With the summer gift-giving season upon us, Wine Enthusiast editor Mike DeSimone dives in to what to keep an eye out for on your next shopping excursion, no matter what the occasion.
Read the transcript to “The Ultimate Summer Gift Guide”:
Jacqueline Strum: I’m Jacki Strum, founder of Thirsty Nest. When I got engaged, I realized we didn’t need any more stuff in our apartment but I was looking to level up on my ability to entertain at home. That’s why I founded Thirsty Nest, the first curated wine, spirits and barware gift registry for the modern couple. You can upgrade your home bar with bottles and barware for your future home together. Visit us at thirstynest.com to start gifting better, Thirsty Nest, because you already have a coffeemaker.
Mike DeSimone: Summer is just around the corner and we have a lot of reasons to celebrate. We also have a lot of gifts to buy for dad’s, grads, brides and grooms. I’m Mike DeSimone, entertaining and lifestyle editor at Wine Enthusiast Magazine and today, I’m bringing in the expert to talk about what to buy for the special people on your gift list.
Fiona Adams: Fiona Adams, senior tasting coordinator, Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
MDS: As graduation season is upon us, I am speaking with Fiona Adams, Wine Enthusiast Magazine senior tasting coordinator. I’d say we have three bottles and a box which is very exciting.
FA: … and a box.
MDS: As someone … You’re in your mid-20s. Is that right?
FA: Mid-20s, 26.
MDS: Okay. All right. How would you say … I mean even from the time on … If you think about how much you changed from the time you’re 20 or 21 in college, wrapping that up into starting your professional career, how would you say your palate has changed over the past few years?
FA: I’ve abandoned the jug wine, moved onto something a little bit more sophisticated.
MDS: To the box.
FA: To the box. I’ve upgraded from the jug to the box or at least a nicer box from the not as nice box.
MDS: For people who are graduating, let’s say for example, I’m going to say … I actually do have a niece who is graduating from college this month. I think she actually just finished classes and she’s graduating very soon. I know she seems to be more of a spirits drinker. I think she’s a flavored vodka drinker if I’m not mistaken.
FA: Yes. I mean I’ve had my fair share of pomegranate vodka and melon vodka.
MDS: If I wanted to be like, “Hey, Caroline. I know this is what you drink but …” I don’t know what her flavor is. I know she had a fleeting and dangerous love affair with that Fireball. Is that-
MDS: We’ve moved on past that. If I wanted to say like, “Hey, Caroline. If you have a new job and you’d go to your office Christmas party and you’re actually going to be, for the first time, able to legally drink at your office Christmas party and I thought this was something you might want to try and think about as a style of something to drink in the company of adults who will be judging you at the office Christmas party next year,” the wines you brought today, which one would you say I should give to the flavored vodka lover in my life?
FA: The flavored vodka lover, I would say either go for … I have a Cremant d’Alsace here or the pinot noir depending on if they want something steely or sparkling.
MDS: All right. Tell me about the Cremant d’Alsace.
FA: Cremant d’Alsace is another traditionally made sparkling wine from France but it doesn’t come with the hefty price tag of champagne.
MDS: Quick question. Given as I’m not someone … I don’t work at Wine Enthusiast Magazine, right, and I hand someone a bottle of Cremant d’Alsace and they say, “Oh, my God, champagne. Thank you,” what do I say?
FA: My lifelong battle of …
MDS: Right. Where do we go?
FA: You just have to explain champagne is the name of the place in France where champagne is from. They’re sparkling wine made in all of France and all over the world. You’re only champagne if you’re made in Champagne.
MDS: Okay. Where does Cremant d’Alsace come from?
FA: The Alsace region of France is where it’s from. Cremant just means traditionally made sparkling wine. Alsace is then in the northeast corner of France. They’re known for more of like their steelier, brighter whites, more sort of like a German Austrian style as opposed to a heartier French in the south.
