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We all know the basic four when it comes to tasting: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. In fact, these four have been the unchallenged quartet since the days of Aristotle and Plato.

To this pantheon has now been added Umami (introduced in the 19th century), which is now generally accepted as the ‘fifth’ taste. Umami can most simply be described as savory, and is often encountered in the world of tasting saké. (Check out the Umami Information Center to learn more).

It is apparently MUCH more complicated than this, however. An article in today’s New York Times now suggests there may be way more than five, for example: “fattiness, soapiness and metallic”. Scientists now not only recognize additional receptors on the palate previously unknown, but also that there may be additional receptors in the intestine. Moreover, the majority of these taste receptors are operating on an unconscious level. This has helped us steer clear of poisonous foods as well as to recognize what is nutritious. Based on these tastes, we are either “thrilled or repulsed”.

It’s a fascinating topic, and humbling to know how little we understand about taste. And now off to breakfast!

 

Wine consumers in New York should be aware of what is happening in Albany right now that could greatly affect Cork Taxthe cost and choices of the wines they can drink. The legislation is called ‘At-Rest’ and it means that wine needs to be warehoused in New York state at least one day prior to sale to restaurants and retailers. The problem is that all mid- and small-size distributors warehouse their wine in New Jersey, which is closer to the port where wine arrives from abroad. Only the two largest distributors, Southern and Empire warehouse in state, and so no surprise, they are the ones pushing hard for this bill. In fact, they have collectively donated more than $500,000 to Governor Cuomo and Senator Jeff Klein (and a few others up north) to get this nonsense passed. Why? Because they want to crush the competition, and they will do so by any means in order to increase their own profits.

This is a bill that solves nothing but could be detrimental to many. Not only will many of the smaller guys potentially go out of business (my company included), but consumers can expect far fewer choices at much higher prices, as much as $7 a bottle! It has all the makings of a fairy tale, in which a big bad wolf with sharp fangs preys on innocent grandmothers, but it is indeed a very real threat.

So what can you do to bring about a happier ending? Go to Stop the Cork Tax and tell Albany to put ‘At-Rest’ to rest, for good.

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!

Just as I was getting into writing up those Summer recaps, the Autumn season arrived with a bang. First, the NYC wine business rocketed one day after Labor Day (which was great!) and then came Sandy (which was so very not) … that freak storm that upended all sense of normalcy, for some much more than others.

When such natural disasters occur, there is always a scramble for flashlights, matches, D batteries and ice, but what about that emergency BEVERAGE kit?? What did we DRINK to get us through those ten days without power?

Here’s a few items that worked for us:

  • The French Coffee press was crucial: just add water and pre-ground coffee. We KNEW we would lose power, so I ground enough for a two-week supply. Or if tea is your bag, ditto. If nothing else, remember this first bullet point!
  • Obviously, nothing that required ice or chilling was practical, so we looked to red wines from the cellar that were layered, rich and soul-satisfying: Amarones from Valpolicella, Bandols from the south of France and Barolos from Piedmont–all perfect comfort wines. (Let’s just say our wine cellar is much more depleted than it was on October 30th!)
  • A fine Bourbon, Single Malt or Armagnac. Enough said. Pick your preference, but sipping a small glass of these brown spirits by the fire were a great alternative to yelling (to no effect) at our local utility company.

So now as we head into what I fear is going to be a long, bone-chilling winter, I will hold onto those summer recollections and write them up when there is need for a little warmth and nostalgia.

Cheers!

While visiting one of my accounts last week, I stumbled upon one of the coolest cocktail gifts available (at least in the NY market): The Bitter Truth Cocktail Bitters Travelers Set.

And what exactly are bitters? Basically defined, a bitter is a base spirit flavored (infused) by something that imparts a bitter note or flavor to that spirit, be it root, vegetable, spice, seed or fruit. Depending on its alcohol strength (usually around 45%), it can be either served as an aperitif or digestive. Either way, it’s a must-have for anyone dabbling in the art of cocktails, although some are delicious on their own (such as Amaro, made from a mix of Italian herbs, roots, bark and orange peel). In short, bitters are your spice kit. They can intensify existing flavors or add that little ‘something special’ to a standard cocktail.

Almost all bitters originated for ‘medicinal’ purposes in the early nineteenth century, usually for help with digestion. Some of the most famous bitters are closely guarded family secrets, such as Angostura Bitters from Trinidad or Fernet Branca from Milan.

But I digress. This well-packaged traveling kit comes with five 20 ml bottles (probably just enough to help one endure a one-way trip to Japan or New Zealand!):

  • Orange Bitters
  • Old Time Aromatic Bitters
  • Creole Bitters
  • Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters
  • Original Celery Bitters

Stay tuned as I dabble with each of these, cocktail reports to follow …

The adage ‘you are what you eat’ applies to what you drink too!

My aim is to help you to drink responsibly — by actually paying attention to what’s in your glass, mug or stein.

When you take the craft, culture, history and science of drink into consideration, you are not only catering to your senses and appetites, but your intellect too.

It’s an enlightening exploration, a knowledge quencher for all those with a thirst for the good stuff whether the good stuff means wine, spirits, coffee or tea. We’ll dive deep into the world of premium, crafted drinks. I hope you’ll enjoy the journey, saluté!