Lunar New Year Traditions

Although the Western calendar has been adopted by most Asian cultures, Lunar New Year (also called the Spring Festival) remains a holiday of great cultural and historical meaning going back at least 2000 years! Like Thanksgiving in the United States, travelling home for a family reunion dinner is an imperative for people who celebrate. In fact, in China Lunar New Year counts as the biggest annual migration of people on Earth (even larger than the number of Muslims who visit Mecca every year), with just shy of 400 million expected to take to the railways to travel to their hometowns for the holiday this year. And in New York City, public schools are closed on the first day of the New Year holiday.

The Lunar New Year varies by date year-to-year. It occurs on the second New Moon after the December solstice. This year, the Lunar New Year begins on Friday, February 16th, although the New Year’s eve family dinner on the night of the 15th is the true beginning of the holiday. It lasts 15 days, and culminates this year on Saturday, March 3rd with the Lantern Festival: lanterns are lit at night and then let go into the sky en masse with wishes for prosperity and good luck in the coming year. It is truly magical to behold.

Lunar New Year is not just a holiday celebrated in Asian countries. With our sizable population of Asian immigrants, Lunar New Year and Lantern Festivals are celebrated in many towns and cities across the United States. Here in New York City, the Chinese New Year’s Day parade is a popular multi-cultural event. This is a fun, happy and lively holiday, vivid with colors, music, noise and special foods.

Origins of the Lunar New Year Holiday

Lunar New Year began in China with the fable of a horrible monster named “Nian”. The story roughly goes that Nian liked to eat people and it would come into the villages on New Year’s Day and gobble up the villagers, finding children a particular delicacy. The people of the village would flee from their homes every year before Nian was due to arrive. But one year, and old man stayed to try to fight the beast. The old man draped red papers all over the town and set off firecrackers all night long. Nian did not come and the village came to believe that Nian was afraid of the bright color red and the loud noises of the firecrackers.

This is why red is such a significant color for this holiday. Red repels bad luck and thus allows good fortune the opportunity to reign. People dress in red, decorate their homes in red, and give money in red envelopes. In Lunar New Year parades, Nian is depicted as the familiar dragon that winds his way through the streets and people on the sidelines set off firecrackers and use noisemakers to frighten the monster away and keep them safe.

Preparations for the Lunar New Year Celebration

People spend a lot of time preparing for the Lunar New Year. They clean their houses not just to be ready for family and guests at the New Year’s Eve dinner, but also because it symbolizes the washing away of any bad luck left over from the preceding year and allows room for the good luck in the new year to accumulate. Once the cleaning is done, the brooms and dust pans are put away so that any good luck that comes cannot be “swept away”. Homes are decorated in red paper and some people actually paint doors and window sills with a fresh coat of red paint. Some homes are also decorated with paper cutouts of Chinese phases that will bring good luck. People buy new clothes, often in red or other bright colors, again as a symbol of a new beginning. This is similar to what we see in the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, where people wear new articles of clothing to signify a fresh start with the New Year.

Also analogous to the traditions of Rosh Hashanah is the attention paid to homonyms: words that are spelled alike or pronounced similarly even if they have a different meaning. Auspicious words that mean good fortune, wealth, health and prosperity are emphasized as are foods and other items and activities that sound like auspicious words when they are spoken. For example, the word “hair” in Chinese sounds like the word for “prosperity”. So if you need a “hair cut”, you are wise to get it done before the Lunar New Year otherwise you may “cut your prospects for wealth”. Similarly, you would wash your hair in preparation for the New Year, so as not to “wash away” your chances for good fortune. More on other superstitions under “Taboos” below.

In Asian cultures, business and personal debts, whether of money or of gratitude, are expected to be paid up before the New Year and this is not dissimilar to the thanks and apologies and amends made in Jewish cultures on Rosh Hashanah.

Lunar New Year’s Eve Dinner

Family members will travel far and wide to return home for the traditional annual reunion dinner on Lunar New Year’s Eve. It is customary for guests to bring gifts. If you are invited to such a dinner this week, you can bring or send ahead our “good fortune” gift basket of lucky fruit and Year of the Dog hand-iced cookies in the propitious colors of red and gold!

People will spend days preparing all the special foods customarily found in the Lunar New Year’s Eve meal, not unlike many cross-cultural holidays. Similar to the Jewish New Year, foods that are eaten on the Lunar New Year are homophones for words that convey good luck and prosperity.

