Review: Tovolo Sphere Clear Ice System

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Nothing makes a better statement in a cocktail than using a single piece of ice to chill it. Up the ante by making that a sphere instead of a cube. Up it again by ensuring the ice is crystal clear, not cloudy.

The secret of clear ice was figured out a long time ago: Water that freezes very slowly is clearer, because the trapped gasses in the water have time to escape. The home method to do this is to freeze water inside a series of coolers. The catch: This takes an insane amount of room in your freezer, and a very long time. And at the end, you still have to carve your own cubes or spheres out of the block of ice you have.

Tovolo attempts to solve all of these problems with this unique product which promises to make clear, spherical ice balls without nearly as much hassle.

You put together the inner (green) silicone components, then fill with water through a hole in the top. Then you surround that with a plastic sleeve. The sleeve acts as the second cooler in the operation, slowing down the freezing process (a lot). It takes a solid 12 hours or more for the ice in the inner silicone mold to freeze. You are actually left with two spheres — the one on the bottom is a pretty cloudy mess, but the one on top is supposed to be the clear one. Results? Well, after several tests, the ice that came out was clearer than any other ice in my freezer, but nothing I’d describe as “crystal clear,” which the box (and the picture on the box) touts. Check the photo to the right to see for yourself.

While $16 isn’t going to break the bank, there are plenty of spherical molds on the market that will get you roughly the same results as this one, with considerably less hassle. Note that Tovolo also makes a cube ice version of the product, should right angles become hot in 2017.

$16 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: 2013 Saved Red Wine

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A blend of “Merlot, Malbec, Syrah, Zinfandel, and small amounts of other red varietals,” this is a California bottling from parts otherwise unknown. The wine is initially dialed back, but some air and time in glass reveals a denser-than-expected fruit core that showcases blackberries, blueberries, and currants. There’s a lacing of vanilla and a touch of balsamic in the mix, with a finish that echoes cake frosting (but in a good way), plus a hint of chocolate-dusted, bittersweet amaro.

The wine is also being released in conjunction with a new corkscrew designed by Saved creator Scott Campbell, who is a tattoo artist. Some deets:

Available at Shinola stores and online in time for the holidays, the solid brass corkscrew marries form and function to bring a little ceremony to the everyday act of opening a bottle of wine. With its intricate design of sigils, reflective of Scott’s tattoo style, this piece makes a perfect gift for those who appreciate design and fine wine equally. Available exclusively for holiday 2016 in Shinola stores and online at shinola.com for $125.

B+ / $16 / savedwines.com

Review: Kuvee Wine Preservation System

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How to deal with the conundrum of leftover wine has been an issue that has dogged us for ages, and while numerous solutions work well, none is perfect.

Kuvee thinks it has the answer with this: A high-tech wine dispenser that lets you pour one glass at a time while ensuring the wines inside last for weeks.

The solution is quite a cutting-edge one. Kuvee is a sleeve that goes on top of a custom (this is key) bottle of wine. On the front of the sleeve is a web-connected color touchscreen that provides copious information about the wine, including a picture of the label, a winemaker bio, tasting notes, and more. The screen shows you when the bottle was opened and even keeps track of how much is left. A base station recharges the Kuvee every time you set it down, much like an electric toothbrush. Want more wine? You can actually buy it directly from the Kuvee, which is perhaps the first time I’ve had a bottle of wine offer to sell me another one.

I tried Kuvee with a white and a red, pouring out about half, then waiting two full weeks to see how well the wines fared. Both sailed through without an issue, tasting as fresh on day 14 as they did on day one. If you like to have multiple bottles in rotation and don’t like existing preservation methods, Kuvee is a winning solution.

The problem however is that Kuvee only works with those custom bottles (plastic canisters with a collapsing bladder inside), and there are only a couple dozen wines available. Most of those are relatively low-end. Exceptions like Chamisal, Round Pond, and Clos Pegase exist, but these aren’t the norm. I had never heard of the red I was sent, a $15 wine called Cartlidge & Browne, and it wasn’t terribly drinkable no matter what day I tried it on.

It’s nice that Kuvee requires no argon or other consumables, but the requirement of buying custom bottles will be a deal-breaker for most consumers. Unless Kuvee manages to expand to several hundred wineries at a minimum, it’ll be best reserved for restaurants with limited wine-by-the-glass programs where customers don’t get through a whole bottle every night.

$199 (with four wines) / kuvee.com

Gift Idea: Etched Globe Decanter with Matching Glasses

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Keeping your whiskey in a decanter is a fancy way to serve spirits, but short of etching a monogram on the bottle, your options for showing off are limited. Instead, try this, MoonRise Market’s decanter that comes in the shape of a globe and comes complete with geographical etchings as well as its own stand, which allows the decanter to rotate just like the real thing.

This perhaps isn’t the most practical decanter, but it does make a real statement on your bar. It’s also paired with two matching glasses, similarly semi-globular and also etched with a map of the world, and includes a funnel to help get your hooch from the bottle into the decanter.

