Wine Reviews Tasting Notes and Education for the Non-Snob, by Vino Joe, a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW)

Wine Gadget: Waring Chiller

Waring Wine ChillerSince most of my friends and family are aware of my wine geekiness, I tend to receive wine accessories as birthday and holiday gifts. So it was no surprise that I eventually unwrapped a Waring Wine Chiller.

It was in fact one of those items I’d never have bought for myself — mainly because I live in a very small (900 sq. ft.) abode and therefore don’t have the room to store non-essential appliances (would anyone be interested in a salad dryer, by the way?). And isn’t that the ideal gift? One that the recipient would never buy for oneself?

In any case, I must admit the Waring Wine Chiller was a pretty cool — albeit geeky — machine. It does exactly what it says: chills or warms a bottle of wine to the ideal temperature, as dialed in manually or by wine type. That said, I’d recommend it as a gift for cork dork who “has everything”. The only caveat — other than the need to store it somewhere — is the noise factor. It is NOT a quiet machine, and the time it takes to chill a bottle of white from room temperature to an ideal 58 degrees feels a little longer if you’re standing there watching and listening. Kind of like a “watched pot never boils”, a bottle of wine will take a seemingly very long time to chill if you have nothing better to do than wait for it.

But hey, if you’re opening a bottle of wine, chances are good you’re enjoying company, right? And therefore you should be socializing / entertaining — not watching a wine bottle chill. I mean really, do you watch grass grow during an outdoor BBQ? Of course not, and if grass growing made an incessant vibrating, humming noise, you’d hardly notice it while playing jarts and arguing politics with your neighbor. Same goes for the buzzing wine chiller — put the bottle in, set the temp, then go into the great room and chat for 10-15 minutes while the wine reaches optimum temperature.

Great deal: Waring PC100W Wine Chiller w/ Metrokane Rabbit Corkscrew Set

Last-Minute Wine Gifts

It’s Christmas Eve and you still haven’t bought a gift for someone you’ll see today or tomorrow. Well that’s a problem, isn’t it? You can either try your luck at the mall or run into a wine shop and pick up a bottle. But what to get?

If you know what the person likes to drink, then it should be easy — assuming you can find that wine in the store. But what if you don’t?

Here’s an idea — buy a wine that the person likely wouldn’t buy for himself or herself, but might enjoy. Re-read that last part of the sentence; you don’t want to get a Napa Cab for someone you usually prefers to drink a light Pinot Grigio.

What you buy depends on what you want to spend — and whether you want the other person to know how much you spent. For example, if you buy a very well-known brand such as Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, your recipient will know that you spent about thirty bucks. Or if you buy a bottle of Opus One, the giftee knows you pulled out a Benjamin. Personally, I think buying a well-known brand is akin to leaving the price tag on a gift — but the choice is yours.

Instead, choose a wine variety or region that you know your recipient enjoys (i.e., Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chianti, Rioja, etc.) but get something a little off-the-wall, from a different region, and / or in a higher price range from what your friend normally would drink. For example, if your friend is a big fan of California Pinot Noir, get a bottle of French Pinot Noir. Or if he/she usually drinks a specific brand of Chianti Classico, choose one from a different winery in the same or higher price range. Gifting is all about getting something that the recipient normally wouldn’t buy for himself / herself — and you may introduce the person to a new favorite wine.

But what if you have absolutely no idea what kind of wine your giftee drinks? Take the easy way out — buy a bottle of bubbly. If you are willing to spend the ducats, get “real” Champagne from France — there are wonderful non-vintage examples in the $25-30 range from respected houses such as Pommery, Moet et Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Nicolas Feuillatte, and others (one of my favorites is Heidsieck Monopole “Blue Top”, if you’re buying for me). Nearly everyone who drinks wine appreciates a bottle of good Champagne — and even if they don’t, they’ll have something to bring with them to the New Year’s bash next week.

Now if you have absolutely no idea what wine to get, and know for sure the person won’t appreciate Champagne (I suppose it’s possible?), then the next-best gift would be either a really fancy corkscrew — such as by Laguiole — or a set of high-quality lead crystal wine glasses (such as made by Riedel). With these high-ticket items, you generally will get what you pay for, and nearly every good wine shop will carry them. When it comes to the glasses, you might even consider getting one very expensive hand-blown glass — something like this Riedel Sommeliers Series Bordeaux Grand Cru. No doubt your wine geek will be thrilled with such a gift — how many people will spend upward of $75 for a wine glass? — and guard it safely in the china closet.

Last but not least, if you don’t want to go to ANY store, I have one last-minute idea — a gift certificate to Restaurant.com. All you do is visit the site, buy the gift certificate, and print it out. Since most wine geeks are also “foodies”, treating him or her to a dinner at a fine restaurant is just as good, if not better, than a bottle of wine. Follow the link below for a crazy deal — THREE BUCKS for a $25 gift certificate. You read that right. Merry Christmas:

70% off sale at Restaurant.com. Purchase $25 Gift Certificates for only $3.00 with coupon code GIFTS!