FA: Cremant’s a great way to sort of break into the region and learn what it’s all about. It’s usually made from Pinot Blanc mostly which is really a grape they’re known for. They do a lot of Steele Pinot Blancs but if you’re going to a party and you want to have some friends over, the Cremant is still fun. It’s sparkly.
MDS: What’s the cost on … the approximate cost?
FA: You can get a Cremant d’Alsace usually for around $20, so a little bit more expensive than your basic lower end Cava or Prosecco that you might have had in college when you’re having a fun, fancy night and you went and you bought the $12 Cava. This is just a small step up. We get to a little bit more complexity and try a new region.
MDS: Okay. You can offer me a drink.
FA: I will. I’ll just open it up.
MDS: Actually, because I’m the host, maybe I should offer you a drink but …
FA: All right. Let’s pop this.
MDS: Okay. Wow. You’re a professional. You have opened bottles before, I see.
FA: I have. I’ll pour this for you.
MDS: Okay. Wow, that’s got really, really nice effervescence. It’s a good color. I would call that pale to medium straw if I have to be fancy which really doesn’t sound very … It’s not very exciting now, is it?
FA: We can go with gold.
MDS: Gold, okay.
FA: It’s a golden color.
MDS: All right. Cheers.
FA: It’s a little bit fresher than your typical champagne or even Cavas that can get really toasty especially if you’re coming from drinking more fruitier cocktails. This still has a lot of really bright, refreshing qualities to it and it’s not that very toasty, almondy.
MDS: Right. You’re right. There’s a lot of freshness to it. I think when you get to that toasty almondy which is something that is … It’s very desirable for people who are sophisticated wine lovers. Toasty almondy, to people who don’t know wine, they taste and they’re like … They think it’s bad. They think it’s oxidized and it’s old. They might not even have any idea what corked means but they’ll say, “Is this corked?” This has none of those qualities. It’s bright and crisp and fresh which is nice. Now, for the wrapping challenge, we have a box of wine sitting over there.
FA: We have the box. I drank my fair share of boxed wines when I was in college but it’s okay to still drink boxed wines. You don’t have to be afraid of the box. It’s not always an indication of a lesser quality wine. They’re getting more and more sophisticated every year.
MDS: Certainly. Yeah, there’s a lot of them.
FA: The packaging is more eco-friendly so a lot of wineries are moving in that direction and they’re great for parties or you keep it in your fridge like we have a Rose today. Keep that in your fridge if you have some co-workers over unexpectantly, you have cold wine and it sort of lost of its stigma.
MDS: I love that sound. It’s totally different. We had the cork-popping and now, we have the ripping of the cardboard here. I think one of the other important things is the fact that you’ve got the reservoir inside that as the wine comes out, it kind of shrinks to fit. You don’t have the problem with oxidation in trying to reseal a bottle if you don’t finish it.
FA: Exactly. If you don’t finish it all in one night which it is a three-liter box, that’s a lot of wine.
MDS: If you finish a three-liter box in one night … If you’ve just gotten out of college …
FA: Yeah. You can keep it in the fridge. It’s going to last a long time. You can leave it in three a couple weeks.
MDS: That’s three liters. That’s the equivalent of four bottles and this is called … It’s From the Tank.
FA: This is From the Tank. It’s a vin de France Rose so it’s not classified as any particular region but it is a Grenache and Syrah blend which are-
MDS: Okay. That’s that Rome. It’s a Provencal style.
FA: Typical southern France style and it’s just really light and refreshing.
MDS: That’s a nice … I would call that a salmon pink. It’s got that nice, light hue to it.
FA: It is.
FA: Yeah. It’s really light, really fruity, not too bubble-gummy though that you can get with some cheaper boxes but very refreshingly easy, great for summer, great for parties.
MDS: One of the nice things about it is it’s got a nice mouth feel. It’s got the qualities of a red wine but it really has the nice, the crisp, cleanness and the brightness and the fact that it’s refreshing, it’s got those qualities of a white wine as well.
