I Heard It Through the Grapevine – It’s Spring!

Ah…about four hours ago, spring arrived here in the northern states. It’s my favorite season because it’s the most forward-looking; already I’m getting jazzed about new projects, new discoveries – new possibilities!

Spring vineyard

[Photo: “The de Brye Vineyard” by Hanzell Vineyards, courtesy of flickr.com]

Vineyards love spring; it’s their time of rebirth and reconnecting with the world. Their new growth cycle has begun, and vineyard managers will respond with long hours of aerating the soil, planting and never-ending weeding. Soon they’ll begin trellising and training their vines so the leaves will be ready to soak up the sun.

In case you’ve forgotten your 6th-grade science lessons, today is the March equinox, also called the “vernal” or spring equinox, one of two annual occasions when the sun shines directly on the equator (the other equinox is in September). When that happens, day and night are almost equal the world over. Technically, it’s the moment when the sun crosses the “celestial equator” – an imaginary line in the sky that sits directly over earth’s equator.

The earth still is tilting at 23.4º, but today our tilt is perpendicular to the sun’s rays. We could go into the differences between “astronomical spring” and “meteorological spring,” but I think we’ve had enough science for one day.

March 20 also is World Storytelling Day, when we’re supposed to promote storytelling by, um, telling stories. Here’s one about a particularly fun spring tradition (though it’s likely give my sister Margie an episode of PTSD):

Chichen Itza small

[Photo: “Chichen Itzá” by Esparta Palma, courtesy of Flickr.com]

The ancient Mayans, you probably know, devised a remarkably sophisticated calendar. Each year on the vernal equinox, they sacrificed one of their own on top of their huge pyramid, El Castillo, at Chichen Itza, Mexico. Can you see those tiny people in the photo, slithering up and down the narrow stairs to the sacrificial altar? Margie slithered up – but then she was too scared to come down. No railing, no rope – just her and a few other brave souls who, unlike her, were not terrified and sobbing. I couldn’t help her; I’ve been called a lot of things, but brave-with-heights isn’t one of them. Fortunately, she enlisted the help of an older gentleman who helped her down. The temperature that day was at least 100º; it’s a wonder no one toppled over from heat exhaustion. Twenty years later she still accuses me of being unsympathetic.

We celebrate spring with a bit more restraint in Cleveland. No gruesome sacrifices here, though I do expect the high-spirited guys across the street to dance naked on the front lawn tonight. (You know who you are!) I like to celebrate in some way that acknowledges spring’s rebirth and renewal. Some years I pledge to meditate every morning – a vow I have to repeat, since my resolve usually breaks down over the months. This year I’m starting to clear my space and get some fresh energy into this place.

If that sounds like too much work, you can always kill some time trying to balance an egg on its pointier end. Folklore says this is the day when it’s possible.

Wine Lingo: Bud break = when dormant buds on the grapevine break open and the shoot begins to grow. It happens when spring rain sends water and nutrients up through the roots and into the vine; the buds swell and finally burst, liberating tiny, exquisite grape leaves. Bud break is the first stage of the vine’s growth cycle.

Missianer

Vino ‘View: Last year in early spring I visited Trentino Alto-Adige, a mountainous wine region in northern Italy. The landscape was adorned with wildflowers, and I wanted tonight’s wine to reflect that adventure. I chose 2016 St. Pauls Schiava Missianer (12.5 percent alcohol, $14), made from 100 percent Schiava, a red grape that thrives in Südtirol (South Tyrol) Aldo Adige DOC. One reviewer called this wine “lightweight” and I think that’s fair; it’s definitely light-bodied with strong strawberry and red cherry aroma and taste. I also got some floral hints, though it could have been self-suggestion; I was thinking of those wildflowers in the foothills. Treat it like a Pinot Noir but with more acidity. I chilled it for 30 minutes and paired it with broasted chicken.

[St. Pauls Missioner Vernatsch was sent to BigSexyReds for review.]

Happy spring!

Mary

 

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Women on Wine, for International Women’s Day!

You know that title doesn’t refer to women who subsist on our favorite adult beverage – you get that, right? (Although I admit, it might not be a bad idea…)

We’re talking about women’s thoughts on wine. Unless you’re a recluse with no connection to the outside world, no doubt you’re aware that today is International Women’s Day, when we celebrate the social, cultural, economic and political achievements of the female sex. You knew I couldn’t let the day end without passing along some women-wisdom.

wine, women

[Photo, “Wine Pasion,” by Gisela Giardino, courtesy of Flickr.com]

But rather than waxing on about our strengths or accomplishments – plenty of people are doing that today – I thought it would be fun to read what women say about wine.

