 Cava Brut ($15) or the fruitier Zonin Prosecco Special Cuvee Brut ($10).
8-9 p.m.: Whether you're planning a sit-down dinner or a buffet, serve a blanc de blancs (100 percent chardonnay) around the time of the first course. At our lunch: We sat down to Crazy Salad of Organic Mesclun, Lobster, Foie Gras and Papaya, created to accompany glasses of 1993 Perrier Jouet Fleur de Champagne Blanc de Blancs. At home: Keep the lobster but skip the foie gras. Blanc de blancs is also our champagne of choice with caviar and oysters. Recommended wines: the steely Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Blancs ($12) or the rich 2004 Kluge Brut Blanc de Blancs ($30).
9-10 p.m.: With the second course, serve a cuvee (or blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and/or pinot meunier). At our lunch: Our Blue Island oysters with fresh white truffles were accompanied by 1996 Perrier Jou¿t Fleur de Champagne (50 percent chardonnay, 45 percent pinot noir, 5 percent pinot meunier). At home: Enjoy one perfect raw oyster, with or without a single drop of white truffle oil. Recommended cuvees: the apple-y 2002 Argyle Brut ($25), elegant NV Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain ($55), creamy Iron Horse Green Valley Classic Vintage Brut ($30) or complex 2000 DVX by Mumm Napa ($55). Recommended blanc de noirs (100 percent pinot noir and/or pinot meunier): the delicate Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Noirs ($12) or richly creamy Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs ($20), especially with roasted or smoked salmon.
10-11 p.m.: Serve your entree with a rose sparkler. At our lunch: Our squab breast with braised wild mushrooms was matched with the 1997 Perrier Jouet Fleur de Champagne Rose (50 percent pinot noir, 50 percent chardonnay). As they were served, Karen chatted with chef-author Cesare Casella, with the aroma from his signature pocketful of fresh herbs only enhancing the match. At home: Roast a quail or two per person to serve with wild mushrooms -- or opt for lamb, pork, salmon or tuna -- alongside your rose. Recommended wines: the strawberry-noted NV Domaine Carneros Brut Rose ($36), cherry-noted 2004 Kluge Brut Rose ($38) or Roederer Estate Brut Rose ($26), cassis-noted 1997 Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle Rose ($115) or cranberry-noted Schramsberg Brut Rose ($24).
11 p.m.-midnight (and beyond): After dinner, and with dessert, enjoy a sparkler with a hint or more of sweetness. Look for sec (slightly sweet), demi-sec (sweet) and doux (quite sweet) styles. At our lunch: Champagne Perrier Jouet Extra Dry accompanied our tart and impossibly light passion fruit souffle with cilantro and pineapple sorbet. At home: Make a cold grapefruit and pistachio souffle the day before (find it at http://www.washingtonpost.com/recipes) to serve with demi-sec champagne. Recommended wines: the alluring Taittinger Nocturne Sec ($75) with dried fruit-based desserts, the honeyed Laurent-Perrier Demi-Sec ($40), creamy Schramsberg Cremant Demi-Sec ($39) or even a sweet Moscato d'Asti, with fruit desserts.
Reichl may be fine with apples, but -- as the unforgettable luncheon she hosted convinced us -- you can comfort us with champagne or another sparkling wine virtually any time, with virtually any food.
How Sweet it Is
Champagne's sweetness classifications can be confusing. Because "dry" typically refers to a lack of sweetness in wine, it's counterintuitive that an "extra dry" champagne tastes slightly sweet, but it does. Wine publications use varying standards, but in general, these are the classifications, in ascending order of sweetness:
Extra brut: 0 to 0.6 percent residual sugar
Brut: less than 1.5 percent sugar
Extra dry: 1.2 to 2 percent sugar
Sec: 1.7 to 3.5 percent sugar
Demi-sec: 3.3 to 5 percent sugar
Doux: more than 5 percent sugar
Thursday, December 20, 2007 — Our thanks to photographer David Handschuh for keeping us on his holiday greeting card list! We had the pleasure of meeting David a few years back during a shoot he did of us for the New York Daily News, and we enjoyed a very modest lunch together thereafter at our table. Ever since, we've loved receiving his e-cards — including the one we received today of Times Square's Naked Cowboy (with strategically placed guitar) surrounded by Santas.
Thanks again, David — and happy holidays to you, too!
