Chinese New Year & Valentine’s Day Gift Guide
Since Chinese New Year (it’s Year of the Horse) is pretty close to Valentine’s Day this year, I might as well mash them together and give you ideas as to gift giving to your family (if you do celebrate Chinese or Lunar New Year) and loved one (Valentine’s Day).
To those who celebrate Chinese New Year: 恭喜發財! Gong xi fa cai!
Wines and Spirits
Ramey Wines was founded in 1996 by David Ramey and his wife in Healdsburg, California. The winery creates critically acclaimed, award-winning wines ever since, committed to Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Syrah as their primary varietals.
Their Chardonnays had lots of complexities that are mainly rich and creamy. Their 2011 Russian River Valley ($40) was wonderful and not too oak-y. The 2010 Ritchie Vineyard, Russian River Valley ($60, 750mL) has wonderful bright character of Ritchie Vineyard fruit with tight, floral-tinged, apple aromas. The 2010 Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay ($60) is a classic, Burgundian-style wine without the tropical fruit tones of some California Chardonnays. Intense, minerally aromas of pear, nectarine and white flowers. Bright, penetrating and very dry, offering vibrant citrus and orchard fruit flavors.
Their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($55) is a big, smoky wine with some restraint. Aromas of dark red cherries, flowers, spices, and licorice. Rich yet lively, offering intense blackcurrant and bitter cherry flavors and it’s smooth with gentle tannins.
Quivira Vineyards is located in Healdsburg, California focusing on making the best Zinfandel and unique Grenache wines in the region. Quivira 2011 Grenache, Wine Creek Ranch, Dry Creek Valley ($30) is youthful and exuberant, with ripe strawberry and red cherry notes. It’s very refreshing and quite tart. The 2011 Zinfandel, Dry Creek ($22) is the classic red that I would imagine paired with steak. It’s big, bold and fruity, yet fresh-tasting and beautifully balanced. The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Fig Tree Vineyard ($22) named for a 135-year-old fig tree that grows on the estate. The wine is all at once fragrant, grassy, tropical, grapefruit-y and zesty; 15 percent of the wine was aged in oak barrels, some fitted with acacia wood heads, which added texture and mouthfeel.
If you are looking for affordable but good Italian wines, there is STLTO prosecco from Veneto region ($12) that is has wonderful aromas of green apples and effervescent and their Merlot from Abruzzo region ($8) that has good flavors of blackberries.
Jacopo Biondi Santi Braccale Rosso 2011 ($19) is a young, dense and compelling expression of Sangiovese Grosso (with 20% Merlot) that shows hints of wild Mediterranean brush and herb for added elegance and class. At its core are dark fruit nuances and lingering tones of crushed mineral or dry earth. The wine drinks beautifully right now, thanks to its softly velvety tannins.
Bellenda Rosé ($16) has great undertones of fruit with notes of raspberry and Amarena cherries. It’s pleasantly fruity with good structure.
For an affordable Spanish wine, Franco-Espanolas Rioja Bordón Reserva tempranillo has intense and rich in resinous and spicy aromas. On the palate it is smooth and velvety. It is a big and full bodied wine.
Raventós i Blanc was founded in 1984 by Josep-Maria Raventos, a member of the Codorníu family. The house creates very delicious, very solid cava (a Spanish sparkling wine). The Raventos i Blanc L’Hereu Reserva Brut Cava 2011 ($20) is made by the methode champenoise and probably one of the better cavas I’ve had in a while.
TY KU sakes combines the finest quality all natural ingredients, age-old Japanese distillation/brewing techniques, modern flavor profiles and award winning packaging.
TY KU Coconut Sake ($16) is a refreshingly sweet Nigori style (meaning cloudy/partially unfiltered) sake infused with coconut. Their Silver is a premium Junmai sake that tastes fresh and slightly sweet with subtle pear notes. The Silver sake earned accolades like: Platinum Medal (SIP), Gold Medal (N.Y. Wine & Spirits), 90pt Rating (Tasting Panel) and the 5 Star Diamond Award (AAHS). TY KU Black ($23) is a super premium Junmai Ginjo is a rich bodied sake with hints of natural sweetness of peach and vanilla on the nose. Best served chilled or mixed in a cocktail.
TY KU Sake White ($50 for half bottle) is their ultra premium Junmai Daiginjo. It is exceptionally refined and smooth with floral notes with hints of banana and vanilla. Delicate yet rich at the same time. It’s best to serve the White with delicately flavored foods like salad or sushi.