Complete Wine Kits for the Wine Geek

These gifts were big hits with some wine geeks last year, so I’m presenting them again …

(click on images to learn more or buy)

7-item Wine Accessory Gift SetThis 7-item Accessory Gift Set ($55) has just about everything a wannabe snob could wish for, all encased in a fancy wood box. It includes a “patented” one-hand cork screw, thermometer, stainless steel stopper, foil cutter, wine ring, pourer, and bottle cap. Good for someone who often entertains wine drinkers and has one of those wine bar thingys in the home.

The MetroKane Houdini Wine and Stuff

($40)Metrokane Houdini Wine and Stuff Add-a-Wine Gift Set set’s centerpiece item is the Houdini corkscrew, which is a variation on the Leverpull and Rabbit cork removers. It also has a foilcutter, drip-stop ring, wine sealer, identification tags, metal whacker, and extra spiral screw. All nice pieces for the wine geek in your life.

Give the Gift of Food

Not sure what to get for the foodie in your life? The easy answer is a gift certificate to a fancy restaurant, of course. But how do you know if the recipient will appreciate a specific restaurant of your choosing? There’s an answer for that too — get a gift certificate from someone like Restaurant.com, where the giftee can redeem the gift at any of several thousand restaurants.

Now, I’ve got one better for you — a gift certificate worth $25 that costs YOU only $5. How’s that for a bargain?

The catch (there’s always a catch) is that you MUST use the link below and use it between now and December 13th. It’s a limited-time offer for WineWeekly visitors, so take advantage while you can. In addition, anything you buy at Restaurant.com through that link will be 50% off. Too good to be true? Maybe, but it seemed too good for me not to share. Enjoy!

50% off sale for 3 days only, December 10th-13th! Use code STOCKING at check out.

Wine Gift: A Bangle For Your Bottle

It’s that time of year again … time to find gifts for the wine geek in your life (or for yourself!). Let’s start out with some interesting wine gifts for wine service. In our first installment, I offer you two different devices to monitor the temperature of wine bottles. (By the way, you can click on the link or picture to buy the item directly from Amazon … and help pay the server bills for this website in the process — so you’ll be giving two gifts at once!)

Wine Clip Thermomenter
$15 or less

More than half of the wine bottles you pick up have a “recommended serving temperature” stated on the back label. But does anyone notice? Does anyone care? Even if you did, how would you go about finding out the exact temperature of the wine in your bottle? I suppose you could try sticking a meat thermometer into the bottle, but that would require uncorking, and few of those read below 100 degrees anyway. The cheapo trick is to stick an aquarium thermometer on the side, but that isn’t so “cool”.

Enter the Wine Clip Thermometer, which does look cool (or “qool”, as my friend Tish would say), and works quite well. You simply clasp the thing around the middle of the bottle and it gives you a digital readout of the temperature.

Wine MaestroBonjour products ($20 and under)

If the bangle isn’t high-tech enough for your wine geek gadget guy/girl, then maybe the Wine Maestro is. I haven’t tested it out myself, but it sure looks formidable.

And if you want to get really insane, go infra-red. (over $40)

VinTemp Infrared Wine Thermometer
This handy little pen-like device comes with its own carrying case and has real James Bond appeal. Plus, it’s better than the other devices, because the infrared light is able to detect the temperature of the wine INSIDE the bottle, WITHOUT removing the cork. And for some people, that’s really important. I have visions of geeks walking around wine tastings pointing their infrared pens and informing vendors that their bottles are too cold / too warm. Lovely. (BTW, I have this myself and love it.)

Oh, and to go one further, you can get the VinTemp thermometer built into a corkscrew. Now THAT is efficiency — one device to both check the temperature and open the bottle when it reaches the optimum chill. It’s not cheap — about $60 — but remember, holiday gift-giving is about a.) buying things that the recipient likely wouldn’t buy for herself / himself; b) giving something unique; and c) giving something close to the recipient’s heart. And if your giftee is passionate about wine, then this item is a no-brainer.

Keep checking back over the next few weeks, as I’ll be posting more interesting and unusual gifts that will be especially appreciated by the wine geek in your life.

Wine Gift Ideas

Out of your turkey coma yet? Before you go fighting for a parking space at the local mall, why not do your shopping from the comfort of your home, while enjoying a cold turkey sandwich and a glass of wine?

Nearly everyone is into wine these days, so you can start your online shopping right here in the WineWeekly Store. I just added a “wine storage” section, which includes an ultra-cool (pardon the pun) digital wine cooler. This is a must-have for the wine geek in your life, and/or for the wine lover who “has everything”. It’s a two-bottle wine cooler / warmer that gets each bottle to the exact recommended temperature for consumption — white wines, red wines, sparkling, and rose.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be adding more interesting gifts for the wine geek in your life, so check back periodically. (And if YOU see something neat, let me know.) Now, go browse the store!

Last-Minute Father’s Day Gifts

OK, you have four days left to get something for Father’s Day. If you don’t have the time to stop at the mall between now and Sunday, you still have 2 days to order something online That said, get moving now.