It didn’t take long to discover, women have plenty to say. I found some great quotes – some funny, some sweet – and managed to narrow it down to a “top 10.” But first, my least favorite quote:

“I drink red wine on ice to water it down.” – Diane Keaton, actress

Yuck, right?

Without further ado, here are my Top 10 favorite wine quotes by (or about) women:

10.  “I’m like old wine. They don’t bring me out very often – but I’m well preserved.”           – Rose Kennedy, philanthropist and mother of President John F. Kennedy, 1890-1995

9.  “One of my most exciting Saturday nights was just me and a bottle of wine and a crochet book.”  – Jessica Pare, actress who played Megan Draper on the television show Mad Men

8.  “I suffer from CLAUSTROPHOBIA, a fear of closed spaces. For example, I’m petrified that the WINE store will be closed before I have time to get there!”  – Tanya Masse, author

7.  “Wino Forever.”  – actor Johnny Depp’s tattoo that formerly read, “Winona Forever”

6.  “What I do and what I dream include thee, as the wine must taste of its own grapes.”         –  Elizabeth Barrett Browning, poet, 1806-1861

5.  “The wine – it made her limbs loose and liquid, made her feel that a hummingbird had taken the place of her heart.” – Jodi Picot, author

4.  “The lover drinks                                                                                                                                as the cup-bearer pours.                                                                                                                       The lover thinks                                                                                                                                     but the cup-bearer knows:                                                                                                                   love begets love.                                                                                                                                     Since this wine is love,                                                                                                                                                          then this cup is love,                                                                                                                                       then this tavern is love,                                                                                                                                  then this life is love.”  – Kaman Kojouri, Iranian author

3.  “If you love food and you love red wine and they put you in France, you’re in a good place and you’re in a bad place at the same time. You have to weigh yourself every day, and you have to have an alarm number. When you get to that number, you have to start putting it in reverse.”  – Salma Hayak, actress

2.  “Independence is a heady draught and if you drink it in your youth, it can have the same effect on the brain as young wine does. It does not matter that its taste is not always appealing. It is addictive and with each drink you want more.” – Maya Angelou, poet, 1928-2014

1. “Wine and women make wise men dote and forsake God’s law and do wrong…However, the fault is not in the wine and often [emphasis mine] not in the woman. Even if you get drunk on the wine and through this greed you lapse into lechery, the wine is not to blame but you are…” – Anonymous, Dives and Pauper, a 15th-century commentary on The Ten Commandments.

Food (or drink) for thought!

Wine Lingo:  Since women love to hang together, today’s lingo is hang time = the time from veraison (that moment when grapes start changing color from green to yellow or red) and harvest. The longer the grapes hang, the deeper their richness and complexity, but if they hang for too long they overripen. No bueno.

Traverse City bourbon

Vino ‘View:  On International Women’s Day, I think we can admit that many (most?) of us are badasses who like the hard stuff now and then. You’ll notice that this bottle of Traverse City XXX Straight Bourbon (86 proof, $34.99 onlineis half empty. That’s because I’ve been sipping, yes I have. Produced in northern Michigan by Traverse City Whiskey Co., this bourbon doesn’t bring the corn-sweetness one usually expects from bourbon, though I did get cornbread on the finish, and caramel – again without the sweetness, which is fine with me. It’s aged four years in American white oak, and the wood taste is strong but not smoky. There’s also vanilla, but it’s authentic-Mexican-cooking-vanilla, not vanilla ice cream flavor, and cinnamon. It’s good on its own, maybe with an ice cube, but you won’t feel much burn on the way down. 

[The Traverse City XXX Straight Bourbon was sent to BigSexyReds for review.]

Cheers, especially to you women who will speak out and make great choices this year – Brava!

Mary

No Whining About Wining Today!

We’ve celebrated Zinfandel Day, Carmenere Day, Chardonnay Day and a dozen more dedicated wine days – and when the holiday-makers ran out of grapes they wanted to salute, I guess they just decided to drink.

Hence a wine lover’s favorite day: National Drink Wine Day, February 18, designed to help us “embrace the positive benefits” of vino (as if we weren’t good at that already).

Vinitaly med.