David Handschuh is an award-winning photographer on the journalism faculty of NYU, and has been nominated several times for the Pulitzer Prize. Web: journalism.nyu.edu
Wednesday, December 19, 2007 — Our season of celebrating kicks off a week early, as Andrew's birthday is exactly seven days before Christmas (December 18). Thanks to all who remembered his birthday yesterday with such wonderful email greetings, which he enjoyed all day (in the midst of a schedule so jam-packed with meetings and other work we ended up having to cancel our pre-theater dinner plans) and night (after strolling home from a Broadway performance of "Cyrano de Bergerac," featuring the amazing Jennifer Garner and one of the stage's greatest actors Kevin Kline).
Whatever you're celebrating this month, we hope you'll discover some new favorite wines to raise a toast with in our column in this week's Washington Post "Just the Stuff for Roasts and Reveling":
Never one to miss an excuse to open a great bottle of wine from his impressive collection, Michael Gelb is the ultimate holiday pluralist. "I celebrate everything," he recently told us. "Hanukkah, Christmas, winter solstice, Kwanzaa and Festivus."
It comes in handy having a friend like Gelb, a former Washingtonian and the best-selling author of "How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci" (Dell, 2000) and "Innovate Like Edison" (Dutton, 2007): He's a proven source for early holiday tips. When we're deciding what to drink for Christmas, we note which wines he enjoyed most at Hanukkah. This year they included a 2005 Kaesler "The Bogan" Shiraz ($56). Gelb characterized the wine, poured with lamb, as "blueberries, blackberries and chocolate cloaked in scintillating purple velvet."
No matter what's on your holiday table -- lamb, beef, ham, turkey, another meat or maybe something vegetarian -- we'll bet it's slow-roasted in the oven this time of year. Roasting creates the wonderful aromas we prize in home cooking, and its bigger, caramelized flavors generally demand bigger wines. This week's holiday picks include wines at two price points, one sane and one a splurge, because there are at least a few days out of the year that we don't like to skimp.
From the first house credited with creating a brut champagne comes the elegantly dry NV Champagne Pommery Brut Royal Apanage ($50). Made from 45 percent chardonnay grapes, it has a floral nose, light lemony-citrus flavors and abundant bubbles that pair particularly well with smoked salmon canapes -- or just as well with our favorite holiday brunch of French scrambled eggs (gently cooked in a double boiler) topped with creme fraiche and caviar.
Just a few hours by car from Champagne, delightful bubbles can be found in Alsace in the form of the NV Lucien Albrecht Cremant D'Alsace Brut Rose ($20), a light-bodied pink sparkler made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes. It boasts bright strawberry fruitiness and lots of rolling bubbles, and it's a fine match with hors d'oeuvres, lighter first courses, even ham or turkey.
One of our favorite wines of the year will be hitting area wine store shelves shortly: the 2004 Talbott Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Cuv¿e Carlotta Chardonnay from California ($60). Released for the first time in November, this wine was inspired by the grand-cru-style chardonnays that captivated winemaker Robb Talbott 40 years ago. It's unfiltered and features a fascinating parade of flavors: ripe, juicy pears and apples upfront, a minerally middle and a tropical-fruit finish. Named in honor of Talbott's grandmother, this wine would do any nana proud. It went beautifully with roast turkey and baked ham, and we'd also pair it with roast chicken, pork or even lobster. Performing well with the same foods was the 2005 Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay ($20), a lighter-bodied, creamy-textured selection with apple flavors, butterscotch notes and a hint of coconut on the finish.
The clear winner of our beef-only tasting, which included rare filet mignon and braised short ribs, was the 2003 Corison Kronos Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($98) from winemaker Cathy Corison. It took a full 40 minutes for this wine to open up and for its black-cherry fruit, pink peppercorn spice and bitter cocoa notes to show at their best. The next night, we opened the 2004 Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($70), which impressed us with its black-cherry flavors plus hints of cocoa and, of all things, Mr. Pibb. (Note to fans of the "Saturday Night Live" "Lazy Sunday" video: "Corison + red meat = crazy delicious.")
Another night, when we blind-tasted a dozen red wines ranging in price from $26 to $116 against roast beef, lamb and portobello mushrooms, the two clear victors turned out to be the night's two lowest-priced wines. The winning 2004 Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($48), with its velvety texture and bright blackberry and black-cherry flavors, soared with and without food. Second place went to the 2004 Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville-Napa Valley ($26), whose rich black-cherry flavors with hints of white pepper became even brighter with red meat.
Looking for elegance and complexity in an impressive red to drink now, or one that promises to age into an even more special gift? This year, visionary Bordeaux winemaker Bernard Magrez released his first California wine: the 2004 Bernard Magrez Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($190). This stunning Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and petit verdot grapes holds the promise of even greater enjoyment in the years to come.
Not in your price range to drink or give? No problem; check out another of our favorite Bordeaux-style blends, the 2004 Barboursville Vineyards Octagon ($40) from Virginia, now in its seventh edition.