FA: Of course, yeah. This has got a lot of great fruit to it. You can hold up to food, bring it to a barbecue, bring it to a friend’s house or have some of your new co-workers over and eat a nice meal and the Rose will still be bright and refreshing and not fall apart. This is going to run you about $30 a box.
MDS: Okay, which but it’s the equivalent of four bottles and that’s-
FA: It’s four bottles. You’re still getting a great deal and a little bit more expensive maybe for a boxed wine but you are getting a more sophisticated box. It’s got a lot more interesting flavors going on. It’s not slap the bag at a party.
MDS: Right, exactly. I like this. I think it’s a good choice and as I said, it’s … God, I’m going to go back to the Sugarhill Gang here. It is a rapper’s delight in terms of being able to get pay for around that box.
MDS: For the red wine drinker in our life?
FA: If you’re more of red wine drinker and I drank a lot of jugs of red wine so I definitely wanted to try more reds when I got out of college, I have a pinot noir from New Zealand. New Zealand has a lot of great value. I think it’s a really great way to introduce people into pinot noir that maybe are still learning what they like in the wine world.
MDS: Sure. I think New Zealand has all … There’s a lot of great pinot noirs there. This is the Villa Maria.
FA: This is the Villa Maria Pinot Noir. This is one of their lower ends ones but they do have a huge range. If you’re introducing a new wine drinker, it’s really easy to find. It’s really recognizable and if they do find that they really love pinot noir, they could even stay within the same brand and discover more of what they like about it or move on to new regions. Another great thing about New Zealand if you’re trying to get someone to maybe try new things, they’ve got the wine variety on the label pretty much all the time.
FA: If you know you like pinot noir, it can be difficult.
MDS: Right. Tell me about this screw cap.
FA: I love screw caps especially working in the tasting department. I am opening wine all day. Screw cap works great. The cork may feel a little bit more fancy but especially a lot of wineries are now using an artificial cork.
MDS: Those are impossible to get out.
FA: Exactly. They’re really hard to get out and you have to go through all these motions. Screw cap is great for young, fresh wines. They’re exploring how you can age wines. I think the future is the screw cap. Yeah, you lose a lot of the ceremony which is the crack but hey, if you’re again going to a party, having some friends over, instead of scrambling around looking for your cork screw, you’ve got the screw cap. Grab and go.
MDS: Exactly. Yes. You see, right, it is grab and go. They’re very easy. If you were hosting a graduation party for a younger sibling perhaps or for a friend who look to you for advice, which of these wines do you think would be your go-to or would they all be your go-to wines for a graduation party? What do you think?
FA: I mean the sparkling and the boxed are great for parties. Screw cap is also great for parties. I try to avoid maybe going too fast.
FA: Don’t want to bring out the big guns at first. These are great ways to introduce them into wine. With the Villa Maria, it’s at $15 a bottle so they come to the party, they try it, they love it, great for me. I’m excited. Then, they can actually go out and buy it so I think that’s a really great option for parties if you’re trying to gently nudge your younger drinkers into something a little bit more sophisticated.
MDS: Right, exactly.
FA: Give them something they can actually recognize and go out and buy.
MDS: That is actually, that’s the whole point of giving someone an unusual or an interesting gift or something they didn’t expect, is to kind of like nudge them in a different direction. Certainly, it’s a lot easier to write a check or buy a gift card.
FA: Of course.
MDS: I think you’ve come up with some terrific suggestions. Now, how about glassware? What do you think about glassware for new grads?
FA: Glassware would be a great gift for new grads especially again, they’re starting out, want to invite their co-workers over, really finding their new adults group of friends. I wouldn’t invest in maybe the nicest glassware because they are still 22.
MDS: Sure. Right. They’re probably going to end up … Especially when you’re 22, I mean that period of your life, you move a lot.
FA: Exactly. You’re moving.
MDS: You move in and out of roommate situations and you might change jobs and move to another city.