TY KU Citrus Liqueur ($25) is a blend of Yuzu and other Asian fruits like mangosteen and gojiberries, with TY KU Soju, a low calorie Asian spirit. It’s smooth, light and refreshing taste. What makes TY KU Soju ($25) different from other sojus are the facts that it is distilled from barley and done so in Japan, not Korea. It is an interesting taste that is more like sake, but the higher alcohol volume makes this soju stronger yet not as strong as vodka and it has about half the calories of regular vodka.
Chocolates and Confections
Marco Paolo Chocolates is located in West Hollywood, California founded by Mark Lewis. This brand of chocolates is inspired by his love for exotic flavor pairings with chocolate (his first obsession was his Scotch bonnet truffle, delicately spicy and the chocolates were made in the French style). Each of his collections have a themes like the Island Escape and Romantic Riviera (each collection has 9 pieces $29). Every bonbon was very fresh and uniquely flavored from the unusual pairings like Coconut Cilantro with Dark Lime and Mango Red Chili Gelée & Dark Lime. The chocolates are generally fruity but has some bite, whether it be acidic or spicy.
Moonstruck Chocolate is a perennial favorite for novelty chocolates that are tasty as well. For the man in your life (or anyone who really likes chocolates with booze), the Oregon Distillers 9-piece collection ($20) are bonbons filled with ganaches blended with various Oregon craft distillers. The Love Bug Truffles (4-pieces, $15) are ladybug shaped truffles that are almost too cute to eat. They come in two flavors: dark chocolate strawberry and dark chocolate raspberry ganaches, hand-dipped and hand-decorated in naturally colored ivory chocolate. The Valentine wrapped chocolate truffle collection (shown 16-pieces $35), is a collection of their best selling chocolates like the Champagne truffle, Bailey’s Irish Cream truffle, and Wild Huckleberry Truffle.
For the eco-conscious chocoholic in your life, Rainforest Alliance has a smattering of chocolates that are sustainable yet delicious. Chocolates from companies like Dagoba, Newman’s Own, and Salazon.
JJ’s Sweets Cocomels are chewy, organic, coconut milk based caramels. They are made with natural sweeteners, dairy-free since it’s made of coconut milk and it’s simply delicious. I shared a bag with my mother and she hogged the whole thing since she adores the inherent nutty flavors from the coconut milk.
See’s Candies is San Francisco nostalgia to me, as I remembered my first time in San Francisco, when I was a teenager, my parents bought a large box of See’s chocolates and shared between us. It made a mark in my memory because I remembered it being delicious chocolate back then, especially their nuts and chew collection. Fast forward it to 2014, See’s still use the same time honored techniques and uses the finest ingredients possible for their candies and chocolates.
For Chinese New Year, See’s have the Gold Fancy box ($10.25 and up) of various delicious chocolate truffles. For Valentine’s Day, the Double Decadence ($33), which features a 1-pound box of Assorted Chocolates and an 8 ounce box of rich, creamy See’s Truffles and a pastel pink box of strawberry truffles (5-pieces, $6.75) Beautiful white chocolate hearts feature a luscious truffle center flavored with real strawberries. Available for a limited time.
Coffee & Tea
Handsome Coffee Roasters is based in Los Angeles, California. They have a handsome Comfort and Adventure Coffee set ($40) filled with two bags of coffee beans as a great gift idea for the coffee lover in your life. The ones I have are the Regalo de Popayán (from Popayán, Columbia) and Kakuyuni (Machakos, Central Kenya) coffee beans. The Popayan is loaded with apricot and spice aromatics and a distinct sweetness, supported by a deep caramelized nutty note throughout. The finish has the fresh bitterness of basil and lemon zest. The Kakuyuni has bright, rich acidity that fades to a clash of sweet and savory elements like pine honey, tart apple, toasted barley, rhubarb, aniseed, and thyme. It leaves behind a refined finish that’s grassy and floral.
Mariage Frères is based in Paris and found in 1854. This year, this Parisian tea brand really thought about celebrating Chinese New Year by releasing Thé des Signes® – Cheval (25€; Cheval, meaning horse) in a sunny yellow tin. It contains a mixture of the best darjeeling tea with green lemon, orange, sweet kumquat, a hint of fragrant young ginger as well as Tibetan goji berries from the Himalayas. The fruity cup is zesty, full of life and tasty.
Lucky Number Tea Set (24€ per set; there are three different sets) is to ensure that this tea gift is a pleasure of bringing and receiving happiness, Mariage Frères offer the “Lucky Number Tea” boxed set of two essential green teas. The set I have is T959 – Bouddha Bleu is a green tea sprinkled with blue cornflowers and scented with fragrances of ripe fruits. T956 – Montagne de Jade is jade colored green tea blended with the mysterious fragrances of their famous Montagne d’Or tea.
