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It’s that time of year again. The time when it seems like every other night you find yourself wandering the aisles of your local liquor store on your way to some coworker or friend or in-law’s house for dinner, staring open-mouthed at the infinite labels and trying to decide which $10 bottle of wine looks obscure enough that your host will never even find it in the most determined Google search let alone discover how much it cost. The time when getting totally shnackered and showing up to work drunk is pretty much a daily occurrence, and HR works overtime to mediate new, awkward relationships born of the infamous Holiday Office Party.

Yes, folks, this is the time of binge drinking and boozy gift-giving. Whatever your denomination, the entire month of December may as well be erased from history because it’s not like anyone every really remembers it anyway.

It was in this spirit that Champagne and Hotdogs created the first annual judgment-free holiday Q&A. It was your chance to ask any ridiculous wine-related question you could think of, beseech us for juicy advice and generally air your dirty, Merlot-stained laundry, anonymously. For the first time, you would not get verbally flogged by your stuffy Wine-Spectator-subscribing friends for not knowing the difference between Premier and Grand Cru, nor would you receive an eyeroll from your local wine merchant because you interrogated them for 30 minutes about the “nose” on that bottle of Santa Margherita. We were the Dan Savage of wine. You asked. We gave thoughtful, clever, only-very-mildly abusive responses. Here are some of our favorites:

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How do I avoid red wine teeth at parties?

There are several ways to avoid this. One is to drink white wine. Or, if you’re me, Champagne. But if you simply must have your holiday Cabernet, the obvious solution is to simply rinse with sparkling water between sips (or glasses). You can also stick to less inky wines – think Pinot Noir, Grenache, Gamay, Zweigelt, Lagrein and anything with an alcohol level under 13%. Oh, and seriously. Wipe your mouth. There is nothing more off-putting than chatting with someone sporting a wine mustache.

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What are the best late-night food pairings for hangover prevention?

Ever wake up next to a beer that has about one sip taken out of it, because the 15 you had before it simply weren’t enough and you just couldn’t go to bed without it? No? Ok, me neither. In any case, I hear water pairs amazingly well with Advil. Not quite the greasy binge you had in mind? I say go big or go home. Pizza and a bottle of Yellow Tail. Carne asada fries and more beer. You’re going to have a hangover anyway, so you may as well make it a good one. But if you do insist on being smart about your dumb decisions, think lighter style wines and good old fashioned artery-clogging, carb- and fat-heavy food. Better to go to bed with bacon than that 3 who magically turned into a 9 thanks to a few shots of Red Stag.

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No really, what the hell is a ‘tannin’?

It’s what we do on a beach in a bikini (Eh oh! Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be here all night). All comedy aside, we get this question at least once a day. In a very unhelpful nutshell, it is a polyphenolic compound found in red wine that comes from the stems, skins and seeds of the grape. Here are a few ways to get an idea of how to recognize tannins in wine:

  1. Go steep about four teabags in a cup of hot water for about 15 minutes and take a sip. Notice how dry and awful your mouth feels?
  2. Go take the stems from a bunch of grapes and chew them for a while. Notice how dry and awful your mouth feels?
  3. Go smoke a gang of weed. Notice how dry and awful your mouth feels?

The bottom line is that tannins have a drying effect on your mouth. Tannins can actually contribute to the longevity of many of the great wines out there, but, when left unchecked, can be somewhat unpleasant. And yet when they are balanced by acidity and body in wine, they can be magical. Some particularly thick-skinned grapes yield more tannic wines than others – for example, Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc and Nebbiolo. Others are generally lighter in tannin, or softer as we often say, like Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel. The main thing to remember is the astringency they create in a red wine. So stop going around and waxing poetic about how tannic your bottle of Santa Margherita was. 

What is the best bottle of wine to give as a gift?

Well, that depends. Do you have a lot of money? If so, you really cannot go wrong with a bottle of Champagne. But this time, stick to “grower” Champagnes – you want your dollars to go toward the quality of the wine, not some massive wine house’s PR budget, right? Our favorites include Gatinois, Chartogne-Taillet and Vilmart. If you can’t afford fancy Champy, a bottle of Spanish Cava is an excellent option. It’s festive, it’s bubbly and it’s made in the same method as Champagne is (as opposed to, say, a bottle of Prosecco). You can find some fantastic Reserva and Gran Reserva options for a fraction of the price of an entry level bottle of Champagne. Can Feixes, Mont Marcal and Castillo Perelada make some stunning versions.