[Fans of the grape, tasting at Vinitaly 2017 in Verona, Italy.]

Alaska Airlines will mark the day in a big way: in addition to offering a free glass of wine on most flights Sunday, they’re expanding their super-cool “Wine Flies Free” program. If you haven’t taken advantage of the program, get familiar with it – on flights departing from a long list of cities in Oregon, Washington, California and Idaho, you can take home a case of wine as checked baggage, free of charge. You have to sign up for their mileage plan before you fly, and the offer is ongoing – not limited to Drink Wine Day – on Alaska and their partners Horizon Air and SkyWest.

You can find other special events and discounts Sunday, too, from Miami to Malibu, so Google your town and see what’s being offered. I started my celebration last night, when

Zweigelt

The Niece And Nephew brought me this bottle of this 2013 Hiller Pulkau-Austria Zweigelt, one of my favorite Big Sexy Reds. It was plummy, a little dusty and went down beautifully with our chicken-pesto pasta.

This morning I saw a survey by National Today, an organization that tracks the “cultural calendar,” that said almost 75 percent of Americans believe two glasses of wine is enough for one day. That fits perfectly into my Weight Watchers plan. With zero carbs, zero fat, 125 calories and four “points,” I can drink two glasses without guilt. Fewer than 10 percent of people, National Today learned, drink five or more glasses in one sitting – and thank goodness, because if they pour that much down their gullets, they’re probably also foolish enough to drive in that condition.

More stats that fascinate me: 3 percent of people say they always cry when they drink wine. (Me, I cry when I finish that second glass because I have to cut myself off.) And a whopping 24 percent think a $15 bottle is a splurge. I believe it; there’s so much good wine on the shelves at bargain prices, winemakers and sellers are no doubt paying attention to that trend.

But here’s my favorite factoid: a 40-year study by Harvard researchers found that middle-aged men who drink red wine are less likely to experience erectile dysfunction than those who drink white, or none at all. (Yee-ha! Have another glass, gentlemen!)

National Drink Wine Day is always on February 18 – a Sunday this year, and for most of us, the next day is a work day. Will that keep us from over-indulging? Or will thousands of wine lovers call in sick Monday?

Here’s my suggestion; you’ve heard it before but it bears repeating: for each glass of wine you drink, sip a glass of water. You’ll slow down your drinking and avoid a hangover. I know, keeping that water glass going is a pain. But you’ll thank me in the morning.

Wine Lingo:  Anthocyanins = chemical compounds that give grapes their red, blue or purple color. They’re why red wine is red.

German Pinot Blanc small

Vino ‘View: Drink Wine Day doesn’t mean we should drink only reds! Since it’s winter, this crisp, spicy Dr. Heger Pinot Blanc 2015 (13 percent alcohol, $19.99) will warm you up a little. It’s a Qualitätswein (“quality wine from a designated region”) from the Kaiserstuhl district, reportedly one of the warmest areas of Germany. That accounts for its apple and citrus aromas, and the honeydew I tasted – but without sweetness. This is a light Weissburgunder (the German word for Pinot Blanc) with plenty of mineralogy and just enough alcohol to feel cozy.

[Dr. Heger Pinot Blanc 2015 was sent to Big Sexy Reds for review.]

Cheers!

Mary 

Are You a Seasonal Drinker?

Until April, you’ll find me burrowed under blankets with my winter tonic in hand. That could mean a Big Sexy Red – preferably at least 14 percent alcohol – but more often I reach for a more bracing drink: bourbon, rye, a nice sipping rum, brandy or grappa. Something distilled, please.

Me.rye.medium

Scientists say I’m not alone, but they don’t agree on the reason we change drinks with the seasons. Some claim seasonal drinking is triggered by changes in temperature and precipitation, others believe it’s a social curiosity.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report an early-winter pattern of over-indulging during the holiday season, then a pause when we make our New Year’s resolutions to cut back on the booze. They even have a name for it: the “January effect.” (The spirits industry probably doesn’t mind; they earn more than 25 percent of their profits between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.)

Another study found people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) sometimes drink more in winter as treatment for their sunshine deficiency, resulting in an alcohol-induced depression. One more possibility: there could be a genetic link between drinking and seasonality.

But you can’t broad-brush these findings. For instance, college students’ breath alcohol levels are reportedly higher in spring and winter – so why do they drink less in the fall, when you’d expect they would be kicking up their heels?

