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Need a stocking stuffer? Try a bottle of wine

Few gifts are more perfectly crafted to be holiday stocking-stuffers than bottles of wine. Whether red or white, a good wine that’s a well-considered match for its recipient makes the perfect gift. Here are few wines that will bring a smile to the face of your favorite oenophile.

Riesling fans will take a shine to Biohof Pratsch 2014 Grüner Veltlinger ($13), made from what may be considered the famous German wine grape’s Austrian equivalent. The wine pours light yellow with greenish hues, delivering a blend of tangy fruits and refined spices for refreshed, satisfied palate.

Two wines from Oregon’s King Estates “Backbone” series are worthy of note. The 2014 Backbone Pinot Gris ($26) arrives with a bright melon-citrus nose followed by flavors of lime, pineapple and honey with just a touch of minerality for character.

The Backbone Pinot Noir ($53) offers even more to like. The nose of black cherries, currants, mushroom and even cigar box give way to rich flavors of plum, dark chocolate, strawberries and the ubiquitous “forest floor” about which some wines like to brag. This is a fine example of all of the above.

November is Beaujolais season, and the 2012 Stephane Aviron Morgon Cote du Py ($23) lifts the French region’s wines well above the “nouveau” stage. The 100 percent Gamay wine is vibrant and ripe, with fine depth and an approachable flavor of fruit and terroir that helps it stand beside any other Burgundy.

Similar in approach, but significantly more accomplished, is the 2011 Hecht & Bannier Bandol ($40). The primarily mouvèdre (80 percent) blend offers flavors of ripe black fruits, black pepper and leather and earth nuances that ride on a medium-weight palate to a savory finish.

Follow the “earthy” character of wine further down the trail with the 2011 Castelo Monaci Artas Primitivo Salento IGT ($42). Produced from 100 percent primitivo grapes — a forerunner and cousin to zinfandel — the ruby red wine arrives with a blend of wild berries, herbs, walnuts and hint of toasted coffee beans for a rich, complex finish.

What makes an Oscarcast click? Will it click this year?

What are TV viewers seeking from their annual Oscar fix? The same thing they want from movies: drama, comedy, sex, slapstick, glamour and romance.

Of course, no single movie can do all that. No wonder the perfect Oscarcast is an impossible dream. No wonder so many previous Oscarcasts failed to measure up.

A perfect broadcast would include:

• Roberto Benigni scrambling over auditorium seats to claim his trophy (1998).

• An onstage streaker (1974).

• Cher in a collection of outrageous get-ups.

• A rematch between 2008 rivals James Cameron and ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow.

• That deliciously awful 1988 musical number with Rob Lowe and “Snow White.”

• More of Jack Palance’s one-armed pushups from beyond the grave.

• Plus the stirring acceptance speech by Halle Berry in 2002.

Not gonna happen.

We’ll just have to make do when the 87th annual Academy Awards show airs Sunday, Feb. 22, at 8 p.m. EST on ABC. Besides counter-programming on other networks, here’s what the Oscarcast is up against this year:


Everyone loves a blockbuster or two landing best-picture nods. It gets people talking and tuning it. But this year, big hits like “Interstellar” and “The Lego Movie” were snubbed, with the nominees almost uniformly “small” pictures — with the exception, of course, of “American Sniper,” whose box-office firepower in recent weeks has caught everyone off guard and triggered hero-or-killer disputes about its protagonist.

Even so, the favorites appear to be “Birdman” and “Boyhood,” both terrific films that may not be such conversation starters. To handicap their Oscar chances with your friends, you first have to find someone else who has seen them.


Procol Harum should be named this year’s Oscar house band.  As you may have noticed, there’s not much diversity among the nominees. Will the contenders’ pallor cast a pall on viewership, or will the uproar over the Academy’s single-mindedness prod movie fans to tune in and witness what they see as Oscar’s sins of omission?


Neil Patrick Harris is so talented and versatile other entertainers would probably endorse slapping a restraining order on him. Meanwhile, viewers clearly love him, and why wouldn’t they? On the other hand, he’s hosted the Tonys four times and the Emmys twice. Isn’t there someone else out there, maybe with new tricks up his or her sleeve, who could shake things up beyond Harris’ dependable excellence?


Nothing against the nominated directors, honest! But overall, these guys — no matter how admired and acclaimed —aren’t household names. Not yet, anyway. Here’s hoping that John Travolta (who already mangled Idina Menzel’s name on last year’s Oscarcast) isn’t the presenter.


Maybe a new way of watching the Oscars calls for a new kind of Oscarcast. Tom O’Neil, editor of the awards prediction website GoldDerby.com, thinks so.

“It used to be that viewership was tied to the popularity of the films in contention,” he says. “But there’s been a dramatic shift in the last few years since social media has started to matter.”

Now the Oscarcast, like lots of TV fare, is being fortified with a second screen enabling the viewer to participate, not just sit back and watch. This could signal a change in what draws viewers to the show and keeps them there.

“Everybody wants to watch,” says O’Neil, “then tweet to their friends what they’re thinking. That changes everything.”

Last year’s broadcast had a landmark moment when host Ellen DeGeneres arranged a all-star selfie. Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Spacey, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were among the A-listers crowding into the frame. DeGeneres then asked viewers (of which there were 43 million, the most for the Oscarcast in a decade) to help her set a retweet record. Legions quickly complied, sharing the photo throughout cyberspace and even briefly crashing Twitter.

Count on similar give-and-take Sunday night, says O’Neil, who offers his recipe for what a digital-age Oscarcast should be striving for.

