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Monday, February 22, 2010

The Right Gift At The Right Price

That's what we're all looking for, isn't it? We've put together a new lookbook of unique, nifty $85-$200 gifts that you won't see everywhere.

Just in time for the Oscar winners in your life, or for anyone you want to impress.

When you see what you like, call us at (310) 581-6710 and we'll get it for you. Don't see what you're looking for? Call us, we'll show you more gift suggestions.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Annals of Luxury: Consumers Are Forsaking Pricey California Wines. Bad For Vinters, Good For You

California's winemakers could use a stiff drink.

In July we reported that the prices of premium California wines had dropped, as consumers abandoned expensive cabs and proprietary blends in favor of budget bottles from lesser producers.

Wineries had hoped that the trend would reverse itself during the holiday season. No such luck. Wine sales continued to spiral downward, leaving wineries and distributors with even larger inventories than anticipated.

The wine industry views 2009 as the worst year in memory, according to a report by the California Farm Bureau Federation.

It's a double whammy for producers of fine wines, those in the $50 - $150 range. Consumers are buying fewer premium bottles and expect to pay less for them. Half the bottles at the half the price. That's the predicament roiling the Golden State wine industry today.

As if this isn't bad enough, the state's wineries are facing increased competition from foreign producers, also suffering from the global economic downturn and changing consumer behavior.

Overseas vintners have seen a sharp fall in exports to the U.S., the world's second largest wine market. American imports of French wines and spirits tumbled 22.7% last year. Exports of French champagne plummeted an eye-popping 28%, according to the Associated Press.

It's not going to get better anytime soon. Experts predict that it will be a year or more before conditions start to improve. Others are fearful that consumer preferences may have shifted unalterably. Is a $150 cab really worth it when there are plenty of outstanding choices at one-third to one-half the price?

In the meantime, winemakers are preparing for the worst.  They are walking away from contracts they signed last year with grape growers, laying off staff, revising marketing and distribution plans, and pruning costs wherever they can.

Out of chaos comes opportunity for those with cash.

The best bargains are to be found on the Internet. Two websites offer daily specials of terrific wines at deep discounts.

Check winestilsoldout.com and cinderellawine.com frequently to see what's on offer.

(Example: WTSO recently listed the 2005 Roca di Castagnoli Chianti Classico Poggio Ai Frat, rated 91 by Robert Parker, for $24.99 a bottle. It's normally $45.)

Good deals are also to be found at wine.com and ambrosiawine.com. Sign up for their e-mails to be notified of sales.

For more on the plight of California vintners, see Corie Brown's article in the March issue of Entrepreneur and also this recent article in the Los Angeles Times.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Enlightened Traveler: Venice With Julie Christie in the Winter

As we grew up and still live in Southern California – where it can be 80º on Christmas day – our idea of a winter vacation has very little to do with Hawaii, the Caribbean, or (with the exception of Rio de Janeiro) anyplace tropical.

What is more romantic than Venice in the winter?

Au contraire! We enjoy donning our toasty Loro Piano cashmere scarves and sweaters to go shopping and museum hopping in Paris, London, or New York during November or December.

We also like taking long afternoon walks on the deserted, gray beaches of Cape Cod, then snuggling by the fireplace on a long January's night.

Thus, it does not at all seem odd to suggest that now is a wonderful time to visit Venice, Italy. Or so we read in the estimable Financial Times.

Who can resist Venice when described like this?
Even on the dullest days the lagoon has an opalescent glow, and there are times in late February when the light has an almost African brilliance and a clarity you don’t find at any other time of year, when the snow-covered Dolomite peaks 100 miles to the north appear in the shimmering sky over the lagoon.
Or like this:
Venice becomes a different place [in winter]. The sense of this ancient, decaying city as a slightly sinister labyrinth – unforgettably captured in the 1973 film "Don’t Look Now" – comes to the fore.
Okay! We're checking the flight schedules right now. You can read the FT's article in full right here.

As for Nicolas Roeg's memorable movie, a '70s favorite, what wouldn't we have done back then to be in Venice with the incandescent Julie Christie?

Or with Susan Anspach, radiant and unattainable in Paul Mazursky's still enjoyable Blume in Love, a good deal of which takes place in a fog shrouded Venice?

Or with the ambrosial Daniela Bianchi (at right) in the great second Bond film, From Russia With Love, which starts in Turkey and concludes in Venice (with nary a stop in the Soviet Union) as the evil Rosa Krebb (the original Frau Farbissener, Lotte Lenya) gets the drop on Bond, and holds him at gunpoint, but the gun is knocked away by Romanova (Bianchi)?

Klebb releases her poisoned toe-spike (ouch!), but Bond pins her to the wall with a dining chair. Romanova grabs the gun and shoots Klebb. Riding in a gondola, Bond throws the compromising film of him and Romanova into the water, and they sail away. Whew!

There are many more memorable movies set in Venice: Summertime (noteworthy because Katharine Hepburn falls into the Grand Canal) and A Little Romance (starring the adorable, unknown Diane Lane and the much less adorable Laurence Olivier), to name just two.

And speaking of Laurence Olivier, remember him as Neil Diamond's elderly cantor father in the misguided 1980 remake of The Jazz Singer? Diamond, in the role of Yussel Rabinovitch (we kid you not!), utters this memorable line of dialogue on the phone to Sir Laurence: "I can't go to synagogue tonight, Pop. I have to cut a record." (Oy!)

All of which brings us to something called The Maori Merchant of Venice.

We discovered this unlikely gem when researching this post. It's a 2002 New Zealand film adaptation of Shakespeare's play in the Maori language, utilizing mostly Maori actors. The film recreates the costumes and settings of 16th century Venice.

Incredible as it seems, the picture got impressive reviews. Alas, it's not available here even on Netflix.

Fortunately, we'll aways have Venice in the winter.

For more winter trips, read our post on Paris at the holidays.

Black and white photo of Venice: Beetle

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Enlightened Traveler: New York Is Now The Meatball Capital

There's a store for everything in New York. Add meatballs to the list of Manhattan's specialty outlets.

The Meatball Shop will open on Wednesday in the Lower East Side, reports today's New York Times.

Choose from beef and spicy pork as well as chicken, vegetable, salmon and a weekly special. Sauce, cheese, starchy accompaniments and some vegetables round out the menu.

For dessert? Housemade ice cream squashed between freshly-baked cookies.

Prices start at about $3. Take the F train to Delancey Street, then take a number!

The Meatball Shop, 84 Stanton Street (Allen Street just below Houston), (212) 982-8895

You can make your own delicious meatballs at home.

Use a combination of meats, fresh (not dried) breadcrumbs, and don't overmix or handle the meat too much.

For a spicy twist, try Spaghetti and Meatballs All'Amatriciana, the cover recipe from the January 2010 issue of Bon Appetit magazine.

Photo of meatballs: New York Magazine