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I want you to WANT to do the dishes!
My girlfriend gets really emotional and cries a lot when she drinks. How can I avoid this?

Ah, if I had a dime for every time I heard this… Here’s the deal, and trust me on this one: Talk to your girlfriend about her issues, insecurities and pent up frustrations frequently. Be a good listener and a proactive communicator. Solve problems in real time, instead of letting them pile up. Because when you let them pile up, all it takes is one glass of Chardonnay, and you’re suddenly gazing up at the heavens while she’s blubbering into her cocktail napkin about how you never take her out anymore, and why didn’t you hold the door for her that one time six years ago. The solution, however, is not – and I repeat not – to suggest to her, no matter how gently, that she perhaps lay off the juice until she can get control of her emotions. And you thought this was just a wine column…

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Please use your inside voice.
Which wines are less likely to give me a headache? What should I look to avoid?

The two most important things to avoid in wine if you would like to avoid a headache are alcohol and sugar. Notice what was not listed among those factors? Sulfites. Contrary to what an alarming number of wine drinkers believe, sulfites, while capable of causing respiratory symptoms in people with severe asthma, are not what’s giving you a headache, and the odds of you actually being allergic to them are really, really low. It has become strangely de rigueur to blame sulfites for every headache and post-binge-drinking barf-session, and to then go on a quest to find sulfite-free wine. There is a reason sulfite-free wine is so hard to find. It’s because it tastes like dirty bong water. Sulfites are added to wine as a preserving agent; without them, wine will oxidize easily, be prone to off-odors and have a shelf-life of about six months, and only under the most regulated and carefully monitored conditions (read: not your Ikea wine rack). Further, your average bottle of wine contains about as much SO2 as a piece of dried fruit. So, unless those prunes you eat for breakfast are also giving you a headache, chances are there is something else behind any adverse effects you are feeling from wine, namely a fun little thing called overindulgence. There has also been some study of histamines in wine contributing to headaches, but the research is still inconclusive. For now, common sense is your best friend. If you have a favorite wine that you know doesn’t give you headaches, stick with it, and go easy. Food is also a best friend, as is water, regardless of how much I may mock that humble beverage. When in doubt, always consult your doctor about any particular symptoms you might be experiencing. As dynamite as I look in a sexy nurse’s outfit, a medical professional I am not. But for now, think about sharing that bottle of Zinfandel sporting a 16% alcohol level with friends instead of plowing through it on your own, and save the sweet stuff for poaching pears.

Still have questions? Reach out to us and we will do our best to demystify… or at least entertain you in the process.

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May your holidays be filled with good juice, fierce hangovers and calls from HR! Lots of love from the ladies at Champagne and Hotdogs.


 
 
These are the kinds of things one might overhear when passing through our store… for better or for worse:

Freddie (our jolly, emphysematic Puerto Rican colleague) to Lindsay: “I’m pretty sure you’re going to have a big baby. Like, a 9-pounder.”

Lindsay: “What?”

Freddie: “The way you eat, you’re going to have a big baby. Watch out for those shoulders.”

Lindsay: “Who’s side are you on?? Definitely not my vagina’s!”
 
 
There are few things more awkward than attending The Grand Champagne Tasting Event at The Plaza Hotel in New York City – pregnant. Of course I know I’m spitting, but it’s a peculiar feeling to have a 5-million-watt spotlight follow you, the only pregnant lady, around the tasting room floor with every pair of eyes in the joint locked on your mouth. Bystanders holding their breath anticipating my spit – and letting out a collective sigh of relief when I finally do.
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This is what they shined on me from the balcony.
Devin and I left the Champagne tasting after sipping (and spitting – me, not Devin) some terribly expensive champagnes and some ridiculously delicious champagnes. I was exhausted thanks to the few stray bubbles that did make their way down my throat and Devin was carrying the slightly buzzed, giggly, fast-talking load for the both of us. We were unequally yoked. But we were still in our element – departing the Plaza where we felt we legitimately belonged on a daily basis, cruising by the CBS Studios and casually waving at the production team inside as if we knew them all personally. They didn’t know it yet, but they’d be featuring us as soon as we became household names. So we waved “hi” and moved along 59th St. back toward the wine store.