Not only do the dishes themselves matter, but the way they are prepared, the way they are served and how and when they are eaten are also significant and will vary depending on local customs and individual family traditions. But a Chinese New Year meal almost always includes the 7 lucky foods: whole fish, dumplings, spring rolls, a rice-based cake called niangao, longevity noodles, certain fresh fruits, and sweet rice balls called tangyuan.

WHOLE FISH:

Certain fish when pronounced out loud sound like auspicious words and so these fish are usually served as the main dish at a Lunar New Year’s Eve dinner party. For example, carp (jee-yoo) sounds quite similar to the Chinese word for “good luck” (jee), and catfish (nyen-yoo) sounds almost exactly like the Chinese word for “year surplus”. And if you eat two fish, it means “surplus year after year”! So the belief is that if you eat these fish you will also literally absorb these good wishes and have much abundance in the New Year.

The fish is usually placed in the center of the table with the head facing the eldest or most important member of the dinner party. This positioning connotes respect to the chosen person, and he or she is to eat the fish first. Fish is generally the last dish eaten. Some fish is always left over to be eaten the next day in the New Year so that the “surplus” can be continued.

DUMPLINGS:

The making and eating of dumplings is also a traditional family activity at the Lunar New Year, especially in Northern China, where they are made after dinner and eaten around midnight at the very start of the New Year. Dumplings are boat-shaped like ancient coins of silver or gold, and thus they represent wealth. Eating lots of dumplings means making lots of money in New Year!

The most lucky dumplings are the ones that are made with many pleats, and some people conceal a white thread or a copper coin inside one of the dumplings: whoever bites into that one will get the gift of long life or wealth, respectively.

SPRING ROLLS:

Named because they are eaten at the Spring Festival, these treats are little dough rectangles filled with vegetables or meat, rolled into bars, and deep fried. The golden color and the shape make them look like “gold bars” and hence they symbolize wealth. Spring rolls are especially popular in Eastern China.

NIANGAO:

Niango (also called Eight Treasures Rice) is a special cake or pudding made primarily of a sticky, glutinous rice and sugar, layered in patterns with a mixture of nuts, dried fruit, seeds such as lotus and gingko, berries, and sometimes red bean paste. The literal translation of niango means “New Year cake” and when spoken sounds like “increasing prosperity year after year” or “getting higher and higher”. The suggestion is that you will gain a better position in your business and your bank account when you eat this traditional treat. In Southern China, niangao is given as gifts to family and friends through-out the 15 day New Year celebration.

LONGEVITY NOODLES:

Noodles are often a part of the Lunar New Year’s Eve meal. They are made especially long (up to 2 feet in length!) and are uncut to symbolize a long and healthy life. Longevity noodles can be prepared in numerous ways, and traditions will vary with the local cuisine.

FRESH FRUIT:

Citrus fruit are especially coveted on the Lunar New Year. The round shape is a symbol of fullness and the yellow, golden color denotes wealth. In keeping with the purpose of many other foods at the reunion dinner, the names of certain citrus are homophones for good luck. That’s why we include only the best citrus fruits in our Lunar New Year gift basket.

TANGYUAN:

These sweet rice balls are featured prominently during the Lantern Festival at the end of the 15 day Lunar New Year celebration, and in Southern China are eaten throughout the holiday. Again, the round shape signifies fullness and the sound tangyuan makes sounds similar to gathering together, like the family reunion dinner on Lunar New Year’s Eve.

Lunar New Year’s  Day Celebrations

After staying up all night, or at least until after midnight to greet the New Year, daytime celebrations may be quieter, although in New York City, the annual “Chinese New Year parade” that snakes around Chinatown and little Italy is a lively and festive New Year’s Day celebration. Firecrackers and fireworks are set off to ward of evil in order to allow in all the good fortune. Giving gifts of money in brightly colored red envelopes is another holiday tradition and most people will receive a red envelope from someone. People will dress in new clothes, often red (the luckiest color) or other brightly hued colors to reflect their wishes for a good year and their happy mood.

