The annual holidays are almost nigh,
But what to get that wine-loving gal or guy?
This screed is for gift givers in a pinch.
Shopping for oenophiles is now a cinch.
Buying a bottle is much too easy.
But lots of wine junk is quite cheesy.
A book! A book! A book to get!
And here are three you ain’t read yet.
The Psychology of Wine: Truth and Beauty by the Glass by Evan and Brian Mitchell ($44.95, Praeger, 2009, Santa Barbara, Calif., 203 pages)
When I got to page 30 of “The Psychology of Wine,” written by the father-and-son team of Brian and Evan Mitchell, I decided to look up the word esoteric. Yep, no doubt about it. This book requires or exhibits knowledge that is restricted to a small group and is difficult to understand.
That should come as no surprise since Brian, the father, is a psychologist in Australia and Evan, the son, is a former sommelier/English major whose college thesis was on psychoanalytical themes in American literature. These guys are deep, but not lacking a keen sense of humor.
So if you are the type who has memorized Monty’s Python’s Philosopher’s Sketch (which is, of course, referenced in this book) and has a passing interest in wine, this is the book for you. The authors explore wine, wine drinking and winemaking from every obtuse angle, including a Homeric odyssey through Greek and Roman wine mythology. They won’t help you pick the perfect wine for grilled salmon, but if you ever looked at a glass of wine and pondered how much truth lies inside, Evans and Evans may help you with some answers.
Sippin’ on Top of the World: Toasting Good Times and Better Days by David White ($14.95, WingSpan, 2009, Napa Valley, Calif., 181 pages)
If “The Psychology of Wine” is the philosophy textbook of the wine world, “Sippin’ on Top of the World” would be its guide to your inner Tao. “Sippin’” is an intensely spiritual journey to understand ourselves through the prism of wine. It is written by David White, who is the co-founder and executive director of the WineSpirit Institute for the Study of Wine and Spirituality.
White, an ordained rabbi and the leader of Congregation B’nai Israel in Vallejo, Calif., compiled a collection of 88 “sips.” Sips are brief unrelated passages with a connection to wine in some form or fashion. White helps readers interpret each episode to help them reach a better understanding of themselves and just where they stand in the universe. Each sip starts out with a question and is followed by two or three more to ponder before taking the next sip. White does not recommend reading the book cover to cover, but flitting from one sip to the next, letting fate turn the page.
Many of these sips were collected at what White calls WineSpirit gatherings, where attendees share stories and wine. In one sip, White recalls the gathering when Jan Shrem of Clos Pegase Winery reconciled his agnostic beliefs, his religious differences with his father and his appreciation/belief in Bacchus, the god of wine (Must have been some night!).
The book is addictive. If you can’t relate to the sip you just read, flip to the next one. Eventually, you’ll stumble on an important life question that perhaps you never thought to ask. And once you’ve uncorked a mystery of life, it’s hard to get it back in the bottle…and that is what White is shooting for.
Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology ($34.95, University of California Press, Berkeley, Calif., 318 pages)
I take full credit for “Been Doon So Long.” It was not three years ago when I was sitting with Randall Grahm, the proprietor/bard of Bonny Doon Vineyard, at the Six Feet Under Pub and Fish House, the casual dining spot across from historic Oakland Cemetery. Being a careful observer of Grahm’s literary achievements over the years, which include some of the most arcane and hysterical press releases and newsletters, I advised the renowned winemaker and rabble-rouser to write a book. He countered with the idea that I write a wine column in rhyming poetry.
Today, we both, more or less, have honored each other’s suggestion. “Been Doon So Long” is a compilation of the many writings, speeches and musings Grahm has issued as ostensive promotional pieces for his Santa Cruz, Calif., winery. That is if you can call stuff like a 50-plus-page poem, which leans heavily on Dante’s “Inferno,” that comments on the state of the wine industry for thematic locomotion as a promo piece.
The rest of the book explains Grahm’s unlikely success, his abstruse take on winemaking and periodic failures. It also includes lyrics to songs, such as That Old-Time Pomerol (sung to Bob Seger’s That Old-Time Rock and Roll) and Your Wine (sung to Elton John’s Your Song). These, of course, from his rock opera (no kidding) “Born to Rhône,” which was performed at San Francisco’s Teatro ZinZanni in 2004.
If you never heard of Randall Grahm, this is a pretty good introduction to this humorously complex (complexly human?) man. If you’re familiar with Randall Grahm, then you’ll understand that this is book is just totally Randall.
Wine glasses will certainly do the trick.
Yikes! There’re so, so many to pick!
Some are thin. Some are bulbous.
Choices are certainly copious.
Common sense is what you need
Found in upcoming lines to read.
And whether it be two, four or six,
Buy in pairs. Because dat’s de basics.
When buying wine glasses, one word comes to mind: space. You need glasses big enough to swirl the stuff around in. Wine grapes are blessed with an abundance of aromas. When you mix up the juice up with some oxygen, these wonderful essences are released. So, not only do you need space to do the mixing in, such as the classic tulip-shaped wine glass, you need something to capture these aromas for your aromatic enjoyment. You can’t do this in jelly jars.
Big, tulip-shaped glasses. Check. But which big, tulip-shaped glasses? That’s a good question because there are a lot of them. Perhaps too many.
To start out, you need a standard red wine glass with a smallish opening on top and a bowl that holds at least 14 ounces. Beyond that, a standard white wine glass and a sparkling wine glass would be nice additions. If the object of your gift giving is a known pinot noir lover, a Burgundy glass would be greatly appreciated. These are the bulbous glasses that hold as much as a quart. They may seem a bit pretentious, but they work.
Which brand to buy? If the gift recipient only has those cut crystal glasses with straight sides that hold about eight ounces, you’re in luck. These glasses are worthless for enjoying wine. They need an upgrade. Any of the major brands such as Eisch, Spiegelau, Schott-Zwiesel, Mark Phillips and, of course, Riedel are fine choices. The idea here is that each of these companies produces several lines of glasses and they keep on making them. This way adding to the collection or replacing broken stems is easy. You may consider giving two glasses for the holidays, two more for a birthday, anniversary, etc.
If you know the gift recipient already has “real” wine glasses as described above, find out the brand and type they use. Trust me, if you buy them two or four glasses to replace the broken soldiers, these will be considered the most thoughtful and appreciated gift.
Do you need to spend a lot of money? Well, if you think a minimum of $6 a glass is a lot, then yes. You can spend a whole lot more, but a $6 to $10 glass really does the trick. If fact, less-expensive glasses may be preferable.
Really thin, hand-blown, really expensive glasses are great…when they are somebody else’s property. I have to admit, I feel like royalty when I have one in my hand, but if you look crossly at these examples of artisan craftsmanship you’re apt to break them. I’ve seen people break the stem of these glasses, which can cost 100 bucks a pop, just by swirling their wine in them.
You might ask: Are these really expensive glasses dishwasher safe? Are you kidding me! They’re not safe if you wash them in a sink fitted with fur-lined airbags. They are a pain to clean and this is when you are likely to break most of them. When it was my job to wash and polish glasses like these, I would put towels everywhere, including the bottom of the sink because these delicate babies somehow always seem to find hard surfaces to crash into.
I put my $7 Spiegelaus in the dishwasher every day. No worries.
So now you have the answer to your pleas.
A whole bunch of wine-themed gift ideas.
We celebrate the season in myriad ways,
Let me raise a glass to you and your holidays.
Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator with the Society of Wine Educators and teaches in-home wine classes. You can reach him at Gil.Kulers@WineKulers.com.