FA: Of course.
MDS: A new wine drinker, what would you recommend they have in their house in terms of wineglass?
FA: A classic stemmed universal glass or a white wine glass just because white wine glasses are great for white wine but they are also excellent for sparkling wines if you don’t maybe have the room for flutes in your apartment or are not ready to invest in a flute or if you’re like me and just prefer to drink sparkling out of a white wine glass.
MDS: I think it’s funny because there’s a lot of beautiful flutes on the market and I feel like flutes have become temporary passé.
FA: They have been. It’s all about drinking sparkling out of the white wine glass but the universal style is great for everything and you could always throw a cocktail in there or a nice beer and it will work great for any sort of activity.
MDS: There we go. If you’re thinking about someone who’s a new wine drinker and you’re not quite sure what the right thing is, glasses sound like a good idea but again, we’re looking at things that are $15, $20, $30. I think that’s a worthy investment especially if you have a young relative or a peer that you’re trying to move over to the wine side.
FA: Gently nudge into the wine world.
FA: We don’t want to freak them out and it’s great. Again, the price point is perfect where they say, “Hey, I love that wine you got me.” They can still go out and buy it and not worry about the price.
MDS: Exactly. Wonderful. Thank you so much. It’s been great chatting with you.
FA: Thank you.
Kara Newman: Kara Newman, spirits editor, Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
MDS: Father’s Day is right around the corner and Kara has brought some spirits for us to taste. What do we have, Kara?
KN: I brought some goodies. I have for us, first of all, a whiskey to try. That seems to be one of the standard items that dads seem to enjoy. Usually, you wind up with a scotch or a bourbon but I thought it’d be fun to try a rye whiskey.
MDS: Cool. I know rye is having this real resurgence right now.
KN: They’re so good for cocktails, for Pattons but the one that I brought is Basil Hayden. Their bourbon is usually one of my go-to’s. It’s very light, accessible and it’s a high rye bourbon so it made a lot of sense that they rolled out a rye whiskey.
MDS: Being a wine person, and I do enjoy spirits but I would not say that I’m quite the spirits goddess that you might be, so just remind me why is rye rye? Why is bourbon bourbon?
KN: Absolutely. Okay. It’s a type of whiskey, American whiskey. Just like wine is made up of different types of grapes, whiskeys are made up of different types of grains. For a whiskey to be considered a bourbon, it needs to be at least 51% corn as part of its mash fill, the mix of the grains. For a rye whiskey to be called rye, it needs to be at least 51% rye grain. I’ll pour a little bit for us to try. This one is brand new. It’s literally just rolling out in April. There we go.
MDS: Perfect. Thank you. I know just being rolled out, there is some availability of this? I mean folks will be able to find it?
KN: It should be pretty widely available but I like that it’s a nice approachable price point too. It’s $45.
MDS: Okay. All right, great.
KN: It’s a good gift.
MDS: Absolutely. Cheers.
KN: Cheers. That’s nice.
KN: I love that it has this beautiful amber color and it’s so aromatic. It’s all kinds of vanilla and caramel and spice.
MDS: Yeah, the spice is like a lot of … There’s some anise in there. It’s beautiful, a little liquorish and then that, just really that top note of vanilla is beautiful too.
KN: I feel like it’s a good one to either sip straight if that’s your thing or mixed beautifully.
MDS: Right. If we were going to mix this, what would you mix this with?
KN: Probably my first thought would be to mix it with some sweet Vermouth and make Manhattans.
MDS: Wow. Yeah. Nice.
KN: I think it’ll be fun also even in a Boulevardier.
MDS: What is a Boulevardier?
KN: It’s very similar to a Negroni but instead of gin, it’s whiskey.
KN: Usually, it’s [crosstalk 00:18:59] with bourbon but I think we could do a lovely rye Boulevardier with this whiskey, Campari, sweet Vermouth.