Lunar New Year Taboos

The traditions of many cultural holidays arise from ancient myths and fables that are passed down over generations and while they may become diluted, they often persist and Lunar New Year is no exception. There are many superstitions surrounding this holiday in Asian cultures.  Following are some interesting examples of beliefs and taboos for the first day of the Lunar New Year:

  1. Don’t take medicine or you will be sick for the entire year.
  2. Don’t go to the hospital or you will bring sickness on yourself for the entire year…. unless it’s an emergency!!
  3. Don’t take out the garbage or you will be dumping out all the good luck that has accumulated in the house.
  4. Don’t use knives, scissors, needles or other sharp objects that you could hurt yourself on. Any accidental injury can bring bad luck and loss of security.
  5. Don’t break tools or equipment as it can cause a loss of wealth in the New Year.
  6. Don’t eat porridge for breakfast because it is what poor people generally have for breakfast and the New Year doesn’t want to start off “poor”.
  7. Don’t let children cry because it will bring bad luck to the family.
  8. Don’t wear white or black clothes because these colors are associated with death and mourning and you don’t want to bring that into your house.
  9. Don’t allow anyone to steal from you, especially don’t be pick-pocketed because it means that your entire accumulated wealth for the year will be stolen.
  10. Don’t owe any money lest your wealth will go to others.

Next year will be the Year of the Pig, representing the 12th and final cycle in the 12 year lunar calendar. Until then, wishing everyone a very lucky and prosperous Lunar New Year!

Unique Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas for Her

Valentine’s Day has been celebrated here in the United States for over 300 years. It’s a popular and happy holiday, particularly for couples who are romantically inclined. However, it can also be stressful. People often feel pressured on Valentine’s Day to find a way to adequately express the depth of the affection they feel. As a result, you may end up spending a lot of money searching for something unique to buy, something different to do, or something impressive enough to demonstrate just how much you love and appreciate your special person.

While I would certainly not recommend waiting to the last minute to think about the Valentine’s Day gift you want to give, nor would I recommend using your local supermarket for a store bought card and plastic wrapped roses, I can say with confidence that you can find small and sweet ways to acknowledge the subject of your adoration that will carry just as much meaning as a grand gesture.

There are two key guidelines to follow when looking for unique Valentine’s Day gift ideas for her:

  1. Make it personal
  2. Put in a little effort

When your gift reflects her individual tastes and preferences, you are telling her how intimately you know her. And when your gift shows that you had to put in time and thought, you are telling her how much you care. This is what romance is all about – it’s not about the money.

Classic Gifts With A Twist

Red roses, chocolate-covered strawberries, champagne and sexy lingerie have become rather predictable gifts for Valentine’s Day and while they are sure bets, they are also fairly banal so don’t make the cut for unique Valentine’s Day gift ideas for her. Why not play a bit with the classic ideas?

FLOWERS: For example, instead of sending roses, get her favorite flowers instead. These days, our access to flowers is not confined to the seasons so that’s no excuse. Spring flowers such as tulips and hyacinths are readily available and can be the harbinger of warmer weather and bluer skies. Of course, if you don’t know her favorite flower…. well, you should!

CHOCOLATES: Sweets are a lovely Valentine’s Day gift for her, but there’s no need to be restricted by the ubiquitous chocolate-covered strawberries. A little research on the web will reveal all kinds of fun and unusual chocolates to treat her with. When she opens our precious “jewelry box” of bonbons, she will behold an array of shiny “gemstones” that are as beautiful to look at as they are delectable to eat.

Our one-of-a-kind French bulldog chocolates are an adorable and unique Valentine’s Day gift for her and you can’t beat the charming packaging.

The old-fashioned “conversation” hearts can be a nostalgic Valentine’s Day sweet gift for her. Pair it with a Victorian-era Valentine’s Day card asking her to “Be Mine” and some tea roses that looked like you picked them from Grandma’s garden, and you have a very traditional gift with an old-time feel that makes it seem fresh again!

LINGERIE: Instead of lingerie, think about something else in a sexy, satiny fabric. How about a silk blouse in a bright ruby red, sapphire blue or emerald green? Be sure to get the size right! If you don’t want to splurge on satin sheets, satin pillowcases are a real treat and women like them because they help keep our hair in place while we sleep. Besides, they feel wonderful against the skin.

CHAMPAGNE: Champagne is very festive, but maybe it’s not her preferred drink. Think about gathering the ingredients to make her favorite specialty cocktail, or visit a local distillery where they are making artisanal gins and whiskeys and enjoy an afternoon of tastings. Remember, it’s not about giving a gift that the holiday dictates: it’s about giving a Valentine’s Day gift that is personal to her.

Surprises Big and Small

Organizing a surprise definitely takes time and effort and if your sweetheart likes spontaneity, then this could be the perfect way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Surprises can come in lots of packages. There is, of course, the grand display: tell her to pack a weekend bag, pick her up at work and go to the airport headed to Paris, Milan or Reykyavik! But there are many ways to surprise and delight that are more modest.