Follow these links for wine-themed Father’s Day gifts:

Wine Ties
What else for Father’s Day, than a tie?

High-end Corkscrews
Dad won’t pay more than ten bucks for a corkscrew, right? Spoil him with one of these.

Riedel Wine Glasses

Again, if your dad won’t shell out the dough for real lead crystal, it’s up to you.

Wine Decanters
Aren’t you tired of seeing dad use that old Inglenook carafe as a decanter? Get him something exquisite!

And the previous post gave you the idea of a Restaurant Gift Certificate. Can I make this any easier for you? Now go buy something for your dad!

FYI: A tiny portion of the sales goes toward keeping WineWeekly.com’s server fees paid. Most of what is left over after those are paid, will go to charity.

Dinner for Dad

Still trying to figure out a gift for dad for Father’s Day? How about dinner? Every dad likes to eat, and eat well, right?

Well check this out: Restaurant.com is offering 50% off all dining certificates between now and Father’s Day — plus, you will get a free $15 Lobster Gram gift certificate with EVERY Restaurant.com purchase. Unlike most promotions, you get to combine these two if you want. So in other words, you can work it out so both you AND your dad get a gift — pretty cool, eh?

Follow either of these links to take advantage of the offers:

Dad’s Day Sale. All Dining Certificates are an extra 50% off! Use code DAD at checkout. Expires 6-17-2007.

FREE $15 Lobster Gram gift certificate with EVERY Restaurant.com purchase. Promo code will appear on the confirmation page. Exp. 6-30-07.

Follow those links and see if there is a gift certificate available to an appropriate restaurant for your dad, grand-dad, or father-in-law. Meantime, I’ll be scouring for more offers and deals for Father’s Day.

Wet Suit for a Wine Bag

BYO Bag - B.Y.O Bottle Bag - CranberryWine bags have come a long way.

Twenty years ago, you’d likely carry your bottle in a brown paper bag on your way to your favorite BYOB restaurant. Or someone might have given you an canvas thing that was embroidered with absurdly awful renderings of grapevines.

Today, your vessel of choice can be made from cloth, high-grade leather, vinyl, plastic, stainless steel, neoprene, or nearly any other material you can imagine. They can cost as little as ten bucks to close to one thousand, and can carry anywhere from one bottle to a full case. Some have zippers, others have brass clips or buttons, and include a shoulder strap.

Personally, I like the neoprene bags produced from neoprene by BuiltNY — but not because they look so cool. Rather, because of their efficiency. Neoprene is the same stuff used to make deep-sea diving suits / surfer’s wetsuits, and is remarkably efficient in keeping cold things cold, and warm things warm. Obviously, that insulating performance is one of the big reasons I like the BuiltNY bags, especially when it comes to keeping white wines chilled (they claim the bottle will keep its temperature for up to 4 hours). In addition, the two-bottle tote that I own keeps each bottle separately insulated — so the ice cold bottle of Champagne won’t lower the temperature of the Merlot next to it.

Insulated Wine CarrierTwo other things I like about these bags: weight and space. The neoprene material is extremely light — maybe a quarter of a pound — so carrying the bottle(s) around doesn’t take too much effort. Further, the bags lie flat for easy storage. This may not be a big deal unless you’re like me and live in a small condo or apartment, where space is at a premium. These wine bags are about a half-inch thick when empty, so you can stow or slip them into just about any drawer, bookshelf, or similarly narrow space.

After reading this review, you might think I own stock in BuiltNY (I don’t) or was paid to write this (I wasn’t). In truth, I simply think they “build” a great product.

If you don’t see these neoprene bags at your favorite wine shop, click on one of the pictures to buy one from Amazon. They come in red, black, navy blue, green, and pink.

Wine Accessory: Drip Collar

Prodyne Pewter Ornamental Grapevine Drip Collar (DC-2)Have you ever poured red wine into a glass, and right at the end of the pour, an obnoxious little bit of juice jumps out of the mouth of the bottle at the last second and stains your lily-white tablecloth? Or, it drips down the neck of the bottle and onto your hand? Of course you have. And you probably know enough to use a napkin when you’re pouring, or you might have seen a restaurant sommelier gently twist the bottle clockwise and counter-clockwise at the end of the pour, and practiced the movement yourself to avoid dripping.

Le Creuset Set of 2 Wine CollarsAdmittedly, I’m a wine geek … a cork dork … a borderline snob, and I use drip collars. Yes, I know how to do that fancy little turn of the bottle, and most of the time I can keep the wine from dripping. But you know what? Most of the time, it’s not worth the effort, not when it takes all of two seconds to slip a collar over the top of the bottle and not have to think about dripping for the rest of the night. Drip collars make my life simple, easy, and stress-free. Perhaps best of all, they only cost about five bucks, and last nearly a lifetime.

It’s such a simple piece of equipment, but it is a must-have for anyone who pours red wine on a regular basis.

Click on either of the pictures, depending on which style you prefer, to buy directly from Amazon. Or visit a site like IWA to find even fancier versions.