MDS: That sounds really nice. I’m just thinking like if your dad’s a spirits lover and your dad drinks whiskey and your dad drinks bourbon, you’re trying to introduce him to a new brand or something, like the Basil Hayden is perfect but if you want to turn your dad onto something and he might not be a whiskey drinker but you think like, “I think he would like this,” how would you approach it and how would you gift it to him and explain to him, “You know, dad, I thought you would like this”? What would be the selling points for your dad?
KN: I think it depends on the flavor profiles that he likes. One of the transitions that I’ve been thinking about when it comes from transitioning people from wine drinkers over to spirits drinkers, I think it has a lot to do with the barrels. I think about if somebody really loves white wines, something really crisp and bright, I would probably try to encourage them over to gin, also something crisp and light.
MDS: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense.
KN: If they love either whites with a lot of oak on them or they love reds with a lot of oak on them, I think whiskey is probably where I’d want to start them or even rum. Anything aged in a barrel, I think, would really attract them.
MDS: Right. We also have … You brought a rum along as well, is it?
KN: I did. If you want to talk about something that spans seasons but still has that barrel aged to it, I think rum is wonderful for that because it does tend to be … It does usually tend to be barrel aged. It has these warmer tones to it but we think of rum as being this tropical summer drink.
MDS: Right, yeah. There’s kind of that misconception of rum, like all rum being like just white or silver rum that gets thrown into sweet blender drinks and sweet cocktails and those-
KN: Not that I’m opposed to those either.
MDS: No, no, no. Not at all.
KN: Aged rums are so luscious and so beautiful.
MDS: Yeah. What do we have today?
KN: Okay. I’m very excited about this rum. This one is new-ish. It’s been on the market about a year. It’s called Plantation O.F.T.D. rum.
MDS: What does that stand for?
KN: Okay. I’ll give you a couple of different alternatives for that acronym. Okay. It’s supposed to mean old fashioned traditional dark. That’s the official. One alternate explanation for O.F.T.D. is … The other one’s a little less flattering. Supposedly, one of the guys who worked on it says it stands for old fart cheeky dudes.
MDS: Okay, all right, which is …
KN: Yeah. Let’s just open it up. Don’t spill it.
MDS: All right.
KN: Okay. I should warn you this is overproof.
MDS: Okay, overproof.
KN: It is gorgeous so I brought a mixer too.
MDS: A normal rum is 40-proof, right? What do we-
KN: Usually, yeah.
MDS: Yeah. What do we have here?
KN: This one, it’s almost 70-proof.
MDS: Okay. All right, cheers.
KN: Cheers. This one also is a really beautiful dark amber hue.
KN: I mean just gorgeous. It’s almost orange highlights.
MDS: Yeah, no it is. It’s the color of caramels. It really is.
KN: Yes, and smelled like toffee.
MDS: In fact, it kind of has that smell. There’s a lot of caramel on the nose and toffee and …
KN: Toffee and orange peels.
MDS: … some baking spices, yeah, orange peel, very nice.
KN: This one’s amazing. It’s one of the most flavorful rums.
KN: It just resonates on your palate.
MDS: Yeah. I really think that Dave Wondrich really had it right when he …
KN: [inaudible 00:22:40].
MDS: … when he said that because it really is … I’m a rum drinker. I do find though that the rum, because they can have a lot of like hot tones to them and just kind of warm up your mouth a lot similar to a cognac or brandy or something. I-
KN: This one is very cognac as-
MDS: Now, let me ask you as a … I know you’re not a complete … You’re also like our cocktail maven. You’re not just a complete spirits purist but would I be breaking the law if I put a nice cube in this?
KN: No. No, no, no. Do it. Go for it. I think it actually would warrant it. It’s a little like sipping a whiskey and it probably would bring out a lot of different tones to it also. I’m going to plop one into mine as well. There we go.