Whatever holiday (or, in our friend Michael Gelb's case, holidays) you celebrate this month, it's the perfect time to raise a toast to the roast — and to splurge a little.
Holiday Gift Idea: Michael Gelb's new book, co-authored with Thomas Edison's great grand-niece Sarah Miller Caldicott, Innovate Like Edison
Chef-owner Adam Perry Lang, an alum of Chanterelle, Daniel,
and Le Cirque,
carves our half pig and roast lamb at table
Sides included creamed spinach, sweet potatoes, and slaw
Andrew blows out the candles on his red velvet birthday
cupcake at Daisy May's BBQ on West 46th St. at 11th Ave.
while LAPD Chief Bill Bratton looks on contentedly
Andrew, Steven, Bill and Rikki at Daisy May's BBQ
Daisy May's BBQ is at
623 11th Ave. (corner of 46th St.)
in Manhattan. (212)
977-1500. Note: No reservations are taken unless you pre-order a half-pig, whole pig, or roast lamb (which is not-to-be-missed). Details can be found on Daisy May's Web site at: www.daisymaysbbq.com
Photo credit: Julia Ewan
Wednesday, December 12, 2007 — You've got a friend in cheeses — especially when you've got the perfect wine in your glass. For tips on navigating the challenging terrain of pairing cheese with wine, check out our column "With a Chunk of Cheese, Pour These" in today's Washington Post:
Just as grapes achieve their gastronomic zenith as wine, milk reaches its own as cheese. Tasting wine and cheese together provides double the opportunities to contemplate the delicious wonders of fermentation.
It's not as easy as just uncorking your favorite wine for your favorite cheeses, of course. Cow's, sheep's and goat's milk can be transformed into fresh, aged, washed-rind, blue or any number of other cheese types, so the challenge to find a single wine that can stand up to the flavor spectrum of a typical party platter is formidable. But not impossible.
For a holiday party, the idealist's solution is to spotlight a few perfect matches by setting out stations, each featuring a single cheese and a half-glass of a perfectly complementary wine. That way, each will be shown to its best advantage. Among the best pairings, some are extraordinary:
- Chevre and Sancerre. Goat cheese -- especially fresh, such as French chevre -- is the most acidic of cheeses. A high-acid wine such as Sancerre or other crisp sauvignon blanc makes a perfect match, especially before dinner.
- Camembert and champagne. Cut through this rich, buttery washed-rind cheese with a crisp brut sparkler whose bubbles will cleanse the palate. While our runny wheel of Camembert was elegantly elevated by a glass of NV Champagne Delamotte Brut ($50), it was also a nice match with NV Lindauer Brut Sparkling Wine ($11) from New Zealand.
- Muenster and Gewurztraminer. Complement the creaminess of this Alsatian washed-rind cheese with the fruit-forwardness of an Alsatian Gewurztraminer, a perfect regional pairing. The 2004 is still in the stores, but keep an eye out for the 2005 Marc Kreydenweiss Kritt Gewurztraminer ($32), which will be hitting Washington area retailers within a month. It's an elegant introduction to this grape, with its off-dry apple fruitiness and delicate floral notes.
- Stilton and port -- or Roquefort and Sauternes. Both duos are based on the same principle: A rich, sweet wine is the perfect foil for a salty blue cheese, especially after dinner. While the English generally prefer port and the French like Sauternes, Americans are not bound by either tradition, leaving us open to explore both -- plus a host of other sweet wines. We loved the 2006 Seifried "Sweet Agnes" Riesling ($27 for 375 ml), a delicious ice wine in all but legal name: Temperatures in Nelson, New Zealand, don't fall low enough for the grapes to freeze naturally on the vine, so grapes are picked and then frozen on trays before being pressed. It's lovely with blue cheese, as is the lush, rich-textured 2003 Royal Tokaji Wine Company Red Label 5 Puttonyos ($39 for 500 ml) from Hungary, a blend of Furmint, Harslevelu and Muscat grapes aged 3 1/2 years in old oak, creating a rich, ripe-peach fruitiness. ("Puttonyos" is a measure of sweetness, generally ranging from 3 to 6, with 5 puttonyos representing 120 grams of residual sugar per liter.)
- Cheddar and chardonnay. Last month at the Park Hyatt Washington, cheese expert Paula Pereira introduced us to Modesto, California-based Fiscalini Farmstead's Bandage-Wrapped Cheddar. An award-winning cow's milk cheese that is aged for 18 months and wrapped in bandaging to protect the rind, it is part of the hotel's new seasonal offering of artisanal cheeses. Lounge manager Gregory Philippe chose to pair it with a glass of 2005 Mer Soleil Chardonnay , explaining that the wine's "creamy, buttery, nutty" flavors would contrast nicely with the dry, hard texture of the cheese and its sharp flavor. Indeed they did.
