Holiday Hooch 2014: a Gifting Guide

Tuesday Revews-Day

Oh it is that time again, folks. Time to answer the question of what to give who and when. I’ve said it before and I’ll very likely say it again, wine makes a fabulous gift both for close friends and casual acquaintances (providing they drink, of course). Now, we all have favorites that we like to share, but just in case you’re looking for something different to try, here are a few bottles I’ve recently had the opportunity to sample.



[yellow tail] is always a good wine for its price point and the Big Bold Red is a a good, solid table wine. Flavors of rich fruits and a bit of spice make this a very easy-drinking wine that will pair well with most rich, hearty meals and was especially tasty with grilled steak the other night.

The Calling was a new brand to me but hails from the Alexander Valley in California. We’re not usually Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers, but we paired The Calling’s Cab Sauv with baked ziti and it blended perfectly. So if you’re heading to a big Italian-style feast for Christmas Eve, this is the bottle to bring. Their Chardonnay features fruity notes of melon, lemon, and nectarine as has been aptly described as luscious. Pair it with rich, buttery seafood dishes.

For something a bit more festive, the Eppa SupraFruta Sangria is just what you want for a casual gathering of friends, tapas optional. Super-fruits are still very in right now, so would  make a great gift for the wine drinker who likes to infuse even cocktail hour with a dose of power-foods. The red sangria includes pomegranate, blueberry, blood orange, and acai juices, while the white includes mangosteen, peach, mango, and blood orange again. It also features certified-organic grapes, which explains why I saw it prominently displayed at our local Whole Foods.

And for the countdown to 2014, a little bubbly would not go amiss. While French Champagne is still highly regarded, Prosecco is a wonderful alternative (as we’ve already discussed). The Enza Prosecco pictured would be wonderful for toasts at midnight while carrying you through to mimosa’s in the morning to start the year off right. They say eating 12 grapes is an old Italian tradition for predicting which months will be sweet–I wonder how that counts if you drink them?


So maybe you’ve got friends who are more cocktail-oriented than wine. While I would suggest a bottle of Velvet Cinn for those friends, sometimes you want something other than a bottle to gift. In that case, I have two books that might just fill that need.

From the same pen that brought us Savory Pies, Greg Henry has now turned the sweet cocktail trend on its ear and compiled and created 100 savory cocktails recipes that run the gamut from sour to umami and all points in between. In fact, that’s exactly how the book is organized, with cocktails that share tingling taste-buds buddying up in the pages. A pleasure to read, Henry’s Savory Cocktails features plenty of newsy notes throughout the book and, as befitting a professional photographer, gorgeous photos of the cocktails as well.

Fashionable Cocktails

On the other end of the spectrum is The Fashionable Cocktail, 200 recipes compiled by Australian fashion journalist Jane Rocca and accompanied by the delightful watercolor illustrations of Neryl Walker. If you’re expecting cocktails inspired by fashion icons and wardrobe staples, you’re shopping in the wrong store. Instead, Rocca categorizes the cocktails she’s collected from bars in Melbourne, Syndey, and New York City bartenders by the type of girl most likely to drink them. Chapters include The Vintage Girl, The Luxe Label Girl, and The Hipster Girl, to name just a few.

Bottom line? As long as the gift comes from the heart, it will always be in good taste.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!


I received the above-mentioned books and bottles for purpose of review. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.




A fruited wine beverage, Sangria has as many variations as it has makers. The downside, generally speaking, is that to make good Sangria you need time. Namely, time for the fruit to mix and meld with the other ingredients. But what if you want Sangria now, and you’ve got all the parts but you’d rather drink it tonight as opposed to tomorrow? Are you doomed to a passable but not spectacular bottled version? Is there a happy medium between 8-hours and a screw-top bottle?

I think so.

In fact, my theory is that you can “fake” the steeping period by the application of gentle heat to the fruit and any other items you are adding to the wine base (because in addition to a variety of fruits and their juices, brandy, spices or even some flavored vodka could be used). In this scenario, you could then have a very flavorful Sangria in an hour or so, instead of overnight. Plus, you can make just enough for a drink or two (or a person or two) without needing to make an entire pitcher.

Red Sangria for 2

Combine in a small saucepan:

1 lime, cut into slices
2 strawberries, hulled and halved
a couple chunks of pineapple
1 Tbsp white sugar
2 Tbsp hot water
Small cinnamon stick (optional)

Bring this mix to a gentle simmer then reduce heat to low. Use a muddler or wooden spoon to gently break up the fruit. After about 10 minutes, add

1-2 oz vanilla vodka

turn off the burner and let the mixture sit for another 10-15 minutes.

Pour the fruit mix (sans cinnamon stick) into a glass jar or carafe or divide between two tall glasses. Pour in

4-6 oz. red table wine per glass

and refrigerate for 1 hour.  Serve with more fruit, if desired, and enjoy your drink!

Variation: White Sangria for 2

Substitute a handful of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries for the lemon and pineapple in the red version and skip the cinnamon stick. Use Apple Brandy instead of the vodka and a white wine for the red.

Compared to the bottled Sangria I picked up for comparison, both of my versions (actually, all four since I tried each fruit/liquor combo with each wine just out of curiosity) were less sweet than the pre-made. You could add orange juice (red) or white grape juice (white) if you wanted a fruitier, sweeter beverage or add club soda or some other fizzy drink for a bubbly version.