MDS: There we go because I think having just put a nice cube in, I think it’s still delicious. It actually sometimes, if you’re any kind of sipping spirit, especially for people who don’t usually drink spirits, it can just be like a little bit hot. If they don’t understand the nuances on the palate, they don’t know what they’re looking for, it can be like almost like you just poured alcohol into their mouth which is what it is. I think that dropping an ice cube in sometimes especially if we’re drinking with novices, people who have a less sophisticated palate, people who are used to cocktails, not a sipping rum, it tones down the heat a little bit. It certainly dissipates and tamps down some of the tail notes, you might say but I think it makes it more palatable to a lot of people. Do you agree with that?
KN: Yeah, absolutely. No, it dilutes it. It chills it. I feel like it’s bringing out a little extra flavor too. Now, it still warms on the way down as it should but I feel like I’m also getting some dried fruit like fig notes and [inaudible 00:22:57] notes.
MDS: Yeah. There’s a lot more fruit in there. We had a lot of spice to start but there’s a lot more fruit now.
KN: Here’s the twist with this. If you do find it too hot, keep in mind that it was created by people who are also at heart, Tiki experts and so it’s really made to mix and it’s not too precious to do.
MDS: It’s okay. We’ve always been told and again, just like we’ve shown out all the wine rules like that white with fish and red with meat. It’s always been like with rum, it’s like silver rums are for mixing and dark rums are for sipping.
MDS: We’re all right taking a beautiful dark aged rum and mixing into a cocktail.
KN: Right. The price on this is $32 for one liter so exactly …
MDS: Are you serious?
KN: It’s good value.
MDS: Okay. I’m just going to say it’s a beautiful bottle. It is. That’s one of the things, when you’re giving someone a gift and you’re trying to give them something new and different, you want that visual impact before they open it as well. It’s a really good bottle. I would have guessed that the price point was like double that or beyond …
KN: Yeah. It’s good value.
MDS: … just looking at the bottle.
KN: It’s a larger bottle than the standard at one liter.
MDS: Just in terms of Father’s Day coming up and gifting, we have the rye, we have the rum. Any other … What about if your dad loves, if your dad is a gin drinker?
KN: I’ve got a good one for that.
KN: For gin, these days, my special occasion gin is called Gin Mare. It’s from Spain. You can try it when you’re there.
MDS: Mare is great. Yeah. Is that in the U.S. now?
KN: It is.
MDS: It is. Okay.
KN: It’s relatively new here. It’s made with olives and rosemary and other herbs as part of the botanicals. It’s so wonderfully savory. It’s my go-to for any kind of martini.
MDS: Wow. I’m glad to know it’s here. Mare has kind of been my go-to. I’m actually glad to hear that our spirits maven loves the Mare.
KN: I do. It’s priced at $35 so that’s affordable. I could see giving it to dad with a beautiful cocktail shaker or a set of martini glasses.
MDS: Sure. Right. For example, if you were to give the rum to dad, would you go with like cognac glasses or would you go with Tiki glasses?
KN: Tiki glasses, for sure.
MDS: Tiki glasses?
KN: Yeah, some fun Tiki mugs or depending on your dad, maybe even a really, really ugly Tiki shirt.
MDS: Okay. Good. A Tiki shirt. Wow.
KN: Or swizzle sticks or something really out there. It’s got to be bold and fun. If you’re giving dad rum, you’re going to assume that he’s fun and he’s going to enjoy it. If you’re giving dad gin, I think probably of a classic kind of dad. Maybe he’s Frank Sinatra, I don’t know.
KN: Bourbon also. He’s a bit more classic, a purist. Then, if your dad is really, really out there, really on the edge, I would probably recommend going with mezcal. Dad’s real edgy. He can handle something really smoky and crazy and out there, especially my out there on the edge pick for dad would be a pechuga mezcal.
MDS: Okay. Tell me what is a … Pechuga is the producer or is that a style?
KN: It’s a style.
MDS: It’s a style. Okay. What sets a pechuga mezcal aside?
