Monthly Archives: September 2009

Women&Wine -A Novice’s Guide to Learning How to Find and Buy Wine

I’ve probably mentioned before that I’m one of the few people I know who love wine who take a picture of the label of every bottle with my cell phone that I’m interested in buying after I’ve tried a glass.

There’s just too much information out there that my brain can’t remember every detail – and sometimes, if it’s been a special occasion or a more formal tasting, it’s just too difficult to write notes and enjoy the experience.

The picture or visual image triggers the memory – and also helps me to have the exact spelling of the wine, the year and the importer or distributor.

I use this information in a number of ways and so I thought (since you’ve become so savvy) that I would share with you where to look for wine when you’re in the mood to buy.

First, I go to The pros and sophisticated consumers know this site well. Based in New Zealand, the site collects inventory information from wine retail establishments across the U.S. and sometimes worldwide to bring you a snapshot of who’s carrying what bottles, a view of the pricing and also the contact information on where to buy. You don’t actually pay for or buy anything from the site – retailers advertise their inventory (also some auction houses and places that might not actually have the bottles in stock but claim they can get them for you on short notice).

You have to have the exact spelling of the wine correct – this is true on most sites  – and sometimes you won’t find any info if you put in too much of a descriptor (or not enough) so be patient with it the first few times around.

You can enroll in their “Pro” version for $29.95 annually which broadens the search but don’t forget to define your parameters – i.e. if you want to buy it locally then just put in your state – otherwise it will locate the wine anywhere that it’s in stock – which means shipping, etc.

It lists the wine from least expensive to most and you should also take note that if the price seems too good on the lower end it is probably for a .375 bottle size – although their can be wild swings in pricing too.

If you’re looking for older vintages, you can also just put in the year – let’s say 1949 – and it will bring up a list of every bottle on the site that was produced in that year. Pretty great if you’re looking for a gift for someone’s big bday.

If you find that there are companies that are saying that they have the wine and then they don’t, report it to Wine Searcher as they do want the most accurate info available and want to police the site to make sure that consumers are receiving the most up-to-date info possible. – this is an amazing collection of reviews from both pros and novices about the wines that they have tasted or own. There’s also a free cellar management tool that you can use. The site asks for voluntary contributions to use it which is also probably one of the cooler things going. What I love about this site is that you can sort the reviews of a particular wine by vintage year and side by side compare them – great if you’re trying to decide between bottles of differing vintages to purchase. It also links to the data base and so you can read the reviews and then find the wine. – I like the tools on this site that tell you whether the average price of the bottle you’re interested in is going up or down in the market – perfect if you are considering investing or want to know if that wine you’ve been waiting to drink may have peaked in the marketplace. Also great to help you negotiate with a private seller who might think that their wine is worth 2007 prices. They are reliable for purchases too and if you have wine to sell have created a marketplace where you can list your collection – check the site for fees, etc. – You may think that this site is too upscale for you – too elite – but I like to use this site for a number of things – especially to see the range on prices of wine from the release price to the current date. It’s also great for year over year comparision of different vintages – especially if you’re looking to lay down some wine and want to know if it will hold. There’s lots of other info as well for hard core and beginning wine lovers. Regardless of whether you agree with rankings, scores, etc. the site is well done and has a ton of information.

There’s a lot of information out there so there’s no need to “jump” before you do your research on what you’re buying particularly if it’s a wine that needs cellaring time.

Share you thoughts on what resources you use to shop for a wine you just discovered.



Remembering Silver Palate Founder Sheila Lukins

I was traveling this past Monday so missed the news of the passing of Sheila Lukins on August 30, 2009 at age 66 of brain cancer. My husband Marc said,”you should write something about Sheila since the Silver Palate was such a part of our lives together in the late 70’s and early 80’s in New York.”

I looked at him intently and thought how right he was. We ‘grew up’ with Sheila and her partner Julee’s The Silver Palate when we moved in together in Manhattan in 1980.

I hadn’t had time earlier in the week to take the time to write this blog and was really surprised this morning when I googled Lukins to see that not very much had been written on this woman who influenced the way we cooked and whose cookbooks sold over 7 million copies. Time magazine has a few paragraphs about her but there’s too much to this story to be reduced to so few words.

Marc reminds me of the Silver Palate store on 73rd and Columbus – our first stomping grounds since my first job our of college was at Lincoln Center and of how, when you saw their products anywhere it was a signal of good taste and good eats to come. We take for granted now that their bottled dressings, marinades and other offerings on the supermarket shelves but what we forget is that they were pioneers in the world of bringing gourmet staples to the masses.

I pulled my copy of “Basics” off the shelf as I’m writing this – it’s stuffed with stained bookmarks and opens automatically to Pasta Primavera on page 136 and page 510 Veal and Mushroom stew. The index is falling out and there are dishes in there that I know we loved like the Market Street Meat Loaf served at the Venice, CA restaurant of the same name that was in our old ‘hood in our early years in CA. Their notes that Vogue magazine termed it “the ultimate meat loaf” made me laugh as it was so true.

I panic for a minute when I can’t find The Silver Palate Cookbook on my shelves but there it is and it too is marked on the page for Carrot and Orange Soup. I think we ate this as a first course not only at our house but at every friend’s who loved to entertain at home.

It surprised me to learn that Lukins had replaced Julia Child at Parade magazine as the food editor and contributor in 1986 and that she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1991 that almost killed her and paralyzed her left side.

The store in NYC was sold in 1988 and closed by the new owners in 1993 and while the partners split in a widely publicized breakup in the 90’s they reunited in 2007 for a 25th anniversary edition of The New Basics Cookbook.

Lutkins learned in June of this year that she had brain cancer and was with her family when she died last weekend at age 66.

I didn’t get a chance to speak with Katie Workman this week – now the editor of The Hungry Beast – whose Workman publishing was responsible for bringing these books into my life and the lives of so many other wanna be cooks – men and women who relied on them for their home entertaining tips. I’d forgotten too how the illustrations in the book set them apart from any cookbook I’ve seen and that we assembled the dishes to look like theirs so easily from them.

I’m wondering if Katie and I were ever in the little shop on 73rd at the same time and remembering how excited we got walking through the door feeling guilty for our splurge on the raspberry vinaigrette dressing or some other treat.

Others in NY took the trends that Lukins and Rosso started and incorporated them into their own operations but they were really the first and a gift of their products was a sign of impeccable taste then – and still is now. I think I’ll pick up a bottle of their dressing today as a tribute to Sheila and toast to her life which served to enrich ours.

To read the NYTimes obituary