I realized about 2 blocks into our walk that I should have used the ladies room at The Plaza. But I didn’t. And I should have.

Suddenly, 1 of 2 things happened. I had either just a) been teleported to the Central Park Spray Ground and my son, Max, had just nailed me square in the crotch with one of his water grenades, or b) I had just lost all control of my bladder (and any form of kegel I had picked up on over the years) unleashing a urinary explosion equivalent to rushing river rapids roaring down the legs of my pants. Right there on the corner of 61st and Madison. Not an ideal spot to pee your pants accidentally, or purposeful, actually, right next door to Barneys.

It happened so fast. I sneezed, I peed, I grabbed Devin’s arm, whipping her backward and firmly planting her right in front of me. I reached my left hand around to confirm how severe the damage. My jeans were soaked.

“Devin, I just peed my pants.”

“No you didn’t. Are you sure?”

“Devin, this used to happen to me. I know I peed my pants.”

“Lady, you’re 30 – you’ve dealt with this before? Turn around, lemme see.”

(I slowly turned around as all the corporate suits and ties pass by. Surely they could smell me.)

“OH MY GOD you peed your pants.”

“We’ve gotta get a cab, D.”

“We’re 5 blocks from the store! Turn around again. Yeah, we’ve gotta get a cab.”

Devin and I scurried to the corner, me holding my gigantic purse over my butt and definitely doing the wet-jeans shuffle.

We flagged the first cab we saw, even though it was headed in the wrong direction. I flung open the cab door to dive in and slide across the seat – when I suddenly realized I’d be leaving a warm, pee trail for my friend to then slide through. I immediately jumped back and we exchanged quick nods simultaneously like, “Um, yeah – thanks” and “Uh, sorry – you first.”

My jeans were sticking to my thighs. I rummaged through my purse for anything I could spritz into the air – the air I was rapidly polluting. We rolled down the windows and laughed so hard I was nervous it was going to happen all over again.

We got back to the store and I swear I’ve never exited a cab faster in my life. Of course I had zero cash to pay for this $4, 5 block cab ride and neither did Devin. So she used her credit card. Which slowed our hasty getaway and required me to sit half a second longer in my puddle – now permeating the black vinyl seat.

I raced from the cab to the store before any dog passers-by mistook my leg for a lamp post and marked their territory the way they do.

This, I announced to Devin, had definitely been more awkward than attending the Champagne Tasting pregnant.
 
 
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Lindsay’s latest brilliant window display idea. She’s on ball 1 out of about 200. Estimated completion date: Around the same time the 2nd Avenue subway is completed.

 
 
I have a confession.

I ate McDonald’s the other day.

To be fair… I made the most out of it. I ate it with expensive Champagne. Really expensive Champagne. I figured, if you’re going to clog your arteries and tempt the gods of morbid obesity, you may as well throw some pricey bubbles on top of it all.

It started out with a craving. Like, a pregnancy, last-day-on-earth, just-smoked-a-fat-doob craving. I honestly don’t really know what a pregnancy craving is like, and I’ve somehow managed to avoid landing myself on death row thus far, but I do know what it’s like to get the munchies, and this was that feeling. On steroids. I needed grease and salt, and I needed it immediately.

But I wasn’t going down alone. I had to drag my entire staff with me. They were also going to eat McDonald’s and drink Champagne or they were going to get fired. I took requests from my confused, slightly terrified team and set out to purchase the fast food goods.

There are few things more unpleasant than a McDonald’s in midtown Manhattan during lunch hour on a Friday, and I learned this the hard way. Not only was it the most inefficient clusterfuck of total and complete mayhem (might I suggest an “order here” and “pick up here” window, rather than an “order, pay, stand around, complain, talk on cell phone, ask for more sweet and sour sauce, AND pick up here” window, dear McD’s?), I was also given one damp, half-ripped paper bag to carry enough food and beverages to feed the entire upper east side, in which I was supposed to transport our carcinogenic feast six blocks. This is what I looked like when I returned:
The camera doesn’t quite capture the sticky mess all over my arms and hands from the neon yellow and pink strawberry lemonade that Henry insisted on getting, as it is currently all the rage in the fast food world. It did, however, capture the multiple soft drinks and dye from the McDonald’s bag that I took to the chest, and subsequently tried to sponge off.

