In the past I’ve written holiday posts about possible gift ideas for friends and family. This year is different. If your year was anything like mine, it was crazy. In fact, usually my year slows way down after Thanksgiving but not this year as I’m finishing up this post in Shanghai. Hopefully the coming holidays will give you the opportunity to take a few well-deserved days off to spend with family, friends, and most of all, SOLO. Given that, here is a list of gift ideas intended for your enjoyment. So kick back in the cush recliner with a glass of yuletide cheer at the ready. This list and everything on it is intended just for you.
You’ll be drinking…
My favorite Champagne this year. I shared a bottle with colleagues on my birthday. It temporarily changed my life. It will change yours too. And you deserve it.
Sommariva Prosecco Superiore, DOCG
Definitely not the Prosecco stacked to the ceiling at your local Trader Joe’s next to the express line. Sommariva puts the “G” into DOCG Prosecco Superiore in terms of quality and the delicious factor. I’m including it here not just because it’s so tasty but because it’s available in magnums at very reasonable cost. Sometimes we need bigger bottles.
Wegeler Bernkasteler Doctor Riesling Spätlese, Mosel
It was a tough call on the German Riesling front because there are so many great wines. My first choice was Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Spätlese but it’s almost impossible to find. My second choice was easy—Wegeler’s Spätlese from the legendary and impossibly steep Bernkasteler Doctor Vineyard in the Mosel. One sip and it’s all about beauty, hedonism, and electricity. This is why I love German Riesling.
Sigalas’ Assyrtiko is one of my favorite whites from anywhere in the wine world—and it’s an impossibly good value. The latest vintage combines ripe, voluptuous fruit with shocking acidity and an intense swipe of volcanic minerality.
Thierry Allemand Cornas “Reynard”
Kermit Lynch has called the tiny Cornas appellation the “Sleeping Beauty of the Rhône.” I wouldn’t go quite that far but Cornas for me has always defined Northern Rhône Syrah as a paradigm for the grape. Thierry Allemand farms a meager five hectares of Syrah some of which is over 90 years old. His “Reynard” is a cuvée made from the oldest parcels. The 2012 vintage I tasted earlier this fall is remarkably complex, sauvage/wild, and a bit unwashed. In a word, brilliant. Enjoy it with roast beast.
Cantina Terlano Lagrein Riserva “Porphyr,” Alto Adige
The fantastic wines of Cantina Terlan in Alto Adige will be featured in an upcoming post. In the meantime, grab a bottle of their incredible Riserva Lagrein called “Porphyr.” It’s made from several of the oldest parts of the winery’s steep hillside vineyards. If you’ve not had Lagrein before Porphyr could be the best of them all, offering an intense dark fruit and spice-dominated nose with lush fruit, ripe tannins, and tart acidity on the palate. I think Porphyr could be the ultimate geek red wine. A must try.
Yalumba Cabernet-Shiraz “The Signature,” Barossa
With the proliferation of moo and baa adorning festive holiday dinner tables I had to include a Cab-o-centric paradigm universe wine (Thank you, Randall Graham). Yalumba’s “The Signature” offers a twist in that it’s a 50-50 Cabernet-Shiraz blend. The result is the best of both worlds with the exotic spice and rich fruit of Shiraz married with the structure and polish of Cabernet. Yum.
Made from passito Moscato grapes (locally called Zbibbo) on the volcanic island of Pantelleria, Ben Ryé is easily one of the world’s great dessert wine secrets. Discover it for yourself.You’ll be eating…
Neuske’s Bacon: Extra Thick Butcher Cut
Not just any bacon! Neuske’s Butcher Cut is sliced ¼ inch thick and the essence of Vitamin P goodness. Food doesn’t get any better than this.
You’ll be Reading…
Long before the movie was released this past fall (and Matt Damon was rescued yet again) there was Andy Weir’s geeked out science fiction blog about an astronaut stranded on Mars. I don’t usually read a lot of fiction but I absolutely inhaled this book within several hours of picking it up. The math and science problem solving in the book can seem a bit much at times but it’s well worth the read. It’s a great airplane book too.
Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman
If you’ve not read Neil Gaiman before you’re in for a treat. The author of numerable adult and children’s works including “Stardust” and “Coraline,” Gaiman is one of the great fiction writers today. His new collection of short stories, fictions, and poetry is delightful—and delightfully creepy. Highest recommendation.
My Stroke of Insight, “A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey,” Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.
In My Stroke of Insight Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard-trained brain neuroanatomist, provides a detailed account of her own experience suffering a massive hemorrhage in the left side of her brain in 1996 and the lengthy, multi-year path to recovery. Bolte Taylor’s book is an amazing account. One of many things I learned from it about brain health is that between the ages of 11 and 15 kids, as they transition to young adulthood, actually lose half the neurons in their brains. That’s right, literally 50% of the neurons in our brains shut down from non-use during that time period. Yet another reason the pubescent phase can be so insane.
