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Do you have a Savvy Drinker in your life? Here are some fun gift ideas that are a little off the beaten path:

1. Hario Mizudashi Cold Brewer (ritualroasters.com), $25. ritual-113_largeThis slow, cold brewer takes about 18-25 hours per batch, but for those who don’t mind the wait, it delivers a rich, low acidity cup of chilled joe that is perfect for cocktails–or when summer comes back–iced coffee!

2. DIY Cocktail Bitters Kit (uncommongifts.com), $30. A perfect gift for the mixologist that likes to start from scratch, seriously. Geeky enough for the aficionado but easy enough for the novice, this kit as everything you need to make your own artisanal bitters.

3. Tea Infuser Travel Mug (momastore.org), $20. It’s high time that the tea drinker was also considered for needing beverages-on-the-go. Simply add your tea into the the double-walled diffuser, and hit the road while your tea steeps. This elegant cup was featured in MoMa’s 2010 exhibit “Counter Space”, which focused on items that revolutionized the kitchen. BPA free, microwave OK, dishwasher safe, all good things.Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 8.01.34 AM

4. Wrought Iron Handbag Wine Cork Art Cage (homewetbar.com), $26. Are homeless corks taking over your life?? Here is an artful home for them, though admittedly more for the ladies. But don’t worry guys, you can also get one in the shape of a boot, bottle or … slot machine?

5. A Rare Tea: Phoenix Ginger Flower, 2 oz (inpursuitoftea.com), $29. This exquisite Chinese tea is from Wu Dong Mountain in the Guangdong Province. This hand-twisted tea is noted for its “heady, honey-sweet aromas” and “deep flavors of ripe melon and citrus.” (Side note: 2 oz of tea will deliver about 25 8-oz cups.)

6. Dave Wondrich’s “Imbibe! From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, A Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar“, (amazon.com), $20. Honestly, I think the title says it all… It is a truly great read from one of the leading voices in the mixology scene.

7. Rabbit Wine Stoppers (containerstore.com and elsewhere), $5 each. These colorful wine stoppers preserve what you can’t finish in that bottle (if that ever happens!). May not be exciting in their own right, but paired with a bottle of that favorite something, it makes a deliciously practical gift.malort-flask

8. Letherbee Malört (slopecellars.com), $38/Liter … but also available in 200ml flask size for under $30. Swedish for wormwood, this obscure liqueur from that beloved Chicago trio has been getting a lot of attention for its range of flavors, and not always pleasant ones! So give that hardcore mixologist in your life the “Malört face“, the perfect gift for those who savor the more unusual things in their glass …

9. Whiskey Stones (thinkgeek.com), $20-30. Want the chill of ice in that drink without the dilution? These soapstone (mined in Vermont) cubes manage just that and travel well in the carrying bag, included. Your choice of package of 9 or 18.

10. And finally, the World Atlas of Wine (iTunes.apple.com), $25. This comprehensive tome from wine superstars Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson now comes in an interactive version for the iPad. For me, the best parts are the maps of all wine regions, which include not only topographical detail of all appellations but also locations of key producers. And so much easier to carry around than the physical book!

Please share any other ideas for the holidays … and good luck with the shopping!

Critics rave about the 2005 vintage in the Rhône Valley and the 2010 vintage in Chablis, but how about that 1700 BCE vintage in the wine region of Canaan? The New York Times reported a few weeks ago that the world’s oldest wine cellar had been discovered at the Tel Kabri site in northern Israel. AmphoraThe findings were on a  palatial scale, as archaeologists unearthed around forty large amphoras that had traces of acid associated specifically with wine–the equivalent of 3000 bottles of red and white wine! This is the largest and oldest cellar found to date, and it may not have been the only cellar in this Canaanite palace.

But perhaps more impressive is that this ancient culture seems to have had a taste for an early form of glühwein (pronounced GLOO-vine): wine mixed with flavorings such as honey, cinnamon bark, mint and juniper berries (maybe that vintage wasn’t actually very good!). Sadly the building and presumably its inhabitants were destroyed by ‘some violent event’ but glühwein certainly lived on, although it is now more commonly associated with the Austrians and Germans — especially around the holidays. You can still make it today by following this simple recipe, and when you do, raise a glass for those ancients!

The holidays came early this year with my purchase of an exciting new gadget called a Coravin, a new wine preservation system. This is a small device you can use to tap into a wine without removing its cork, that is, it’s as though the bottle has never been opened. This clever tool was innovated by Greg Lambrecht, a man who just wanted to have a glass now and again without needing to consume the whole bottle. It is also a useful tool to test whether that special wine is now ready to drink (maybe it needs a few more years?). You can now sneak a taste and eliminate the guesswork.

While it was designed for the wine collector, I believe it has had an even greater effect on the wine industry itself. For my part, I can sample high end wines to my retail and restaurant accounts without worry (and therefore sell more wine too). Prior to my purchase, I would never have dared sample that Dupont-Tissanderot Mazis-Chambertin 2006 without having at least twelve appointments! Now, no problem.

Sommeliers benefit because they can now pour a much broader range of wines without concern of spoilage. So in finer, more cutting edge restaurants, like Lafayette, it is now possible to find a high end wine like Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Côte Rôtie poured by the glass. Retailers, too, can also sample their customers on a wine before its purchase. This game-changing gadget has been affectionately nicknamed the ‘mosquito’, as there is indeed something a little vampiric about it!

My new toy

Here is how it works:

You can use it on any bottle with a true cork, NOT screw cap and definitely not sparkling wine. Simply pull the needle down and clamp it around the neck of the bottle. The needle should be resting right on top of the cork, and there is no need to even remove the foil or dressing.

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Once fastened, push the needle into the cork. As the needle is quite sharp, it doesn’t require much physical effort to penetrate the bottle.

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Hold the bottle upside down with the spout positioned over your glass and quickly press the button on the handle (it doesn’t take much, maybe a second). As wine leaves the bottle, argon gas goes inside the bottle in its place.

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Once you upright the bottle again, the wine will cease to pour. While holding the clamp, simply pull the needle back out and the injected cork heals itself. The argon inside the bottle perfectly preserves the wine and has no effect on its flavor. You could ‘coravin’ (now also used as a verb) that wine to the last drop over a couple of years (or potentially longer) without compromising it … Brilliant!

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The one drawback is the high price tag of $300 and, at $10 a pop, those argon canisters are not cheap either. Each argon canister is screwed into the handle base, a design not unlike a whipped cream canister, and each is good for about 60 one-ounce tastes or 7-8 generous glass pours. So it’s really NOT ideal to use it on a bottle you intend to finish that evening (or even the next day) and certainly not on a wine under $15. But if this sounds like the right tool for you, find out more about it here.