Despite an experience I would like never to repeat in this lifetime or the next, I was able to return to my clan with this tasty looking spread:
It seems a bit wrong to wash down something like this with water. But I’m just not the soda type, and I don’t really trust people who are. So, we decided to line up some alternative beverage options for the in-store fatfest.

No…no…no…no…yes.
The bottle of Cristal was a bit of an afterthought… a joke, really. It was a gift to the MWX team, and we had sort of been saving it for a special occasion. Or, well, at least a more special occasion than sitting around on case stacks on a random Friday afternoon, eating a collection of strange animal parts fried in fat. There wasn’t even a staff meeting. But, the more we thought about it, the more it seemed like an utterly brilliant idea. The best idea we’d ever had, in fact. 
There is no better sound than that of a Champagne bottle popping, in particular in the workplace. While we all wanted to be celebrating raises, instead, we were celebrating our heartbeats (which we were about to be very thankful we still had, after this little cardiac arrest in a paper sac). We were alive, the sun was out, we did have jobs, thankfully among people we actually liked, and we were surrounded by the come-hither aromas of D-grade “beef.” Celia Cruz was on the iPod. Life was good.
Let me tell you something, dear readers. Nothing does McDonald’s justice like Cristal. Even more so than my beloved bubbles and bacon, egg and cheese, or, of course, our Champagne and Hotdogs… this pairing blows the mind. It’s everything you could ask for in a marriage of food and wine. Salty, oily, artificially flavored bites of Big Mac begged for a post-chew deep cleaning, a challenge our swank sipper was more than happy to tackle. The special sauce stood up to the yeasty complexity of this vintage Champagne, and mingled nicely with the finish, neither one dominating the other. And, if there has ever been a soul mate for god’s gift to late night drunk binge food – the McDonald’s french fry – Cristal is it. The tight, clean perlage was a match made in heaven for the cancer sticks, and a natural for cleansing the palate of all remnants of fat.
As you can see, I basically dislocated my jaw to cram this into my mouth. My parents would be so proud:
If only we could now get that unmistakable, eternal perma-grease scent that only McDonald’s could leave in its wake off our hands and clothes. And the store.

But we didn’t care if we all smelled like a car after a road trip to Vegas. We were drunk, fat, happy and much in need of a nap. All in the name of a hard day’s work.
 
 
Occasionally, we are serious. Or, well, we aren’t. But our blog can be. We understand our readers don’t necessarily always want to read about embarrassing and ridiculous things that happen to us on a daily basis. Sometimes they actually want to learn something…feel inspired or whatever. If you observed us in our professional lives, you might know that we probably aren’t the best teachers. But we are definitely the most fun, and boy can we inspire. And, if you came to one of our dinner parties, you would know that, when push comes to shove, we handle our business, and could show our followers a thing or two about whipping up a solid meal.

Last weekend, Lindsay hosted Part 1 of a rather belated Birthday (21st! Tenth time around!) celebration for me at her house. I was in Italy for my actual birthday, and, since we’re the most self-absorbed, self-indulgent people in the world, we couldn’t let the occasion go by without acknowledging it again with a little soiree, NYC-style. And by “we,” I mean “I.”

Since we live in New York City in shoebox-sized apartments that cost us our entire paychecks and then some, we are both space- and budget-conscious in our planning. This is a skill Lindsay, in particular, could teach and teach well. For example, this was the tablescape (do I need to credit Sandra Lee for using that expression?) she created for me:
Wine bottles + chalkboard paint + colored chalk + one bouquet of mixed flowers from the deli + a couple of candle tapers = genius, totally playful display for >$20. And, with the leftover chalkboard paint, you can coat some walls in your house for a creative outlet that keeps on giving… or a space for your significant other to write “I will not leave wet towels lying on the wood furniture” 100 times over since they clearly didn’t get it the first 50 times you told them not to.

