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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Absinthe, The Spirit of Gift Giving

Holiday shopping can be difficult. Crowded stores, traffic, roaming through the aisles searching for something, anything really, that can be wrapped up for each person on your list.

But if your list includes wine and spirits enthusiasts, gift shopping is as easy and as pleasurable as a visit to your local wine merchant. Here, we tapped into their expertise and asked them to share the gifts they love to give and receive.

Bid at an auction

Robin Mailey, owner of the Callicoon Wine Merchant, likes to receive things that he normally wouldn't buy for himself. And the shop's first Benefit Wine Auction is the place to find a special bottle, he says.

The auction will be held 2 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Callicoon Holiday Market and will benefit the Delaware Youth Center.

"Local collectors and merchants as well as distributors have donated wine which we will auction," Mailey says, and they include "some older bottles and rarities." Buying opportunities include 1985 Diamond Creek "Volcanic Hill" Cabernet; 1986 Dalle Valle Cabernet; 1989 Beychevelle; 1999 Brovia "Ca'mia" Barolo in magnum; 2001 Ridge Montebello in magnum; and many others.

"It's a great opportunity to purchase something unique and benefit the youth center at the same time," he says.

The Callicoon Wine Merchant will host a reception at the store from noon—2 p.m. Call 887-3016.

Buy a decanter

Michael Taiani, a Pine Bush-based wine consultant and owner of Wines by the Glass Enterprises, says a wine decanter is the perfect gift, especially for folks new to wine. It is an essential tool, he says.

"(It's a) gift which no doubt will be used many times over (and especially) for young and inexpensive reds, which benefit quite a bit with aerating," he says. Prices can climb into the hundreds for fine crystal, but Taiani says lovely decanters can be had for about $25.

For the wine lover who doesn't have time to waste, Taiani suggests the Vinturi Wine Aerator (about $40), which effectively aerates wine in seconds.

Suggest a sampler

Tim Free, the wine consultant at Mid Valley Wines and Liquor in the Town of Newburgh, suggests a wine sampler, a selection of different bottles that focus on a particular type of wine.

"It's possible, with certain wines, to have what is known as a vertical selection — different vintages of the same wine," Free says. "Other possibilities include the horizontal selection — different producers of the same type of wine, all from the same vintage."

A sampler could also be made up wines all from the same grape varieties — such as all cabernet sauvignons or all nebbiolos — or regions or countries, Free suggests.

"We now have gift boxes in one-, two-, and three-bottle sizes, and we can customize a selection to fit your favorite wine lover's tastes and your budget," Free says. "Give us a few days notice and we'll assemble something that will be sure to please."

Add a great wine book, Free says, "that can increase the enjoyment of the wines beyond the pleasure of drinking them." A current favorite of Free's is "Kevin Zraly's American Wine Guide" ($12.95/on sale at $9.99), a pocket book that is easy to carry when shopping or dining out.

Free also suggests a wine class, such as those he teaches at Mount Saint Mary College's Desmond campus. Beginning in January, several different courses will be offered, each themed for a different country.

"Each covers a different region within the country being studied, and can be taken independently; the price ($35 per person per class) includes food and a tasting of wines; both the food and the wines are representative of the particular country and region being covered that night," Free says. The classes are will also involve minor food preparation by the students (stirring, serving, etc).

Fliers describing the courses are available at Mid Valley, or call the college at 565-2076 or visit www.msmc.edu/communityed for information. Gift certificates are available.

Try absinthe

Marcus Guiliano, the chef and owner of Aroma Thyme Bistro in Ellenville, suggests the gift of the unexpected: absinthe.

"Many people still do not realize that absinthe is now legal again in the United States," Guiliano says.

Guiliano's eatery offers about a half a dozen different bottlings, and his favorite is St. George Absinthe Verte (about $75/750 ml), an American absinthe made in California by the people who make Hangar One Vodka.

"And since it was out of distribution for many years, many people do not know what it is. And all this is good. So when you actually hold a bottle in your hands it all adds to its mystique," Guiliano says. "You feel like you are part of history."

Each week, we ask wine and spirits professionals for advice. You don't need to own a shop to join the conversation. Wine and liquor lovers are welcome. E-mail Lisa Ramirez at Lmjramirez@hotmail.com.

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