A few weeks later, we enjoyed an aged English cheddar with the 2006 Chateau St. Jean Sonoma Chardonnay ($14), an oaked wine with vanilla notes whose ripe-pear and -apple flavors were a perfect complement. It reminded us how much we love the fortified chardonnay-based aperitif Kluge Estate Cru ($32) and apple-based La Face Cachee de la Pomme Neige Ice Cider ($30) with aged cheddar.
As with any pairing, though, the strategy often depends on whether you're starting with the wine or the cheese. A wine-centric solution is simply to serve only the wine-friendliest cheeses. Aged cheeses are more set in their ways than fresh, still-evolving cheeses and thus are more predictable pairing partners. Artisanal cheese expert Max McCalman, co-author of "Cheese" (Clarkson Potter, 2005) and "The Cheese Plate" (Clarkson Potter, 2002), suggests that the world's single most wine-friendly cheese is Sbrinz, a Swiss creation he describes as "the great-great- grandfather of Parmesan cheese."
Italian Parmesan itself is another way to go. Put out a knife with a big wheel (or just a big wedge, for smaller parties) of the best-quality aged Parmigiano-Reggiano you can find, and get things started by cutting at least a bowlful of it into small, bite-size chunks that your guests can snack on with virtually any wine you set out for them. Andrew still can't get over how well Parmesan cheese paired with an inexpensive red, a 2005 Blackstone California Merlot ($10).
A cheese-centered solution is to find a wine that will span many cheeses, surmounting that challenge we laid out at the beginning of the column. It's not likely to be a big red wine, whose strong tannins will clash with many cheeses. It's more likely to be fruitier, with a hint or more of sweetness to stand up to saltier cheeses. Our candidate for the single most cheese-friendly wine around? Alsatian Gewurztraminer. Pour a great Zind Humbrecht Gewurztraminer, or try the Marc Kreydenweiss Kritt mentioned earlier or the late-harvest 2002 Pierre Sparr Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives ($15), which has richer tropical-fruit sweetness and more pronounced floral notes.
McCalman cites as one of his favorite cheese-friendly selections Moscato d'Asti, for its delicate sweetness and semi-sparkling texture. (We particularly enjoy Saracco and La Spinetta Moscato d'Asti.) And on the subject of bubbles, a brut champagne or sparkling wine can make friends with just about any cheese.
Come to think of it, with the right wine in our glasses, so can we.
Tip: Made for Each Other
If you already have the wine, some general pairing guidelines:
-Cabernet sauvignon: milder cow's milk cheeses (such as Gouda), milder blue cheeses
-Champagne: rich and buttery cheeses (such as brie), younger and milder cheeses
-Chardonnay: cow's and goat's milk cheeses; avoid sheep's milk cheeses
-Merlot: cow's and sheep's milk cheeses, milder blue cheeses
-Pinot noir: cow's and sheep's milk cheeses; avoid goat's milk cheeses and blue cheeses
-Sauvignon blanc: goat's and sheep's milk cheeses; avoid blue cheeses
-Syrah: cow's milk cheeses (such as cheddar); avoid blue cheeses
-Zinfandel: cow's and sheep's milk cheeses, blue cheeses
Photo credit: Julia Ewan
Thursday, December 6, 2007 — Wondering what to give the wine lover in your life this holiday season? Take a tip from "Perfect Presents to Keep Under Wraps," our column in yesterday's Washington Post:
On the face of it, choosing a gift for a wine lover might seem as easy as, well, choosing a wine. What gift could possibly be more appropriate?
But maybe you're buying for someone with quirky, expensive or just plain mysterious taste. What then? The growth in wine-related gifts means you can choose something practical, inspirational or indulgent that might or might not include actual wine.
You'll find gift ideas at virtually every price point, from the affordable -- such as the CaddyO II Leather Wine Tote With Chiller ($28; http://www.qvc.com) -- to the astronomical, such as the rare fine wines from the past 150 years available from the London-based Antique Wine Co. The latter come complete with a presentation case bearing an engraved plaque with your personalized message plus an original copy of the London Times from the recipient's birth date. (Options for 1962, for example, start at 280 British pounds, or about $580, plus shipping; http://www.antique-wine.com. Not every year is available.)