Fun stuff, and I’ve been enjoying using it for one of my bespoke blends.

$66 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Coravin Model One Wine Preservation System

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Since I reviewed the first Coravin wine preservation system in 2013 — the first review of the device ever published #humblebrag — the company has been up to a lot of work. The Coravin Model 1000 is now known as the Coravin Model Eight. A luxe edition called the Coravin Model Two has been released, and now there is a third version: A less expensive system called the Coravin Model One.

The Model One is designed to be millennial-friendly, clad in more Ikea-friendly white and blue plastic instead of black and silver. Other than that, slightly lighter materials, and some very minor design tweaks, I can tell you that after experimenting with both the Model One and the original Model 1000/Model Eight side by side, they are functionally identical.

Both devices work the same way: A needle goes down through the cork, wine comes out, and argon gas goes in. Argon canisters are replaceable (each handles about 3 bottles of wine) at a price of roughly $10 a canister, so figure a bit under $1 per glass for expendables. Both use the same needle (the Model Two has a slightly “faster” needle) and work exactly the same way.

So, if you’re considering a Coravin, should you spend $200 on the Model One or $300 on the Model Eight? Well, the blue and white color scheme isn’t the most attractive, but the Coravin isn’t all that handsome of a device to start with, no matter what color it is. If you’re choosing to keep the device in a drawer instead of on display (and since the Model One doesn’t come with a stand, you pretty much have to), I wouldn’t hesitate to save the hundred bucks and put that toward wine instead of gadgetry.

A / $200 / coravin.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Drinkmate Home Carbonation System

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The SodaStream home carbonation system has been around long enough to become a beloved kitchen companion for many — but the device is famous for one very stern rule: It is only to be used to carbonate water.

Of course there are myriad other beverages out there that could stand the fizzy treatment. If you want to make a spritzy margarita, carbonated coffee, or some faux-secco, officially you would be out of luck with the SodaStream. (That said, scofflaws abound.)

Enter the Drinkmate, which has no onerous threats of voiding your warranty if you put anything besides water in it. In fact, Drinkmate encourages fizzy mixology (“carbonology,” they call it) and provides a variety of instructions on how much CO2 to pump into various types of drinks.

In practice, Drinkmate works a lot like SodaStream, though it lacks the maturity and finish the older device now offers. A can of CO2 pops into the back. A custom container clips onto the front, and the user presses a button up top to inject bubbles into the canister. The trick is a special adapter fitted with a release valve that prevents disastrously messy over-foaming, a problem that many cite when trying to use the SodaStream to carbonate things other than water.

It takes some doing to carbonate a lot of beverages. I spent nearly 10 minutes turning still rose into sparkling rose, with only so-so results to show for it. A sparkling margarita was much more successful from a technical standpoint — and more fun to drink too.

While Drinkmate runs about $20 more than a SodaStream (CO2 canisters are also pricey) and lacks some of the bells and whistles of the more mature device, for mixology tinkerers who want to push the boundaries of what they can carbonate, it’s a reliable and capable device that works as advertised and won’t make a mess out of your bar.

And of course, you can also use it to carbonate water should the mood strike.

B+ / $110 / idrinkproducts.com [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Aervana Wine Aerator

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Aervana is yet another wine aeration system, and this one has a twist: It has batteries. Rather than pour wine through the device, the Aervana sits on top of the bottle and pumps wine up through a tube, and sends the air-infused wine out through a spigot, into your waiting glass.

Aervana (rightly) claims a lot of “firsts” with this device: It offers a constant flow rate, it leaves sediments at the bottom of the bottle, and it’s a bit less dramatic than what often happens when you try to hold a traditional aerator between bottle and glass.

Those are all good plusses — and the sediment factor alone merits Aervana serious consideration — but the device isn’t without its drawbacks. First, I simply don’t like putting stuff (namely plastic stuff) in my wine. It’s probably just my own conceited snobbery, but dipping these plastic tubes into bottles (and later cleaning them) strikes me the wrong way. If you don’t finish the bottle in one sitting, that means multiple cleanups if you want to close the bottle with a Vacuvin device or other stopper, too.

Since Aervana is a pump (6 AAA batteries, included, are required), it makes noise, and certainly becomes the center of attention whenever it is activated. The wine flow is slow to start and slow to finish, dribbling out for quite a while after you release the button up top. Fortunately it doesn’t seem to drip after the flow finally stops, which would have been a deal killer.

As for its results, it works well, really airing-up wine to the point where it is positively frothy when it hits the glass. All told it works as well as other aerators; if you have a tight or closed wine, it can really help some of the more engaging flavors come to the fore.

For $100, the Aervana is decidedly pricey, so you’ll need to think carefully as to whether it’s for you. I’ll probably keep it on hand mainly for use with older, sediment-heavy bottles that I’m just too lazy to decant.

B / $100 / aervana.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

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