For example, what does she do every day? Let that guide your gifts. You could present her with a Starbucks card (or put the app on her phone and hook it to your account for a week or months worth of morning coffees), or get her a subscription to a wine of the month club. Gifts that give more than once are truly memorable.

Show her you love her by doing some of the chores she does every day: make the bed; clean the kitchen; take out the recycling; plan, shop and prepare a nice meal; walk the dog; pick the kids up from school, etc.  Gifts like these take effort on your part, and give her the precious gift of time. She can choose how she wants to spend it.

Leave little hand-written love notes where she will find them all day long on Valentine’s Day. Put one in her wallet, in her briefcase, on the bathroom mirror, in the fridge, in her lunch bag, in her underwear drawer, in the car, on the alarm clock in the morning, etc. Anywhere she will discover them through-out the day. You’ll be reminding her multiple times how much she means to you. And isn’t that the point of a Valentine’s Day gift?

Take it Public

Valentine’s Day gifts for her are often shared in private. Why not make a statement with a public display of your affection? Send a gift to her at work. This will surprise her and bring attention from her co-workers. Go to her work and take her out to lunch. Kiss her in public. Hold hands while you walk.

Do something she enjoys with her. Take her to her favorite store and participate in the shopping experience, whether it is testing perfumes, looking at jewelry, or trying on clothes for example. How about getting side-by-side pedicures and manicures? Sign the two of you up for a wine tasting class, or a cooking class, or a lecture at the museum, or a sporting event. One year, Jehv came to an exercise class of mine and it was hysterical watching him as he tried to keep up with the tough work out. He is very physically fit, mind you, and he never had much respect for what he perceived as the “girlie” gym classes I went to. But after taking this class with me he was rather chagrined and he let me know how much he admired my strength and stamina.

Tell her why you love her

Although the meaning of red roses and other Valentine’s Day gifts may be readily apparent don’t miss the opportunity to use your words! Make it personal if you can. If you do give her a card, take a little time to write something yourself. Although the card will hold the sentiment, to make it personal it needs your own touch. You can never go wrong if you simply tell her why you love her.

Note that while the focus of this post is on unique Valentine’s Day gifts for women, many if not most of my ideas can easily be translated into unique Valentine’s Day gifts for men. This holiday is traditionally about gifts for her, but why be mired in convention? Believe me, your guy will be thrilled to be acknowledged on Valentine’s Day. Remember, the same guidelines apply: make it personal, and put in a little effort. Happy Valentine’s Day to all!

New Year’s Eve Gift Ideas

What do you like to do for New Year’s Eve? I know there are some people who bah humbug the entire holiday season and can’t wait for January 1st to arrive so it can all be over! These people are happiest when they can go to bed early on New Year’s Eve and let the revelers revel on without them. But I believe most of us think New Year’s is a fun time of year. It’s a celebration of new beginnings.

Whether you gravitate to the gleeful commotion of a big party or prefer a small, quiet, more intimate affair, you’ll want to think about what kind of food and beverages to bring or serve at the festivities. Sending a gift to a loved one near or far is also a wonderful gesture that will end the year on a high note and set the tone for 2018.

As we have been developing our wine collection this year, we have been paying particular attention to our New Year’s gift baskets that we pair with champagnes and sparkling wines.

 

ROMANTIC GIFT BASKETS FOR NEW YEAR’S EVE

 

Caviar & Champagne

Nothing says New Year’s Eve like caviar and champagne! This is such a classic combination. At Manhattan Fruitier, we keep this gift simple but sophisticated while providing everything you need in one basket (except for the champagne glasses). We pair Osetra caviar (sustainably farmed) with crème fraiche, mini blinis and a horn serving spoon, and add a delightful Champagne by Paul Clouet, one of the finest smaller batch producers in France. This New Year’s gift basket is the perfect idea for a quiet romantic evening for two at home.  Send it to friends or family, or treat yourself!

 

NYE gift ideas - caviar

Caviar Chests with Champagne for New Year’s Eve

The Epicurean

You could spend the time researching and gathering all of these sweet and savory luxury treats from around the world, or you could simply order one of our Epicurean Hampers with Champagne to be delivered to your doorstep or to the home of friends or family. This tasting menu paired with the Paul Clouet Champagne is ideal for a small gathering where people can nibble on their favorite delectables (be it Scottish smoked salmon or Valrhona chocolate bonbons). The Epicurean would also make a complete picnic for two in the living room (or the bedroom).

