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James Suckling’s $8,500 briefcase of stemware


Really, need we say more? No, but we should point out there’s no scarf included.

Here are some other wine-y things you could do with $8,500:

* Build a 12′ x 5′ wine cellar in your basement with a cooling unit and double stacked wooden racking for 1,000 bottles and a dozen Zalto crystal wine glasses. (Local labor rates may vary.)

* Buy a ten bottles of Domaine de la Romanée Conti, Echézeaux, 2011.

* Buy a Eurocave 5290 + one case of Dom Pérignon 2004 and two cases of Billecart Salmon rosé Champagne.

* Buy 284 bottles of Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey’s 2012 white Burgundy.

* Buy 531 bottles of Domaine de la Pepiere Clos des Briords Muscadet 2012.

The urge to splurge: Zalto Universal stemware

zalto_universalI can tell that Father’s Day is rapidly approaching: my email box is full of pitches about wine suitable for the occasion. Wait, isn’t pretty much any wine suitable?

Well, as I’ve written before, all wines are enhanced by good stemware. The titanium-infused line of “impact-resistant” stemware from Schott-Zwiesel have their virtues. At about $10 a stem, you could even break a few but they really are pretty resistant.

I recently splurged on a pair of gorgeous Zalto Universals, hand-crafted crystal stems from Austria. They are so elegant and weightless that they almost take the glass out of wine drinking–somehow, the fermented grape juice is constrained beautifully on display, the aromas concentrated, and the wine ultimately swishes over the palate while hardly sensing the glass rim. They are so thin it took my wife a couple of weeks to overcome a fear that they would shatter merely upon casting them a wayward glance. But we’ve had the set for a couple of months now, enjoying Champagne, Burgundy and Barolo in them, with nary a break (hope I didn’t just jinx it). I have yet to find more pleasurable stemware.

I bumped into Aldo Sohm, the head sommelier at Le Bernardin whose signature adorns the glasses, a few weeks after I got mine. He shocked me by telling me to throw them in the dishwasher to clean them. Eeegad! I continue to hand wash but good to know that the dishwasher is authorized by the highest authority.

Even though they are pricey at $60 each it sure would be nice to share a pair with a wine geek dad.

Available at Crush and Winemonger.

The best non-book gift for wine geeks to give: good stemware

Advice columns this time of year frequently suggest wine gifts. Such columns often target the generalist reader who’s not that into wine but is looking for a gift to give to a wine-loving friend or relative. Flipping this model on its head, here’s what wine geeks need to give their friends and relatives who are marginally into wine: good stemware.

Yes, there’s certainly a strong argument to give them a bottle of wine itself–we certainly need plenty of it at this time of year. But wine itself can be a hit or a miss and, either way, it’s here today, empty tomorrow and, all too often, forgotten when the recycling bin is emptied. Certainly books have a tendency of sticking around longer and as the author of two wine books, I highly recommend giving the gift of wine books. A good corkscrew (such as pulltaps) is a nice touch, but really not essential since even the dreaded butterfly corkscrew can get the job done.

Thus, glasses. I think this even came up in the Bible: give a friend a bottle of wine, and you give him or her enjoyment for just one evening. But give him or her good stemware (or a good wine book for learning more about how to choose good wine!), and you will will elevate your friends’ wine enjoyment for months if not years to come. Many are under $10 a stem. Riedel makes handsome stems but, in my experience, I have found them very easy to break. Ravenscroft also has solid stems, starting at $7.50 each. And the Tritan forte Schott-Zwiesel makes a titanium infused line of crystal glasses that really does reduce breakage. And, no, you don’t need to give a different glass for each grape variety.

So go crazy and help your friends say cheers with style this holiday season with some good stemware, the best non-wine book gift that you can give to your friends and relatives who are getting into wine.

Varietal stemware: genius or hucksterism?

Georg Riedel, 10th generation Austrian glass-blower, invented the delicate crystal glass designed for each grape variety.

Many wine lovers around the world have cabinets stuffed with complete sets by each varietal. But Riedel continues unabated, subdividing grapes with his just released Oregon pinot noir glass–mere grape no longer suffices as now terroir is overlaid on grape. The logically possible amount of stemware just increased exponentially.

Daniel Zwerdling burst into the wine world like a bull in a decanter shop. His story, “Shattered Myths,” in Gourmet (August 2004 and very, very unfortunately not available online), asserted that Georg was pulling the wool over discerning drinkers eyes: the reason wine in Riedel stems tastes better is not because of a tongue map–it simply tastes better because we believe it should.

So, as we contemplate adding more crystal to our collections and to give as gifts this holiday season, have your say in the latest poll!

poll now closed

Putting stemware to the test

It’s not often I retrieve a box from UPS on the doorstep, open it, and dump the contents in the sink. But that’s what I did the other day.

Fortunately it wasn’t wine. Instead it was crystal. Eegad–had I lost all sense with too much Sancerre? No, I was actually trying out some glasses that I purchased called Tritan Forte made by Schott Zwiesel. They claim to be unbreakable, or at least “impact-resistant.”