I Have a Dream (25€) is a bright, black tea loaded with citrus notes of – lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit, mandarin orange, and yuzu. Very refreshing and fruity.
Steven Smith Teamaker Teas is founded by American teamaker Steven Smith who travels the globe in search of the best botanicals — from premium tea leaves to aromatic herbs. Ingredients are carefully hand blended at Smith Teamaker, his shop in Portland, Oregon.
No. 23 Kandy (15 satchets $14.99) is named after a city in Sri Lanka. The tea contains a mixture of Ceylon Dimbulla, Uva and Nuwara Eliya full leaf teas. When it’s steeped, the liquor is aromatic and when sipped it’s intense and bold flavored with a tinge of red fruit. I am blown away how delicious it is to sip.
No. 16 Honeybush (available in loose leaf and pyramid bags) is a tea that grows in the western Cape of South Africa and has a distinctly honey-like aroma. It is hand harvested in September and October. It is naturally caffeine free with a sweet, peachy flavor and has a rich mouthfeel.
No. 13 Red Nectar (seen in photo 15 satches $14.99) is a blend of rooibos from Clanwilliam in South Africa and honeybush leaves. It is caffeine free, lightly sweet, medium-bodied and very easy to drink both hot or iced.
No. 7 Matcha (2 oz loose leaf bag $14 and up) is a ceremonial grade matcha. It is made from finely powdered tender green tea leaves known as Tencha in the Aichi Prefecture in Japan. It has a clean, slightly sweet vegetal/grassy flavor and aroma and brilliant green color.
Le Palais des Thés released the Les Amants Miniatures ($27) it is a limited edition gift set from Paris that feature miniature tins with three variations of the sweet-spicy Thé des Amants (Lovers’ Tea). A fourth tin of red sugar hearts.
Hudson Valley Duck Farm is an upstate New York duck farm that sells at the Union Square Farmers’ Market (and other NYC located markets) on Saturdays. Their ducks are definitely happy before they were slaughtered, as it’s beautifully fatty and the meat is super tender and had incredible depth of flavor.
Fabrique Délices is a traditional French charcuterie company in Hayward, California, has been preparing time-honored classics alongside innovative new products since 1985. Their pâtés like pheasant terrine with figs & pistachio and Campagne Forestier were had earthy, rich flavors and utterly sublime. The boudin blanc and noir were almost as good as any fine French restaurant would serve. The cured duck breast brought back wonderful memories of a certain charcuterie I ate very recently, as it’s so delicious.
Ravidà is an award winning, low acid, Sicilian extra virgin olive oils. The Ravidà family roots date back to the 13th century. These olive oils are absolutely stunning to taste on its own with a slice of plain crusty bread. Very low acid, vibrant, transparent yellow color, packed with tons of fruity flavor and almost tasted like the olives basked in southern Italian sunshine. I can easily imagine it would make sublime olive oil gelato or fantastic olive oil cake. Ravidà also has delicate sea salt that makes great finishers to your plate before you serve your food. These products are available in the U.S. at gourmet stores like Williams Sonoma and Zabars.
Vermont Smoke & Cure is founded 1962 and they utilize locally raised pigs for their product. I have made much use of their uncured pork product during my family’s upcoming Chinese New Year dishes that it elevates the various dishes by having so much better, cleaner pork flavor.
Maple Leaf Farms started in 1958. Their mission is to produce innovative, value-added duck products of unparalleled quality. Since this brand is a bit more attainable around the U.S., it’s a good brand to cook with and it does produce a very good duck-centered dish.
Wonderful Halos is sold in local supermarkets and I understand why it’s mainly targeting children since these mandarin oranges are small and cute (like kids), very sweet and juicy, and it has no seeds like some citrus fruits do. But what makes this culturally significant in Chinese culture is the fact mandarin oranges (and tangerines) represent gold, meaning prosperity and fortune to you in the new year.
Continuing on the Chinese food symbolism, pistachios means “happy nut” in Chinese so, if we eat a couple of these nuts and it would bring happiness for the year. Wonderful Pistachios is one of the popular and most accessible brands to get delicious pistachios (and they have started selling almonds).
Yurosek Farms gourmet pistachios were the freshest and most pristine pistachios I have eaten in a while. The simple roasted and salted pistachios expressed the pistachio flavor the best, not too salty yet have enough salt to enhance the nut’s natural flavor. Their sweet chipotle was pleasantly spicy without dominating the pistachio’s flavor. It was a hit in my family. (14 ounce bags, in-shell $8 each)
To view more photos of these items, please view the slideshow below (or CLICK HERE):
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