 

NYE gift ides - hamper

Epicurean Hampers: Celebrate New Year’s Eve in Style and Good Taste

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

Maybe your New Year’s Eve celebration involves dinner out or going to a party, but you like to return home to share an amorous dessert. Nothing seems to epitomize the sensuous more than luscious fresh strawberries dipped in good chocolate. Be sure to look for the smaller strawberries that use real chocolate for the best flavor when thinking about this as a Happy New Year gift idea.

 

GIFT BASKETS TO BRING TO A PARTY

Stilton and Pear Basket with Port

We based this New Year’s Eve gift idea on a classic English holiday tradition: eating Stilton cheese! We import the blue Stilton in a wheel from the tiny Colston-Bassett Dairy in England that has been making traditional Stilton cheese for over a hundred years. We hand cut the Stilton ourselves and pair it with the perfect time-honored accompaniments: pears and Port. Ours is a Tawny Port from Portugal – bold and rich enough to stand up to the pungent aromas and flavors of the blue Stilton.

 

NYE gift ideas - cheese and port wine

Stilton Cheese Paired with Pears and Tawny Port

Champagne, Craft Spirits, Special Cocktails

So much of the celebration of New Year’s Eve centers round drinking alcohol. Even if you don’t drink, the host of the party you will be attending would probably really appreciate a gift of alcohol. There are many ways for alcohol to make a festive New Year’s Eve gift. Champagne and other sparkling wines are an obvious choice since the bubbly personifies giggles and fun times. But also think about bringing a craft spirit. There are some amazing botanical hand crafted gins, or bourbons made with organically grown grains, for example.  Parties are also the perfect place to make specialty cocktails. Consider bringing your host the recipe and all the ingredients to make a cool cocktail — and then offer to help bartend.

 

GIFTS THAT HONOR NEW YEAR’S TRADITIONS

Watching the Ball Drop

Here in New York City, an estimated 2 million people will witness the ball drop in Times Square this year! Most of us will watch the iconic crystal ball descend from the comfort of our own living rooms. But if you are going to join the crowds, think about supplying your mates with some kitschy paraphernalia like party horns, plastic sparkly 2018 eyeglasses, or green foam Statue of Liberty crowns.

Watching Fireworks

Watching fireworks at midnight is a popular tradition across the country. In NYC, fireworks at midnight is the official start to the 5K run in Central Park. It’s really fun to do. People wear crazy costumes and no one is seriously trying to win it. But the vibe is not unlike the marathon with people (a little drunken perhaps) cheering you on from the sidelines. It’s worth running in at least once. Jehv and I did it impulsively in 2012 when the weather was unseasonably mild. Think about organizing a group of friends to run a race one year as an alternative to other Happy New Year gift ideas.

Resolutions

Making New Year’s resolutions continues to be customary in our culture. Often New Year’s resolutions revolve around fitness and health. Why not set your friend or loved one off to a great start: gym memberships are popular New Year’s gift ideas. Fitbits, work out gear, a gift certificate to a running store or yoga shop, or perhaps a coupon for a spa day!

Miscellaneous

Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s day is supposed to bring good luck. This is a Southern tradition that some of my Northern friends have adopted. Think about sending a good recipe for Hoppin’ John with all the ingredients or make the dish and bring it over to friends or family.

I recently learned about a tradition among some Latin cultures of wearing colorful underwear to set the tone for the kind of year one is going to have. I love this New Year’s gift idea! I guess “black” underwear would not be a happy portent! Think about giving some colorful underwear to your family, friends and partners. Practical and fun too!

No matter how you choose to celebrate New Year’s this year, we hope we have given you some good New Year’s Eve gift ideas to enhance your enjoyment of this exuberant holiday! For friends and family who live in New York City or New York State, we are able to deliver or ship Champagne and wine, separately or paired with a fine food gift basket.

Holiday Gift Ideas for Employees

It’s that time of year again when the lights are strung across the office cubicles and Christmas carols are the background music when customers call. Everyone is buzzing with excitement for the annual holiday party. After a year of hard work, there is no better way to show appreciation than by giving a gift during the holiday season. We understand how stressful it is trying to find great holiday gifts for employees so that is why we’ve created a simple Do’s and Don’ts guide for Christmas gift ideas for employees.