Apparently, location matters, too, but results still are puzzling. A study funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation found that Swiss men drink more and cause more alcohol-related accidents on summer weekdays, but not on weekends. In Australia, drinkers cut back on beer in winter and drink more red and fortified wines. In fact, their red wine sales spike more than 33 percent between July and September when it’s winter in the southern hemisphere. I would expect a small increase in red-wine sales, but 33 percent?

If your “January effect” is about spirits, this also is flu season, and fans of the hard stuff know that one of the most soothing remedies is a simple hot toddy. Just steep two tea bags in a cup and a half of boiling water (about 5 minutes), then add lemon and honey. Pour two ounces of bourbon in a mug and pour the tea over it. You’ll feel better, just a little, in an hour.

Wine Lingo:  Solera system (used in producing the rums reviewed, below) = a fractional blending process that involves stacking casks of wine or spirits with the youngest at the top. Periodically, some of the newest wine is poured into the row of casks below it, while some of the wine from that cask is transferred to the next row down, and so on. Only wine from the oldest/bottom batch is bottled, and fresh wine replenishes the wine in the top batch so every bottle is a blend of old and new. The solera system traditionally is used in producing sherry and Madeira, but often with other wines and spirits as well.

Papa Pilar rum small

Vino ‘View:  If I didn’t tell you that Papa’s Pilar (86 proof; Dark $39.99, Blonde $29.99) was rum, you’d think you were sipping quality brandy. Sourced from various locations across the Caribbean and Central America, these rums are solera-blended and aged in sherry and Port casks. The dark version is full and smooth, tasting of plums, pecans, unsweetened chocolate and allspice, with a bit of dry sherry on the finish. The blonde is a tropical surprise; grapefruit competes with orange peel, cantaloupe mixes with lemon bar, and it’s another super-smooth number. I wouldn’t mix these rums even with a splash of water; the alcohol level isn’t so high that you’d need to dilute them. Add an ice cube and relish the refined taste.

[Papa’s Pilar Rums were sent to BigSexyReds for review.]

Cheers!

Mary

How Wine Writers Have Fun at Work

Are we having fun yet? We should be, since it’s Fun at Work Day. Let’s get this party started!

Actually, my good time started earlier this week, when I reached 2,000 Instagram followers! It takes some time and attention to keep that number inching up, but scrolling

Instagram thanks

through hundreds of new photos is one of my favorite ways to spend an hour or two. I’m impressed every day at the quality of others’ images – who knew martinis and wine photos could be so creative? It’s downright inspiring – and if you’re not following me, I invite you to check out my feed; I’m @BigSexyReds (of course).

Some folks claim that Fun at Work Day actually is January 28, but since that falls on a Sunday this year, there’s no way working on that day would be fun. I’m in the group that observes it on the last Friday in January.

Every day at work brings little thrills, doesn’t it? Since I work from a home office, my “fun” often arrives in my email. This morning, for instance, someone offered me a job working as a “tax professional” – obviously sent by someone who’s never seen the mess that is my checkbook, which hasn’t been balanced since I opened my checking account. Another email came from a man (I suppose) who insists he “will be glad to reacquaint with you, you are exceptionally beautiful and alluring.” I needed a shower after reading that one.

Today’s best email, though, is confirmation that I’m headed to Italy in April for a week of touring grappa distilleries! You might recall my post last April when I waxed on about grappa, after I tasted it at the gorgeous Ferrari winery in Trentino, Italy. This trip will be a tasting-and-learning trip across northern Italy – stay tuned for more details and plenty of photos!

Wine Lingo:  Grappa di monovitigno = grappa that’s made from just one grape variety, rather than a blend. Some consider grappa di monovitigno a finer drink than that made from several varieties because it can impart the aroma and taste of the specific grape.

Ruggeri Prosecco

Vino ‘View: Reaching 2,000 Instagram followers calls for a celebration, and that means it’s time to reach for something bubbly! This time I selected Ruggeri Argeo Prosecco D.O.C. Brut ($15-$25, 11 percent alcohol), produced in Treviso, just north of Venice. The wine is both floral and fruity, harmonizing with a crispy, fizzy acidity. Immediately I got a golden apple aroma that came back in the taste, along with subtle honeydew and orange. This light sparkler paired perfectly with my smoked salmon on crackers. 

[The Ruggeri Prosecco was sent to BigSexyReds for review.]

Cheers!