The Cello Suites, J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece, Eric Silbin
One of my favorite books of 2015. Montreal-based author Eric Silbin has a track record for reviewing pop/rock music but somehow found himself at a classical recital some years ago where a cellist performed one of J.S. Bach’s six Cello Suites. Silbin was smitten and that single performance became the catalyst for a multi-year fixation not only on the cello suites and how they were written, lost, and rediscovered; but also the legendary Spanish cellist Pablo Casals who is largely responsible for “discovering” the suites and making them mainstream classical music. A wonderful read.
The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, Jacques Pepin
In 1992 I had the great pleasure of waiting on Jacques Pepin when he and a group of friends came into the Cypress Club for dinner. When I handed him our list of over 1,000 wines he simply asked if we had Tempier Rosé. I said we did and that’s what he and his party drank that night. Fast forward to fall 2012. Pepin was touring the country promoting his new book, “Essential Pepin” and signing copies at a local bookstore. I rushed getting through a tasting and barely made it to the shop in time to have him sign several copies. As he was finishing up I told him that we had met years before at Cypress Club. He looked up from the desk at me, squinted for several seconds and said, “I remember. The décor in the restaurant was really crazy—amazing. And you gave us great service and we drank Tempier Rosé.” Whether Pepin actually remembered me or not, I was touched.
It’s no mystery then that Jacques has long been one of my heroes. Carla and I have watched his shows on KQED for the last 20 years-plus and I learn something from him every time. His technique, so precise and effortless, is the result of decades of practice not to mention the long years spent as an apprentice in post WWII kitchens in his native France. Which brings me to my last book recommendation: Pepin’s book “The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen.” The Apprentice is a warm account of Pepin’s training and career in the kitchen before moving to the U.S. and beyond. The spirit of his book should be embraced by any and everyone in the restaurant/hospitality industry; specifically that one’s job is to serve and take care of the guest either via the kitchen or the front of the house. I’m especially reminded of it these days with all the media frenzy about sommeliers in movies and TV. Enough said. “The Apprentice” is a sentimental favorite and worth multiple reads.
You’ll be listening to…
Blu Ray Audio 5.1
More and more recordings are being remixed for five channel Blu Ray audio. If you have the equipment you owe it to yourself to pick up at least one disc to check it out. Odds are you will be astonished at the precision, separation, and overall clarity of the sound.
My favorite album of 2015 and easily the best album I’d never heard before (Thanks, Peter Neptune). Andy Partridge is also the best song writer I didn’t know about. A great listen.
Close to the Edge, Yes
One could make a strong argument that “Close to the Edge” is one of the greatest progressive rock albums ever (I’m dating myself in a huge way here but get over it). As a group Yes was—and is–monumentally talented. Aside from the fact that their lyrics can be hopelessly new age at times, hearing Close to the Edge remastered in multi-channel Blu Ray surround is revelatory.
Love, the Soundtrack, the Beatles
George Martin’s wizardry at blending multiple tracks together for the soundtrack used in the Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles show “Love” at the Mirage in Las Vegas is nothing short of amazing. Even if you’ve never had a chance to see the actual show, buy “Love” to hear many of the Beatles greatest songs remastered in Blu Ray five channel sound. I can’t wait to hear their entire catalogue in Blu Ray.
Baroque music—as in Bach, Handel, and the like, seems especially appropriate for the holidays. Yes, even the Taco Bell Canon (Pachebel) works well. Here are two favorite recordings by Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert, one of the top ensembles playing period instruments.
Arcangelo Corelli was one of the top Italian violinists and composers of the high Baroque. Unfortunately, he wrote precious little music. His Opus 6 Concerti Grossi are absolute gems and perfect for holiday listening. In fact, Concerto No. 8 from the collection is called the “Christmas Concerto.”
The Complete Harpsichord Concerti, J.S. Bach
After reading Eric Silbin’s book (above) I went on a binge listening to all the Bach recordings I have and even ordering a few more. If you don’t know any Bach the Harpsichord Concerti are a perfect place to start. They combine Bach’s considerable writing genius with beautiful tunes.
You’ll be watching…
Perhaps my favorite movie of all time. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amalie from 2001 is in essence a modern day fairy tale of life in Paris set in Montmartre. Amalie, the title character played by the lovely Audrey Tatou, sets out to change the lives of those around her all the while struggling with her own loneliness. I’ve watched Amalie dozens of times and never tire of the film’s beauty and slight surreal quality. I’m also reminded of how profound the smallest act of kindness can be. If you’ve never seen Amalie you must put it on your “to watch” list. But also be forewarned that there is nudity and adult content in the film. After all, it’s French and we’re all adults, for god’s sake.
One last sip…
Finally, a good shot of Fernet should—and will—remedy any holiday excess or at the very least right the ship straight away.
Happy Holidays and all the best!