 

The Do’s

1. Capture the spirit of the season

Giving a gift of a gourmet food basket is always appropriate no matter what the occasion! But when it’s the holiday time, you’ll want to look for something that really captures the spirit of the season. At Manhattan Fruitier, we have designed several new gifts with the 2017 holidays in mind. A lovely holiday gift to your employees would be our “Buone Feste da Milano”, pictured below. The focus of this gift is a panettone — a traditional holiday cake in Italy. Our panettone is a moist, rich cake filled with whole Amarena cherries made fresh by Cova Pasticceria, a Milan bakery founded in 1817. We pair this gift with six pieces of seasonal fruit for color and health.

employee gifting dos and donts

Panettone: traditional Italian holiday cake in our Buone Feste da Milano holiday gift

Another great holiday gift idea for employees is cookies! Cookie baking this time of year is a time-honored custom in many kitchens across many cultures. Our set of 31 delicate tea cookies evoke that handmade feeling. With eight different varieties of cookies, it’s like a little tasting menu in a red and silver festive box!

employee gift ideas dos and donts

Tea Cookies in festive red box

We also offer a set of three handmade cookies with the words “Thank You”, “Grazie” and “Merci” hand-piped on the top. It’s a nice and simple way to express your gratitude to your employees, after a year of dedicated work for your company. In the month of December, we top our gifts with a sprig of evergreen — specifically juniper, noble fir and incense cedar — which make each and every gift look like a celebration of the holiday season!

2. Know your recipient

Alcohol is great Christmas gift idea for employees who like wine and spirits. It’s something special and different to accompany a holiday cocktail party or Christmas dinner. However, it behoves you to know whether your employees drink alcohol. If they don’t, then a gift of wine or spirits, no matter how expensive, will be inappropriate and make your employee feel less than acknowledged. This defeats the whole point of the holiday gift in the first place!

Similarly, you want to be careful when considering tickets to sporting events which are a popular gift to give to employees at the holiday time. While many employees might love to see their team play live, others may not follow sports and therefore have little interest. We recommend that if you want to give alcohol or tickets, be sure to choose for individual employees based on their preferences.

3. Cash gifts and gifts of time

While employers may think of a monetary gift as a “cop-out” due to it being impersonal in nature, we have found that it is often what employees want most. Research shows that many employees say that cash in the form of raise or a bonus is one of the best gifts their employer can give them. It is a very tangible way to recognize their work throughout the year. A gift of cash can be one of the best Christmas gift ideas for your employees because it gives them the freedom to purchase something they definitely want.

Aanother thoughtful holiday gift idea for employees is paid time off. Some companies close up shop for the week between Christmas and New Years and this is greatly appreciated by employees who don’t have to use up their vacation time. You might also consider a few extra paid days off during the year that your employees can use at their discretion. Time is as precious and appreciated as cash in hand!

 

The Don’ts 

1. Non-consumable gifts

The first thing to avoid when giving gifts this holiday season is items that can’t be consumed or otherwise used. While an item might be beautiful, if it serves no purpose other than to be admired, it’ll often be placed in a closet or on a shelf and forgotten. These days when people are focused on winnowing their non-consumable or non-functional possessions to things that one “loves to look at” or that “brings one joy”, it doesn’t make sense to give a gift that is just going to add more stuff to your employees home.

2. Company memorabilia

Don’t make the mistake of giving products with the company logo on them as a holiday gift for your employees. No matter how great the company, this often looks as though you’ve gone to the nearest supply closet and raided the items that would ordinarily be sent to customers! Who wants a gift that reminds them of work? It’s totally lame and last minute and that’s not going to make your staff feel appreciated. Take a little time and spend a little money to come up with a thoughtful Christmas gift idea for your employees.

3. Gift cards that miss the mark

Gift cards can be hit or miss as holiday gifts to employees. The first thing you want to avoid is giving a gift that requires the giftee to spend money in order to receive the gift. That’s no gift at all! Moreover, a $50 gift card to a fancy restaurant won’t cover the cost of the entire meal. While you don’t need to calculate in the cost of extras such as alcohol, be sure the amount of your gift card will cover a main course and either appetizer or dessert, at a minimum. Speak to the maitre d’ before you purchase a gift certificate. Another thing to look at when considering a gift card is whether the employee will actually use it. Many of us have a drawer full of gift cards to places we never go to, or to companies we do not shop with. We recommend gift cards to major online distributors such as Amazon. This allows them to pick their own gift and has the best chance of being used and then remembered.

In Conclusion

We hope this go-to guide will help you decide on some great holiday gift ideas for employees. Remember, if it’s thoughtful, even a small gesture can mean so much for the people who support you all the year through. Don’t forget to show them how much you appreciate their hard work for you and your company.

 

7 Tips for Buying Wine

wine glasses and bottles

Pretty much everyone will admit to discomfort, and perhaps even anxiety, when purchasing wine. And why not? There’s so much to know … so many varietals, so many wine regions, so many makers, and so many so-called experts. The important thing about wine is enjoying it! And there are many levels of enjoyment.