Mary

Classy Gifts for Wine Lovers

Once again, I’ve put off my holiday shopping until the last minute. It’s cold, it’s snowing and I don’t want to leave the house.

Fortunately, Santa has a laptop now, so we can all pour ourselves a glass of our favorite Big Sexy Red (or white, or hooch) and get our shopping done online. Here’s a list that any wine lover (which is pretty much everyone I know) can cozy up with:

 

 

The Aervana Aerator – $99.95 (left photo, above) might be my favorite wine toy. It aerates your wine instantly; gently press the button and your wine is on tap. Sediment stays at the bottom of the bottle, not in your glass, and you’ll never spill a drop. It takes six AAA batteries to operate, but thank you Santa, they’re included with the aerator. Use this gadget in front of your friends and it’s guaranteed to send your cool factor through the roof. Also available at Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond.

We’ve all known the heartbreak of dropping a bottle of wine on the sidewalk and watching our precious liquid spill onto the sidewalk. You can prevent those sad accidents with the Bottle Shock Wine Case –  $159, 2-bottle case; 179, 3-bottle case (center), a crush-resistant, gasket-sealed tote. It’s sturdy enough to be checked baggage, but I find it most handy when I’m taking several bottles to a friend’s house and don’t want to risk breaking them. The dense foam will protect your wine – trust me, those bottles aren’t moving – and the strap even has a small pouch for stashing a corkscrew.

I’ve tried a lot of drying cloths, but none have dried my glasses as fast and completely as the Wu-beez – $7.95 or $9.95/pack of two (photo on right). They leave behind no streaks or lint, and dry my best glasses with one swipe. If you’re giving wineglasses, stuff some cloths into the glasses to complete your gift.

 

For the wine lover who travels, the VinGarde Valise – $299.99 (photo on left) is a splurge but worth every penny. The super-dense foam inserts fit up to a dozen wine bottles safely – and by safely, I mean you can feel confident checking the bag; your wine will arrive at its destination in perfect condition, and under the 50-pound weight limit. I’ve carried wine home from Sonoma and Italy in this lightweight, indestructible suitcase. Extra foam sheets and straps constructed with auto seatbelt material secure the wine, and you can order extra inserts shaped for carrying wineglasses or magnums. VinGarde Valise is also available on Amazon.

Once you’ve drank wine from fine crystal, you’ll never go back to clunky glasses – but honestly, PubWare – $49.99/set of 4 (center) is different. It has the weight of glass and the rim is thin on your lips, just like a quality wineglass, but PubWare is unbreakable. It’s not plastic, exactly, but these stemless, 12-ounce glasses are PBA-free. PubWare also is available in flutes and other shapes. The best part: until December 31, the glasses are on sale for 25 percent off ($37.49/set of 4) with free shipping, so if you expect gift-giving occasions next year, it’s a good idea to pounce on these now.

Lastly, I think the RePour – $8.99, 4-pack; $16.99, 10-pack (right) makes a great stocking stuffer. These stoppers save leftover wine by eliminating all the oxygen in the bottle, thereby preventing the wine from degrading. The manufacturers claim the wine will stay fresh for months; I can’t test that part because I can’t imagine not finishing a bottle for that long. But if you have an expensive bottle and want to save some for a special occasion coming up in a few weeks, these stoppers should preserve it for you.

Happy shopping!

Mary

My Top 10 Wines & Spirits in 2017

As you might guess, I enjoy an adult beverage (or two) pretty much every day. That adds up to a lot of different wines and spirits. Selecting 10 favorites was a challenge – but holy Zinfandel, was the research fun!

These bottles range in price from super-affordable to impress-the-boss splurge, but none are ridiculously pricey. Any would make superb holiday gifts.

In no particular order, these are my 2017 picks:

 

 