“It doesn’t have to be oh-my-God-amazing,” he proposes. “It has to be an engaging, interactive experience.” And without the customary big-movie lures, “this is the year we may find out for sure if that’s true or not.”

Neil Patrick Harris to host Oscars

Neil Patrick Harris will host the 87th Oscar show live on ABC TV on Feb. 22, 2015.

Harris will follow in the footsteps of Ellen DeGeneres, who hosted the 2014 event on March 2, drawing the biggest Oscar viewership in 14 years, according to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science. An average audience of 45.4 million tuned in to watch DeGeneres, despite calls for boycotts from Republican evangelicals due to DeGeneres’ sexual orientation.

Harris, who has a supporting role in the current hit film Gone Girl, has previously appeared on the Academy Awards show, but February will mark his first time as host. Better known for his work on TV and Broadway, Harris has hosted both the Tony Awards and the Emmys. He’s won five Emmys, and earlier this year he took home a Tony for best lead in a musical for his role in ”Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” 

Harris is the first out gay man ever selected to host the industry’s most watched celebration of itself. With his strong background in musical theater, industry insiders expect his style to reflect that of Hugh Jackman, complete with a song-and-dance number mocking the year’s cinematic blockbusters and nominees.

Harris married his longtime other half David Burtka early this fall in Italy. The two are parents to twins Gideon and Harper.

Wine service 101: planning your party

You’re throwing a holiday gathering for a few friends. You want the vibe to be upbeat and upscale, but you don’t want to break the bank with beverage costs. What do you serve?

Why, wine, of course. You are well past the kegger days, and stocking the liquor cabinet for everyone’s cocktail preferences is too varied and expensive. The right wines can lend elegance and sophistication to your affair. Wine pairs well with food and can help you keep costs in line. Your friends may even make some exciting wine discoveries among the glasses you pour.

But there’s the rub. How do you choose from among the literally thousands of wines available today? How do you serve them properly? And is that $100 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon you covet really 50 times better than the Two Buck Chuck that has become your everyday plonk?

Here are some ideas to help you better navigate the thickets and vineyards of Wine Service 101.

Decide on a theme. Yes, it’s the holiday season, but everyone will be taking the same old winter-wonderland approach. You can, too, of course, but by adding a creative or thematic spin to the event, the décor or the menu you can make your gathering memorable. 

Your angle will help you choose the wine to serve. Spanish tapas, for example, cry out for Spanish wines. The same strategy can be used for food and wine pairings from other countries. 

Pick wines that pair with your menu. If your theme is an eclectic mix of influences and flavors, you can still match your wines to your menu. Everyone knows a big, bold red wine goes with red meat and bold sauces, but few people realize that a bright, fruity white pairs well with Asian food. What you decide to serve on the plate should determine what you pour in the glass.

Vary your selection. Experienced wine drinkers enjoy new discoveries, but many people have a preferred wine. As much as possible, offer a mix beyond mere red and white choices, with an eye toward a little creativity.

Your range of reds could include a robust cabernet sauvignon, a rustic and chewy zinfandel, or a more refined and transparent pinot noir. These days, more U.S. winemakers are experimenting with creative blends — a technique traditional to French wine production. A range of blends offers your cab aficionado and your zin fan different variations on familiar themes.

White wine fanciers tend to come in two main varieties, those who like oaky, buttery chardonnays — and everyone else. There is nothing like a sophisticated chard, but there is a lot to be said for tart, citrusy sauvignon blanc or a soft, supple riesling. Trade up your white wine drinkers by offering them a bright New Zealand sauvignon blanc or a drier, more refined Riesling from France’s Alsace region. They will appreciate the lesson and may even find a new wine to love.

Have the proper stemware available. Some people pride themselves on drinking Champagne from old jelly jars, but then some people just don’t know any better. You may not have the bucks to invest in a full line of Riedel stemware, but the right glass completes the wine in the same way the right frame enhances a painting.

Red wine should be served in stemmed goblets with bowls large enough to capture and deliver the aroma, which is an integral part of wine enjoyment. White wines generally have lighter aromas and work well in stemware with smaller bowls. 

The glass itself should be completely transparent — no color shades — so the drinker can check the wine’s color and transparency. Thinner glass does a better job of dispersing the wine’s various flavor elements to different spots on the palate and tongue, resulting in a more complete and comprehensive taste profile.

Sparkling wine drinkers should invest in Champagne flutes. The hollow-stemmed glasses are specifically designed to showcase the fun columns of bubbles rising in the glass.

Serve your wine at the proper temperature. The old adage that red wine should be served at room temperature evolved when the average room temperature in drafty European castles was 55 to 60 degrees. The most common mistake in serving wine today, in fact, is that red wine is served too warm and white wine is served too cold.

Temperature plays a role in unlocking a wine’s flavor. Chill wine too thoroughly and the flavors become muted, or not apparent at all. Serve a wine that’s too warm, especially a big red, and the alcohol may dominate the palate, muting the more refined and subtle flavors.

Red wines should be served at between 60 and 65 degrees, and white wines between 45 and 50 degrees. An easy way to accomplish this is to refrigerate your reds for 45 minutes before serving, and, if you store your whites in the fridge, take them out and let them warm up for 30 minutes before serving. You will be surprised what a difference this technique will make.

Finally, don’t forget the water. Despite being a beverage, alcohol also is a dehydrator. The more wine you drink, the thirstier your body will become. 

To combat this, serve your wine with water on the side. In addition to stretching your wine budget, the water will refresh your guests, can be used to cleanse their palates between glasses and help to mitigate the alcohol’s intoxicating effects. 

Even if you serve bottled water, it’s an inexpensive way to let your guests know you want them to have the best possible time at your gathering. And that’s what good hosting is all about.