Thursday, December 13, 2012

Harry and David: Gifts for All Seasons!

As you might suspect with Christmas coming up, rich people have an enormous gift list and the task of getting it all done can be quite overwhelming.

But not to worry. They have hired help in this area - all the way from shopping, to wrapping, to delivering or shipping: Secretaries, Personal Assistants, House Managers, Butlers and Personal Shoppers in their favorite department stores are all involved in this annual nightmare.

Around here, my employers usually do their own shopping for their family members and closest friends. Which, by the way, doesn't exclude the house staff from wrapping, delivering or shipping their precious treasures. But what about the vast number of acquaintances, business associates and corporate employees - some of whom they like, dislike, or maybe even loathe?

For these perfunctory types of gifts they often resort to food and booze. An expensive bottle of brandy or champagne, or gourmet foods from an upscale department store like Harrods of London,  or perhaps a selection of expensive nuts or candies from a local supplier.

Meant to show respect rather than intimacy, these gifts are perfectly okay, and the recipients more or less understand the sentiment. The trick here is how big the treat package should be. After all, it's more about making a statement than about the cost.

For example, there's a company the rich often resort to called Harry and David that specializes in corporate gifts. This excellent company has been around for seventy-five years and has categories of fun and fancifully-packaged goodies from $50 to over $200 per package. No muss, no fuss. Just call them up and read down your gift list, including the price range for each recipient, and they'll do all the rest - including shipping and a gift card.

The fun thing is, if you're on the receiving end of a gift from Harry and David you can go to their website and see exactly how much the sender paid, and where you stand in their fickle esteem.

If it's small and in the fifty dollar range, you've still got lots of work to do. But if it's big and grand, two-hundred bucks or more, then you're moving right along and may someday arrive on their personal gift list. (Just be sure that's what you want. When dealing with the rich there's always a price to pay for their notice, kindness or generosity.)

If you haven't completed your Christmas shopping yet, as of today there's still almost a couple of weeks to get in touch with Harry and David or other similar stores, and still enough time to have your gifts shipped on time - and yes, there's always overnight air for last minute oversights.

Hope this has been helpful, but more importantly I hope you're nearing an end to your shopping chores. Last minute rushing around can be such a pain.

Thanks for dropping in,



Friday, December 7, 2012

Addendum to "What is Champagne?"

In last night's post entitled What is Champagne I was pointing out that usage of the word champagne is protected by treaties and should apply only to sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of France.

But I entirely forgot to mention the wines should also be produced under the rules of appellation, even in France. 

And I also failed to mention a couple of major loopholes

One being that not all countries signed the treaties and don't give a hoot about the rules.

The other being that it's grudgingly allowed to use the word champagneas long as the country or region of origin is also clearly present on the label to distinguish it from sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region in France.

Thus in the United States for example you'll see some vineyards that will label their sparkling wines as American Champagne, or California Champagne. A questionable practice as far as I'm concerned, but so be it. 

Sorry for the oversight and confusion. Anyhow, enjoy the bubbly - no matter where the heck it comes from.

Thanks again for reading,


Thursday, December 6, 2012

What is Champagne?

With all the holidays upon us, sparkling wine is flying off the store shelves as fast as it can be stocked. The champagne days are here again.

While most of us bring out the bubbly only during the holidays and other happy occasions such as birthdays, Bon Voyage parties and job promotions, some even open a bottle during more questionable events such as engagement announcements and weddings. 

Still others, like my rich employers, will pop a cork at the drop of a hat - reunions with old friends, reunions with new friends, a champagne luncheon,  even after a hard day of shopping. Any time in their estimattion is the proper time for champagne. Here are some wonderful quotes on the subject, supplied to us by Miss Helen.

Madame Lily Bollinger:  "I only drink champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not in a hurry, and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch the stuff, unless I'm thirsty."

Bette Davis"There comes a time in every woman's life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne."

Miss Helen's response to Miss Davis"I would amend that to say a bottle of champagne!"

So what is champagne anyhow? The short answer is that it's just a wine or a blend of up to three wines that requires a secondary fermentation in each individual bottle. It's the on-going fermentation within the bottle that creates all the bubbles (some 50,000,000 per bottle) which in turn creates the dazzling sparkle in a champagne glass. And it's the enormous pressure (90 PSI in the bottle compared to 32 PSI in a car tire) that makes the cork pop out with such force.

The invention required special bottles of course (the thanks going to British glass makers in the mid 1600's) that can withstand the pressure, and special wired-down corks that wouldn't pop out during the final fermentation process.

The generic name for wines produced in this way is Sparkling Wine. The label Champagne however is both reserved and legally protected by international treaties (the Treaty of Madrid in 1891 and reaffirmed after World War I by the Treaty of Versailles) and should be applied only to sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of France.  

Thus wines produced anywhere else in the very same way (Cava in Spain and Spumante in Italy, for example) cannot be labeled champagne. In America it's usually labeled Sparkling Wine by most vineyards. But in speech it's perfectly ok to refer to all these sparkling wines as champagne, even the inexpensive varieties in the supermarket. We all do that, right?

By the way, many sparkling wines are rather sweet due to a small amount of sugar added to increase the fermentation within the bottle. But in the last century a dryer and more popular version without the extra sugar became available, referred to as Brut on the label. So if sweet champagne gives you a headache and hangover, you'd be better off with brut.
While really great champagnes can range from $2,000 to $20,000 per bottle, for large parties my employers usually stick to more modestly priced Bollingers and Krugs in the $500-$750 per-bottle range.

However, for regular people we can find a decent Krug in the fifty to seventy-five dollar range. Moet and Chandon even has a respectable non-vintage brut sold in supermarkets in the twenty dollar range. (In college we used to drink cheap Andre in the five or six dollar range - and boy, talk about a headache!)

While there's a popular myth that Dom Perignon (a French Benedictine monk in the sixteenth century) invented champagne, it's simply not so. What he did was tinker with the blends and ultimate taste, making him a master wine maker in the field of sparkling wines. But the process of making champagne was developed long before he arrived on the scene.

Well, this has been way too long, but it's that time of year again when champagne is called for. Hope you enjoy it, and thanks for stopping by this evening.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Healthy Hors D'oeuvres for the Rich!

Okay, I just got busted again for alcohol - not by the cops but by my dear doctor in the annual physical. "Once again your B12's are a bit scanty" she accused. Apparently alcohol blows away your B vitamins and I had been dreading her scowl all day. It's really hard to lie your way out of lab results.

So what to do? An internet search for natural ways to pump up the 12's yielded some interesting news. It seems that lots of the hors d'oeuvres rich people have at cocktail parties are loaded with B12's. I don't know if this is merely a coincidence or a strategic move on their part to counteract all the alcohol they consume.

But apparently Liver Pates from mammals or fowl and Caviar from expensive Beluga or inexpensive Lump Fish are all loaded with B12's - yay! During her Thanksgiving visit Miss Helen also reminded me that Champagne is full of antioxidants and if mixed with orange juice (Mimosas) or peach juice (Bellini's) then you have some Vitamin C and Potassium mixed in to boot. Double yay!

So for the immediate future I'm going to copy the diets of the rich to see if the B12's come up. A simple and elegant diet of liver pate, caviar, and Champagne. How could you go wrong? Which of course doesn't exclude other left-over hors d'oeuvres like crab-stuffed celery stalks and salmon on toast - all of which have a special place in my heart and their own nutritional values, right?

We'll see. I suppose I could eliminate alcohol, since that seems to be the main culprit. But that's not really dealing with reality, is it? So I'll give this replacement therapy a try and see what happens.

Thanks for dropping in this evening,