The appetizer Lindsay prepared was a feast for both the eyes and palate. Crispy crostini piled high with fresh ricotta, paper-thin slices of prosciutto, juicy peaches and honey. Food porn at its best:
After stuffing our pieholes with this, we were treated to homemade pot roast, courtesy of Josh, AKA “Is that Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes?” AKA Lindsay’s hubby. Slabs of melt-in-your-mouth beef only barely upstaged their plate mates – mounds of creamy, buttery mashed potatoes napped with salty, meaty gravy (from scratch, no less), and a bright, crisp salad of pea shoots, sugar snap peas and beans, brought by our resident “real chef” and salad-guru Morgan.
When we were so full we could barely swallow our own saliva, out waltzed a birthday tart (appropriate). Flaky pastry, vanilla cream, berries, kiwis, oranges… this thing had everything. I made a wish that I didn’t look as unattractive as everyone else always does in blowing-out-the-birthday-candles pictures.

You might wonder what I did to contribute to this glorious night. Well, I solved the burning question of whether or not people have a “good side” and “bad side” in pictures. They do.

Good side:
Bad side:
At this point, wine pairings, shmine pairings. We drank everything in the house. Sauvignon Blanc, Lambrusco, Chardonnay, Malbec, Sangiovese… those who sipped water in excess shall remain nameless (but lets just say T. Mann… no, that would be too obvious… How about…Tim M. Credit goes to The Simpsons for that little comedic gem). It didn’t matter what went and what didn’t. The apartment was breezy, the food filling, the company entertaining, the conversation hilarious (“He touched me where I pee”).

You, too, can create this same experience in your home on your budget– whether your abode is 600 square feet and packed with 15 people, and you have $25 to your name, or you have a chef’s kitchen, no friends and a large bank account (message us what that’s like, please). All you need is some cheap beef, a few potatoes, some admittedly fancy veggies, a pastry shop the name of which you refuse to tell your friends, and some wine. A lot of wine. Oh, and a naughty sense of humor.

Stay tuned for Part 2 next weekend. Bubbles and Bar Food. I’m so excited I could pee. Where he touches me.
 
 
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Devin and I spend too many nights at our wine store, MWX,  taking turns quickly choking down a slice of cheese pizza in between helping customers, reheating 3-day-old leftovers, or forgoing food altogether and opting to drink our dinner instead. (This doesn’t work as well when one of you is pregnant.)

We have many foodies in our lives from friends who cook for fun and blog about it, to restaurant hot spots pushing their gorgeous plates of food in our direction to “try.” And, we genuinely love to cook ourselves so we really have no excuses.

Devin and I ran across a stranger’s blog (now, of course, we are hell-bent on becoming friends or family with this person after trying out his brilliant recipe) who cooks these fantastic little meals in his closet, allegedly. Our back “office” here at the store basically resembles a corner office with a view of the park – but in reality really is a broom closet where, even Devin and I as skinny as we are – have to sit on each other or take turns sitting if we both need to be back there at the same time. Naturally, we thought this recipe would make a lot of sense given our “space” and we’d get a good, old-fashioned, store-cooked meal for dinner.

We landed on Wednesday to be THE jalapeno grilled cheese event – the dinner of the century, we were anticipating. I come in to the store at noon on Wednesdays and ran a few errands beforehand – all the while, proudly packing my Presto Skillet and plug-in with me around the Upper East Side because I wasn’t going to head home before coming to the store.

Devin picked up enough jalapenos for 4 sandwiches – or, as we now know, enough jalapenos to leave all 10 of my fingers stinging like a terrible case of frostbite thawing out – even 16 hours later. Also, enough jalapenos to throw at least 3 employees, 2 customers and 1 wine rep into a completely hysterical coughing fit. She also bought the sliced sourdough bread, cream cheese, corn chips, cheddar jack cheese, pickles and chutney. We were going to eat like kings tonight. The customers were going to have to wait.

The sandwiches were an incredible hit! Spicy, sour, creamy and cheesy. We paired them with the Flaca Torrontes from Argentina – you can buy it in our store for $21.95. Just when I thought the jalapenos might be a bit too much, I sloshed around a mouthful of the Flaca and, just like that – even the smell of this wine cut right through the  spice and the round and melony (yet crisp) flavors snuffed out any worries I had about the fire igniting in my mouth.

Devin and I are also battling the crud – her bronchial, me sinusy. (Don’t let this keep you from coming in our store – I thoroughly Lysoled the hell outta the joint this morning.) So, with our genius jalapeno dinner plans we also (momentarily) breathed a little easier.

http://www.closetcooking.com/2011/04/jalapeno-popper-grilled-cheese-sandwich.html