For most people, it’s about liking what you drink. Knowing more about the wine may enhance your pleasure, but it’s not necessary. My advice is to enjoy it first and learn more about it if you think it will add to your pleasure. Fortunately, you have a lot of resources for good and great wine here in New York State, and particularly in NYC. Whether it involves eating out at a restaurant or having wine delivered to your New York or NYC home or work, there is no shortage of opportunity to sample and enjoy wine.

1. In a Restaurant, Talk to the Sommelier
Talking about wine in a restaurant setting can be nerve wracking. In front of a date, family, friends, or colleagues it can be intimidating choosing a wine that will not only please everyone but will also be within your budget. The sommelier or server knows the wine list best and wants to please you. Remember, you pay the same for the wine whether you get a recommendation or not, so why not take full advantage of the in-house expertise?

One additional benefit to choosing wine in a restaurant with the help of a sommelier is that you can often sample a couple of bottle selections if they are also offered by the glass. Even if you taste only one or two wines, your feedback will really help the sommelier recommend something you’d like or even love.

Just so you know, even wine experts ask for wine recommendations when they go out to eat. The surest way to have a new and exciting wine experience is to ask the resident expert. For example, the owners of Manhattan Fruitier excitedly told me about a sommelier’s recommendation at NYC’s Boulud Sud of a bottle of 2015 Schäfer-Fröhlich Blanc de Noir Trocken, a lively, lightly fruited white wine made from Pinot Noir grapes. They were surprised and delighted by this unusual wine!

A final note about ordering a bottle of wine in a restaurant: there’s a bit of psychology at play when wine lists are constructed. Diners don’t like to order the least expensive bottle on a wine list, so we tend to order the bottles in the tier just above the least expensive wine. Restaurants know this and often slot higher margin, low surprise wines in this group. If you can increase your budget slightly to get above this tier of wines, and then ask for a recommendation, you’ll likely be in for a nice surprise.

2. In a Wine Shop, Don’t be Shy – Tell the Merchant About What You Like
Wine shops can also be intimating, and/or extremely hard to fathom. There are so many selections, even of the same varietal. How does one make sense of all the choices of unknown producers, unfamiliar grape varieties, and difficult to decipher labels? And the task is made no easier by the fact that Old World wines often have labels that do not indicate the grape variety.

Tips for Buying Wine
Don’t be drawn to fancy labels, alone

You’ll be missing out on some truly enjoyable wines if you choose only bottles that have eye catching labels. This is why you want to ask for a recommendation. There are incredibly knowledgeable people in wine shops across the country who love what they do and want to share bottles they think are delicious with you. And, they are just waiting for you to ask. It’s as easy as saying, “I’d really like to explore some new wines.” This will lead to a conversation about what you drink now and what you like and don’t like.

The experience for a wine expert shopping in a wine shop is admittedly a little different. I’m like a kid at a candy stand when browsing the wine store. Even so, I’ll narrow it down to a couple of things I find interesting and then ask for advice. I almost always refuse assistance from a sales person while shopping for anything else, but with wine I always accept!

Once you discover a few wines you like, it’s easy to stop in your wine store, in NYC or elsewhere, and order a case to be delivered to your home.

3. Share Your Price Point
I think the easiest way to start the conversation is to first set a price point and then talk about styles and characteristics that might interest you. The price point is important because it narrows the options the sommelier will consider, both on the high end and low end depending on your budget. Wine shops offer much gentler markups than restaurants, which is all the more reason to be more adventurous in your choices in a wine shop.

You shouldn’t be embarrassed to request less expensive wines. In a wine shop, bottles starting at $10 to $12 can show a wine’s typicity (the degree to which a wine reflects the signature characteristics of the grape from which it was produced, i.e., how much a wine made with Syrah grapes reflects signature Syrah characteristics). At this price point, you are also beginning to see wines made from grapes grown in a specific area (i.e. the wine is made from grapes that all come from Monterey County, not simply California), and it is labeled as such.

Red wines can be more expensive than white wines for the simple fact that red wines may spend a little more time in the cellar before bottling. Also, red wines may be aged in expensive oak barrels. For this reason, it’s more likely to find a white wine from a lesser known region that’s able to convey a sense of place than a red wine within the $10-$15 range.

