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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!

 

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!

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!