KN: I’m imagining the type of dad you’re giving a pechuga mezcal to is someone who’s a carnivore. Maybe he is a barbecue enthusiast. A pechuga mezcal is made with a piece of raw meat, usually a chicken breast, suspended in distill. Then, they make the mezcal and it completely disappears. It disintegrates during the course of distillation.
MDS: Okay. I wasn’t like spelling it or thinking so which is actually Spanish for breast.
KN: There you go, chicken breast. There you go.
MDS: Chicken breast is pechuga de pollo.
KN: There you go.
MDS: Okay. All right.
KN: There is a vegetarian version too.
MDS: What does that add … Does it add like a meaty … What does it add to it?
KN: A very, very subtle umami, savory characteristic.
MDS: Okay. Wow.
KN: It’s usually also … It’s considered to be a harvest mezcal. It’s also made with fruits and nuts and sometimes, rice. It could be a little sweeter. It’s just so complex and crazy and wonderful.
MDS: Right. Mezcals are, I mean, in my experience, they’re all smoky. Is that …
KN: Not all but many.
MDS: A lot of them are. Is that part of the distillation and aging process or does that come from our base material?
KN: They’re made with agave, piñas, just like tequila, but they are roasted. That’s what gives it that smoky, roasty quality.
MDS: Got you.
KN: It’s just so delicious and wonderful. I’m just grooving on mezcals right now.
MDS: Mezcal is something … Again, it’s like, in my experience, it’s one of those things that is generally, I mean, it’s like an after dinner sipper. I think that’s really a good way to find out about your dad, in fact, is if you give your dad like a bottle of mezcal or a bottle of tequila, that kind of thing because everybody has a story. Everyone who’s ever drank tequila has a story about what happened to them one time drinking tequila. I think, when you’re growing up, parents, they try to be dignified and everything. I think it’d be good to kind of just sit down with dad and have a drink and talk and be like, “Hey, dad, did you ever get wild on tequila?”
KN: I love the idea of giving your dad a bottle of anything and opening it up with him and hearing the stories …
KN: … whatever the story happens to be, whatever the spirit happens to be.
KN: I love that.
MDS: Kara, thank you.
KN: Thank you, Mike.
Jacqueline Strum: Jacki Strum, founder of Thirsty Nest.
MDS: Tell me, how did Thirsty Nest start? What gave you this great idea?
JS: Sure. About a year, almost exactly a year ago, I got married which is really fun.
MDS: Congratulations. I was aware of that but congratulations.
JS: Thanks. Now, everyone knows. When we were going through the process of getting engaged, setting up our gift registry, we hadn’t even finished setting up the registry for the engagement party which is the first in a series of events as you know, engagement party, bridal shower, wedding, and we’d already ran out of gifts. We kind of looked at each other and we’re like, “What do we do?” We live in a 500-square-foot apartment in the Upper East Side, we’re almost 30 years old, I have enough grownup stuff, I just don’t need … I don’t need plates and forks. I feed myself as a grownup.
MDS: Sure. Exactly.
JS: I kind of thought, “This just doesn’t make sense and it must be common.” I started looking around at the data of the way the wedding registry industry is today and it is very different from the way it was set up to be. Originally, it was you were getting engaged at 20 or 22.
MDS: You were starting out.
JS: … and buying a house, yeah.
MDS: Basically, you don’t have anything.
JS: You didn’t have anything and you were getting a home. That was going to be like you’re forever at home and so you needed every last thing. As time went on, people got married much, much later and now, the new average age nationwide, not even in metropolitan areas, is 27 for women and 29 for men.
MDS: Okay. Wow.
JS: You can imagine in cities, it’s really early 30s.
MDS: Yeah. Living in New York City, I feel like that’s actually exceptionally young.
JS: It is, right. In New York, it’s early to mid-30s which means they have even more stuff and even have lived together for even longer probably. The new need state of somebody who’s setting up a registry is very different from the way it used to be but the market hasn’t really changed that much. That leaves this pain point that we’ve all been experiencing as brides and grooms.