A winemaker's trash can be a wine lover's treasure, as proven by byproducts of the winemaking process that are turned into wine-scented bath accessories. Avon says its Planet Spa Napa Valley Vineyard Crushed Grape Seed Body Polisher ($10 for 8.4 ounces; http://www.avon.com) scrubs away dry skin with Vitis vinifera grape seeds while enriching skin with its natural antioxidants. Your newly exfoliated giftee can flip through the new "Wine Across America: A Photographic Road Trip," by photographer Charles O'Rear (Ten Speed Press, $35), with 224 pages of color photos celebrating wineries in all 50 states.
We would have loved to have owned a BottleWise Duo ($49; http://www.bottlewise.com) in October, after we picked up a bottle of wine from sommelier Brian Duncan's Bin 36 in Chicago. Worried that it would break if we packed it in our checked luggage that morning, we forgot we still had it in our carry-on when we went through airport security. ("Please, someone should drink this -- it's a wonderful wine!" we pleaded, before the guards unceremoniously tossed it.) This carrier allows you to cushion two bottles of wine in separate leakproof plastic pouches and sturdy canvas cases before packing them in your luggage.
Your giftees can blind-taste the wines they bring home with a kit from Bagged Wine, which includes numbered velvet pouches and simple tasting sheets. Start with a five-bag Starter Kit ($18), or go all the way with a 20-bag Collector Kit ($45; http://www.baggedwine.com).
And with Nuvo Vino's SnapShot Wine Thermometer ($50; http://www.nuvovino.com), you can make sure to serve those wines at the right temperature -- and without running the risk of contaminating them. This nifty device "reads" wine from a distance of one inch. (On its Web site, the company lists the recommended serving temperatures of more than 400 styles of wine.)
Ultimately, though, the gift that wine lovers want most comes bottled and corked (or capped). Still, you have to pick wisely.
One strategy is to find a wine that people might not buy for themselves, such as a splurge bottle of champagne, which can be put to good use this month. This holiday season, Mumm Napa is offering magnums of its NV Mumm Napa Brut Prestige ($50) and NV Mumm Napa Reserve Brut ($65), which turn any table into a party. Mumm Napa winemaker Ludovic Dervin credits sparkling wines in magnums with having "richer, more complex flavors" and "smaller, more abundant bubbles" than those in standard bottles, because the wine ages on the yeast longer in the bottle before disgorgement.
The textured black bottle holding the Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne 1997 Palmes d'Or ($120) is beautiful on its own; it comes in a matte gold-colored, bottle-shaped gift case, which is slipped inside its own velvet bag. The packaging befits the elegant blend of pinot noir and chardonnay within.
Introducing an adventurous wine lover to something unusual is also a good bet. We'd suggest a bottle of NV Kluge Estate Cru ($32), a fortified chardonnay-based aperitif that is aged in Jack Daniel's barrels, giving it a toasty quality. It is delicious by itself or with a twist of orange peel. Or pair it with a chocolate or fruit dessert after the meal.
We love it when people introduce us to wines that have personal meaning for them. Ottawa restaurateur Stephen Beckta first turned us on to Canadian ice wine with a bottle of Cave Spring Riesling Icewine (the 2004 is $60 for 375 ml). A bottle of 2005 Jackson-Triggs Proprietors' Reserve Vidal Icewine ($20 for 187 ml) is an even more affordable introduction to this luscious, labor-intensive dessert wine, which is made from grapes left on the vine into the winter and allowed to freeze, concentrating their flavor. It accompanies foie gras or fruit desserts equally well.
We've also been crazy about apple ice wine since our first sip of NV La Face Cachée de la Pomme Neige Ice Cider ($30 for 375 ml) last year. Imagine the essence of literally dozens of apples packed into a single half-bottle. That's a lot of flavor -- and it's a wonderful accompaniment to cheeses (especially aged cheddar and Camembert), foie gras or fruit desserts. Served chilled, it will be a hot gift for a wine lover who's the apple of your eye.
To read The Washington Post's excellent Food section, click here.
Birthday Girl Meredith, Andrew, nieces Kristen and Gail, and
brother Mark in Times Square almost exactly 2 years ago
Saturday, December 1, 2007 — Poor Andrew woke up with a fever this morning, and hasn't been able to do much but sleep ever since. This is not a good way to start a day that we'd both long been looking forward to driving to Pennsylvania to celebrate his sister-in-law Meredith's "Big 5-0" birthday! Our regrets to Meredith for not being able to join her tonight to toast her birthday!
Out of sight is definitely not out of mind, so today we dedicate our Blog to our wonderful sister-in-law Meredith, wishing her the happiest of birthday celebrations and many, many more happy and healthy years ahead!
With love, Karen & Andrew
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