  • When I served Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva (40 proof, $38) to a few friends, none of them knew they were sipping rum – they thought it tasted like brandy or a honey-infused bourbon. That’s not too far-fetched, since this Venezuelan beauty is aged for up to 12 years in bourbon barrels. Long aging bestows elegance on a fine rum; this one carries notes of fennel, caramel, oak and corn. I wouldn’t mix Diplomatico – savor it neat or cool it with one ice cube.
  • If you haven’t tried reds from northern Italy, the 2016 Colterenzio St. Magdalener, DOC Alto Adige (12.5 percent alcohol, $14) is a good introduction. Its vegetable tone is delicious, tinged with parsley and, as it rests, tea and black cherries. It’s a bit stony, and the ashy aroma continues into the taste with milk chocolate and smoke in the finish. If you don’t like tannins, you’ll love this wine, but keep it for a year or two before you crack the bottle.
  • I drank my 2014 Yarden Malbec (14.5 percent alcohol, $32.99) while I munched on olives, cheese and pepperoni – a typical lazy supper for moi – and it held up beautifully. This Israeli wine, produced in the Golan Heights in Galilee, is a real Big Sexy Red – plums and smoke aroma, followed by bacon, blackberries and a bit of dark raisin tastes. It reminded me of Trader Joe’s dark chocolate covered shortbread stars, but with heat.
  • Whenever I see Zweigelt, I buy it because it’s not that common in the U.S., but I had never tried a Zweigelt rosé. Earlier this year, a friend gave me a bottle of 2015 Josef & Philipp Bründlmayer Grafenegg Rosé vom Zweigelt (12 percent alcohol, $50) and I’m on a mission to find more. Although Zweigelt is a relatively obscure grape in the U.S. it’s actually the most-planted red in Austria. The soft salmon-colored wine is a high-acid gem – “almost fizzy,” my friend said – but creamy and earthy at the same time.

 

 

 

  •  Pinot Noir isn’t always a big-bold red, but the 2013 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir       Carneros (13.5 percent alcohol, $27) is almost chewy, and dark like a California tan. I got an aroma of dark grapes, blackberries and a bit of turkey sausage (and I mean that in a good way). Add black pepper, raspberries, plums, bell peppers and pomegranate on the palate – a well-ordered structure with smoke and mocha on the finish.
  • I discovered Hanson of Sonoma Small Batch Cucumber Flavored Vodka (80 proof, $26) on a trip to Sonoma last spring and when I returned in November, I brought home two bottles. Don’t let the “flavored” deter you; these certified organic artisan distillers infuse their grape-based vodkas with real produce, and you won’t be drinking a cucumber salad – that taste is barely a kiss. It’s only distributed on the West Coast, but I found it online at MissionLiquor.com. Shipping cost for one bottle is exorbitant, but if you buy three or more it gets reasonable.
  •  One of the hottest wine regions these days is Eastern Europe, and 2015 Patricius Tokaj Dry Furmint (12 percent alcohol, $15) is a great example of the quality wines produced there. Tokaj in Hungary is the world’s first designated wine appellation, and Furmint, one of its most abundant white grapes, is used for making both sweet and dry wines. This one is as dry as wine gets – zesty, fresh, with strong minerality and stone fruit flavors, along with a touch of pineapple and banana.

 

 

 

  • I haven’t tasted every rye in the world, but Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Small Batch Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (90 proof, $49.99) is the best I’ve tried. Developed by Wild Turkey’s master distiller Jimmy Russell, it’s one smooth drink. The tastes are a delicious blend of toffee, rye, pecan and cinnamon – and don’t you dare mix it; this is a fine sipping rye. Just make sure it’s labeled “6 Year Old,” because the regular Russell’s Reserve Rye is 104 proof and not nearly as refined-tasting.
  • Casal Thaulero’s 2009 Thalé Montepulciano D’Abruzzo (14 percent alcohol, $40) is that special-occasion bottle you set aside – but just for a short while, because it’s at its peak now. After aromas of red fruit and vanilla, expect a big, bold mouthfeel and tastes of maple, pumpkin spice and dry leaves – perfect for fall and winter drinking.
  • It’s probably not fair for me to include this bottle because a friend bought it in Italy, but Limoncello is my favorite digestivo and always makes a great gift. It’s traditionally made with Sorrento lemons in southern Italy, but I’ve come across some terrific limoncello produced here in the U.S., too. Get recommendations from your liquor merchant; the best limoncello is sweet enough that you know you’re drinking liqueur, but not cloying; and tart but not bitter. Like any fine liquor, it should be smooth and balanced. You can find quality limoncello for less than $40.

Bonus picks – Three choice drinks didn’t make the list: Ferrari Grappa Segnana Solera, omitted only because it’s not distributed in the U.S. (but worth ordering online if you can find it); OYO Bourbon Whiskey, Michelone Reserve, distributed only in eight states but also available online; and Maker’s 46, a great option when you want a not-ordinary bourbon to sip by the fire. All three are in my cabinet…So many bottles, so little time!

Next up – uncommon, last-minute wine gifts for any wine lover – or treat yourself!

Cheers,

Mary