The $15-$20 range opens up many more doors. Eric Asimov, Wine Critic for the New York Times, thinks that $15 to $20 a bottle is the sweet spot for great wine values. You’ll find more than a few options from almost any region you can think of. Also at this price point, you’ll find producers who are consciously farming or sourcing grapes and making their wines with very minimal interventions in the cellar, allowing the grapes to show some terroir (or “sense of place,” encompassing the unique geology, topography, climate, plant and animal life as well as history and culture of people in the region).

Wines over $20 should display even more of what a vineyard and producer can do. These wines should come from producers who have proven they make good wines consistently vintage after vintage. Scarcity also affects price, and smaller productions and more hand crafted wines will always be slightly more expensive.

At Manhattan Fruitier, we offer wines ranging from the $20s on up. This is because we want to be sure that the wine a customer sends as a gift, either individually or as part of a wine gift basket in NYC, is exceptional.

A note about very inexpensive wines: the wine industry, like the food industry, is basically divided between producers who make vast quantities of drinkable wines for cheap prices and those who make smaller amounts of wine with the intention of delivering wines that reflect the grape and their craftsmanship. Predictability and homogeneity in the cheaper wines is often achieved by mixing grapes from different vineyards, industrial farming of grapes, and the use of additives to eliminate variation from year to year. While there are sound wines below $10 per bottle, by paying a few more dollars a bottle, you’ll likely be rescued from boring wines and instead experience wines that are surprising and delightful.

4. Color or Type of Wine
First, the good news: telling a wine expert the color or type of wine (red/white/rose/sparkling), price point and one or two characteristics that you like in a wine such as grape varietal (e.g. Chardonnay, Merlot or Pinot Noir) or taste descriptors (such as light or full-bodied, sweet or dry, oaky or no oak, or level of tannin) should be more than enough for her to give you something fun and delicious that she’s excited about. If not, you might be in the wrong store or restaurant.

Because taste is always subjective, it’s helpful to share a common language to communicate your preferences helps. Your wine vocabulary will only get better with the more wines you taste and the more you talk about them with experienced tasters. Just knowing a few distinguishing characteristics of the wines you really like can help tremendously with making a good recommendation.

5. Build on Your Preferences
The other easy way to ask for suggestions is to tell the wine steward about a specific wine you’ve enjoyed. If you tend to frequent the same wine shop or restaurant, feel free to share your impressions of wines they have previously recommended to you. For instance, “That Chardonnay you recommended last time was too fruity or too smoky.” Don’t write off Chardonnay just because you had a bottle you didn’t enjoy. There’s plenty of variation within wines made from the same grape varietals.

Take pictures of wines you like (or don’t like) with your cell phone. Then the next time you’re shopping for wine you can remember what you liked and even show the label to the expert. You can do the same for wines you don’t like since this is also a good guide for what not to recommend.

A quick note: You might be shocked by how much you paid for a wine in a restaurant, particularly more expensive NYC restaurants, compared to a retail wine store. Remember, there’s a lot that goes into serving a bottle of wine in a restaurant, and it’s no secret the wine and alcohol sales are critical to the financial success of many restaurants.

6. Keep an Open Mind
Keep an open mind and be willing to try wines from different varietals and from different areas of the world. For instance, many non-experts have the opinion that German Rieslings are sweet because that’s all they’ve tasted. Well, there are some amazing dry Rieslings that may have you opening this wine again and again. Also, great wines are being made in unexpected places around the world: Sicily, Sardinia, Jura (France), Moravia (Czech Republic), Burgenland (Austria), and Corsica, just to name a few.

7. Free Wine. Why Not?
Many wine shops have weekly wine tastings where you can discover something new. Free wine with the possibility of discovering a new favorite sounds like a good deal to me!

And then there’s Manhattan Fruitier
I’ve assembled a highly curated selection of natural wines at Manhattan Fruitier. With fewer than 100 wines, you can be assured that any wine you choose will be exemplary and reflect the varietal, wine region and unique skills of a particular small wine maker.

Tips for Buying Wine
Manhattan Fruitier Farmhouse Cheese Basket with biodynamic Chablis

In addition to individual bottles, I have also paired Manhattan Fruitier’s artisanal food gift baskets with complementary wines so that the experience of both the food and the wine are enhanced. For example, I’ve paired the Farmhouse Cheese Basket with Brocard Chablis Sainte Claire 2015, a fine biodynamic white wine from Northern France, because it is an intense, mineral driven wine built to cut through the creamy cheeses while also having enough ripe lemon and green apple to stand up to the sweeter cheeses.

Fortunately, our wines and wine gift baskets are available for delivery throughout New York State, including NYC.