Granted, I didn’t want to have crystal shards flying around the kitchen so I somewhat wimped out and let one glass fall two or three inches–a height that would have shattered many stems. But this Forte was indeed tres forte and it didn’t even crack thanks to a lead-free crystal that has titanium in it. The best news may have been the price–eight stems for $60 from Wine Enthusiast catalogue (via Amazon has a wider selection). A deep bowl and tapered top makes it sleek, elegant as well as functional.

We decided to put several stems to the test. Heck, now that even Target has a line of Riedel crystal stemware, high quality wine glasses appear poised to be the hot gift for the holidays this year. So we lined up some other contenders for the Forte: Riedel O, Riedel Vinum, and Bottega del Vino. Here at the Dr. Vino world headquarters, we enjoyed the excellent Chateau Cesseras, AOC Minervois La Liviniere, 2001. I’m not sure of the price since it was a gift from a friend who brought it back from the south of France but the wine has an excellent balance, with wonderful aromatics and southern French jamminess.

Starting with the biggest glass, I recently received a press sample of the Bottega del Vino Rosso Burgunder ($48 per stem). Wow. It is the Cadillac Escalade of wine glasses, sparkling and towering over the others. One friend who is 6’7″ loved it christening it “le chalice.”

While I would definitely agree that it is impressive to look at and puts whoever holds it way at the top in the game of ostentatious one-upmanship, I’m not convinced that it’s the best vessel, particularly for everyday use. I found that the aromas dissipated too easily, thanks to the flared rim on the glass. And it looks so brittle that an enthusiastic clinking of glasses during a toast might bring more than good wishes raining down on your companion.

The squat Riedel “O” glass ($19 for 2) looks like a Weeble Wobble for grown-ups. The aromas were better concentrated in this glass than in the Bottega. But without a stem, I got goobery fingerprints all over the bowl and the wine started to warm up in the glass since there was no stem to hold. This glass is not good for cocktail parties therefore–try it while seated at the table if at all to avoid warming up the wine.

The Riedel Vinum Zin/Riesling glass that I use as a frequent red-white crossover vessel in this case provided the excellent results and was the runner up. Not as big a bowl as the other three but it captured the aromas and was goober-free. At $38 for 4 on Amazon, the price was comparable to the Tritan Forte. However, since I have (dangerously) broken many a Riedel stem while hand washing, the Tritan Forte edges it out for apparent durability. It’s an excellent glass for everyday use around the house that doubles as a great gift. I’ll drink to that.

Riedel shatters the peace and threatens blogger

“Hell, I thought,” Georg explains, “people think the shape of the goddam wine bottle is significant, why not the shape of the glass? I know I can convince wealthy wine drinkers that it matters, that’s easy. And from there, the unwashed public will follow.”

riedel_shatterDo you really think that is something that Georg Riedel, the Austrian who pioneered matching the shape of glassware with different grape varieties would say? Um, I don’t. The quote was from a satirical piece by Ron Washam, aka The Hosemaster posted earlier this week. Your mileage may vary with the piece, but apparently Riedel was none-too-amused about it and his mood shattered faster than a crystal glass. The Goliath of stemware then directed some American attorneys to send a threatening takedown letter to the blogger! (read the letter)

I’m not a lawyer. But I guess Riedel would have to prove that this posting on August 3 damaged his business? Good luck with that. Frankly, I think the letter will actually attract much more attention to the original post. Further, it could draw ill-will from wine thought-leaders, be they writers or sommeliers or retailers. Or even the unwashed public, to borrow hosemaster’s term, if the word about this spreads. What if there were pushback against Riedel–not over the satire, but over Georg’s heavy-handed response? That is not an implausible scenario and would be a PR disaster for the company, much more so than the original post, which probably only Georg took seriously. (It reminds me of those people who are fooled by The Onion stories…)

What do you think: considering this incident, will you be ordering more Riedel glasses any time soon?

Blech. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Viva Zalto!

The Grinch who stole wine from The French Laundry

“Wine thief with nose for the best reaps huge haul at The French Laundry” – SFGate

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a grouse;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While memories of chanterelles danced in the diners’ heads;
The shrine to fine dining was closed for a remodel
All the foie gras put away, corks firmly in bottles. Read more…

Kate Moss makes a Champagne A-cup

kate_moss_champagneKate Moss has launched a new line of champagne stemware taken from a mold of her breast. The model famously displayed her skin-and-bone frame (topless) in ads for Calvin Klein’s Obsession. Which might lead one to think the champagne coupe is called the A-cup? But apparently not.

The coupe was purportedly modeled on Marie Antoinette’s breast. But it fell out of fashion in favor of the stem, which favors a visual presentation of Champagne’s bubbles.

Now many sommeliers favor serving Champagne in white burgundy glasses to capture more of the aromas. Read more…


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