Pour It On
Time to gather those wine gadgets, from goofy to gorgeous
For the wine geek who seemingly has everything — wine-themed doormats, underwear, peppermills, playing cards, clocks, furniture — you will be pleased to discover that the gifts and gizmos just keep on coming.
Most wine shops and many supermarket wine departments carry a good selection of the basics — corkscrews, foil cutters and various preservation systems. My single most useful wine tool — and believe me, I've seen them all — is a $20 waiter's cork puller that has done the job on hundreds and hundreds of bottles over the years. Cheaper ones can be had, but it's worth ponying up a few bucks more to get a cork puller that has a Teflon-coated "worm" (the screw part), a decent blade and a pleasing, ergonomic feel in the hand.
I would avoid the kind of corkscrew with the flip-up wings, and don't buy the cheap versions of the lever-style cork pullers, especially those named for small, long-eared furry mammals. I am also not a fan of most wine-preservation systems, especially those that require you to inject the bottle with some sort of inert gas. Save that stuff for the ICU. Among the other things to consider:
• Almost anyone who drinks wine will appreciate a decanter. You cannot have too many, and most people have trouble scrounging up even one. I often find older decanters in antique stores selling for as little as $20 or $30. The glass should be clear, not tinted, and you need to examine them carefully to be sure there are no chips or stains. Ideally, you want to find one with a stopper, although not all have them.
Many stores and most catalog operations offer new decanters in a wide variety of styles. Beware the gimmicky shapes (do you really need to pour wine from a duck?), which are not always of high quality. If you are willing to spend some serious dollars, I recommend decanters by Riedel (riedel.com) or Bottega del Vino (bottegadelvinocrystal.com).
A visit to the Riedel Web site reveals a dizzying array of options, with such drool-inducing styles as the Sommelier Series Magnum and the stunning "Amadeo," which looks as if it should be in a museum. Bottega del Vino is an Italian company making lead-free crystal that is also dishwasher-safe. Their Web site is chock-full of useful tips on choosing and caring for your wine glasses and decanters.
For stock and stocking stuffers, see online
• www.bestwineglass.com (888-741-0846): Glasses, decanters and totes are the specialty.
•www.cheftools.com (866-716-2433): Nice selection of carafes here.
•www.wineultra.com: Pricey, but a wide selection of corkscrews.
• www.winestuff.com (800-946-3788): A well-organized site with frequent markdowns and special offers.
• www.beveragefactory.com (800-710-9939): A wide range of wine-cooling units, refrigerators, built-ins and even beer 'Kegerators.' This is a good site for price comparisons.
• www.wineenthusiast.com (800-356-8466): Offers the widest selection of wine-related products, and excellent wine cellar options.
• www.iwawine.com (800-527-4072): This is the International Wine Accessories site. Get your Barrel Head Clock ($195) and Merlot Fireplace Mantel ($3,995) here!
• Before we leave the subject of decanters, consider this: They can be very difficult to clean. A decanter drying stand and a long-handled decanter cleaning brush are very useful accessories. See wineenthusiast.com for some examples. (Full disclosure: Wine Enthusiast magazine, for whom I write, has the same ownership.)
• A new type of gadget is the wine aerator. You pour your wine through it and it gets swoozled around before shooting out into your glass. The theory is that this opens up the wine's bouquet and smoothes out its finish. I've tried the Vinturi aerator (vinturi.com) and for very young wines, especially rich reds, it definitely takes away some of the rough edges.
The Nuance Wine Finer is a Danish design that combines the aerator/filter with a pourer/stopper. Your wine, says the manufacturer, flows through 32 aeration vents while an inner screen filters out sediments and bits of cork. Woo-hoo! Both of these retail for around $45.
The Ravenscroft Vintner's Crystal Aerating Funnel ($25 from www.winestuff.com) fits over your decanter and puts on a pleasing visual display as the wine pours through. Again, it's a quick fix for young wines that are tight or closed down from recent bottling or shipping.
• For taking wine on a road trip, you'll want a six or 12-bottle wine bag or tote. There are many styles, but the best are made of durable nylon and well-insulated. Some have wheels and handles, like regular luggage; others have shoulder straps or handles. One clever new design, called the Rendezvous Wine Roll, is a neoprene tote that rolls up like a sleeping bag and holds one bottle of wine and two wine glasses. It retails for $25 (also at www.wineenthusiast.com).
For stocking-stuffer gifts, you can load up on wine charms, wine stoppers, Champagne bottle stoppers, reusable (freezable) wine chillers and wine-stain removers. This is also the time to check your favorite bookseller for the 2008 editions of the pocket wine guides edited by Hugh Johnson, Oz Clarke and Tom Stevenson, all recommended.
Paul Gregutt writes the Wednesday wine column for The Seattle Times and covers Northwest wine for the Wine Enthusiast magazine. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.