Joe Hu/Town Crier
Decanting wine with vessels like Riedel's Amadeo Lyra, above, helps the clarity of old wines and the development of young wines.
Steve Hicks, the Town Crier's wine expert, reviews holiday gifts for wine lovers. Some of the novelties will be sure to amuse the dedicated sipper, but for a sure-fire winner, he suggests sticking to oldies-but-goodies like the corkscrew or a wine-club subscription.
• The "Wine Clip" is my nomination for the most bizarre wine catalog item of the year. It clips around the neck of the bottle with an arrow pointing up the neck, as it apparently doesn't work unless pointed the proper direction. The clip contains six "rare earth magnets" designed to make "big molecules into small molecules, thereby reducing red wine tannins." I could not bring myself to buy the clip at $34.95 to test it personally. I did find independent reviews and testimonials both pro and con, but I remain skeptical. Find it at www.thewineclip.com.
• The "Vinturi" (a nice little play on words) is a funnel-like gadget designed to aerate your wine, and it is also offered at the apparently popular price of $34.95. This apparatus actually might perform a necessary function. Wine is poured into the device, which sucks air in through external holes. The wine gurgles out the spout directly into a glass. It makes the same sound as the serious taster's trick of sucking air into a mouthful of wine (always difficult to not choke and cough for us novices). Vinquiry, a Napa lab, found that the wine was less bitter and mouth feel and flavors were improved with use of the device. I did my not-so-blind sampling and thought the aerated nose was a bit fruitier and the wine was a little smoother. I don't know if it is worth the money, but it is fun to play with. Find it at www.vinturi.com.
• I received an online ad from Wine Enthusiast for a "VinTemp" infrared wine thermometer. It sounded like a good idea, so I bought it and it arrived the next day. I touched a chilled bottle with the device and obtained an instant digital readout of the liquid contents. I checked its accuracy and it was right on. This is a good idea, as serving wine at the proper temperature enhances flavors, and improper temperatures can exacerbate bad flavors and mute good flavors. Recommended serving temperatures are printed on the thermometer. It sells for $24.95 and is well worth the money, when you consider what we can pay for wine these days. Find it at www.gourmetsleuth.com.
• I collect decanters. The latest Riedel decanter is not a classic design, but it sure has nice lines and is a pleasure from which to pour wine. It retails for $249 and is an attractive gift and a worthy addition to a cellar. Find it at www.riedel.com.
• The Kladstrups have followed their bestselling World War II "Wine and War" book with "Champagne: How the World's Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times" (William Morrow, 2005). The Champagne region has seen major battles since the 5th century, and it is fascinating to discover how the people and the beverage have survived. Find it at amazon.com.
• Membership in a wine club is a gift that keeps on giving. There are many, including Wine of the Month, Rich Reds, Winning Whites, Italian Wine Club, California-Italian Club and Oregon Pinot Club. Wineries usually have their own clubs. The most unique I found was Bonny Doon's DEWN (Distinctive Esoteric Wine Network) Club. I am familiar with their wines, and I am sure their selections will not disappoint. Draeger's, Beltramo's and K & L have wine clubs with wines at various prices.
• A good opener is a great stocking stuffer. The waiter-style corkscrew with a double grip that gives two pulling positions makes cork-pulling an easy task for anyone. They sell for $10 to $15, and it will be the best opener you have ever used. If you want to get fancy, purchase a $100 to $200 Chateau Laguiole opener with either a wood or bone handle. Find it at laguiole.com.