We started looking around and realizing, “Oh, this kind of mirrors the wine industry,” because that’s my background. I grew up in the wine and spirits industry. My family founded Wine Enthusiast so I’ve basically been in the industry since the womb. I knew that the millennial demographic which is about the same as someone getting married was voraciously consuming wine and spirits, more so than any other generation in history.
MDS: Right. Of course.
JS: All of that kind of perfectly dovetailed together and I came up with the idea for Thirsty Nest.
MDS: Let’s say, for example, that I have a friend or a colleague, someone who’s getting married and so they’ve used Thirsty Nest to register. What do I do as the-
JS: As a guest?
MDS: As a guest, yeah.
JS: As a guest, you would receive the … Typically, on someone’s wedding website is where people usually go to find where someone’s registered. We would be on there next to Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Bed Bath & Beyond because people, on average, register two or three places.
MDS: Which makes a lot of sense because they can get those plates and those dishes …
JS: Sure, yeah.
MDS: … and the comforter or whatever …
MDS: … and they can get to the wine.
JS: Exactly. You really need to register for so many gifts that one place just can’t really suffice me. Even we had to get a nice vacuum cleaner, some new sheets, but the really fun stuff, we didn’t really need.
MDS: Let’s face it. Giving someone a gift like giving someone wine or several bottles of wine, either like one really good bottle or several bottles of them that’s going to age, that’s a hell of a lot sexier than a vacuum cleaner.
JS: I agree.
MDS: Have you ever actually bought the vacuum cleaner off of anyone’s registry?
JS: Never. Usually, it’s like the one thing left and your aunt has to get it for you because they’re stuck with it. Especially for our bar, having people over and wine and spirits are this unique kind of Venn diagram between something that’s gift-friendly and a consumable. It doesn’t feel like you’re accumulating stuff. It feels like an experience in the future that you’re giving to somebody else which is what makes it feel like such a sexy to use it as a gift. It’s like, “Oh, I’m getting this Amarone,” that you can have in two years when you buy a house together or something like that.
MDS: I guess the cool thing too about having it as a registry is that someone, they know what it is that they’re registering for. It’s not like you show up at someone’s house and you have to explain. “I bought you an Amarone. Don’t drink it for at least two years. It’ll probably be perfect in five. Don’t hold it for 12,” like that. If they’ve registered, they’ve kind of like thought through. Can people register for cellarable wine?
JS: Absolutely. One of our biggest, like really pillars of what we want to do is help to guide both the guest if they want to purchase themselves a one-off gift or a bride to create a cellar from scratch. That means everything from your week night, Riesling with your Chinese food, to something that’ll last five, 10 … We even have bottles tagged for 25-year anniversaries.
JS: Someone said we should get a prenup just for their cellar.
MDS: Exactly. Really. You know what, let that be somebody else’s thing.
MDS: Let someone who grew up in the legal profession worry about that.
JS: Yes, that’s not my forte unfortunately.
JS: I’m much better at making a cocktail than writing up a contract. We wanted to make it tagged, so we actually have … Every bottle has little picture tags based on the age statement like how long we think it can age, if it’s age-worthy or even the kind of wine that you think of when you see it.
MDS: Above and beyond being just like a registration site, you’re a cellar consultant as well.
JS: I guess so, yeah. We want to be able to arm people with that knowledge. I think there’s this kind of gap between everybody drinking so much wine but feeling nervous about their knowledge and how to purchase it correctly.
MDS: Right. Who’s your team? Who are you working with on this?
JS: I personally have an advanced degree from WSET. You’re familiar with them as well, the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.
MDS: Yes, certainly.
JS: I have a good amount of knowledge there and then, of course, my industry knowledge but we have fulfillment partners that each have their own specialists. One of our partners, Wine Express, Josh Farrell is the main guy there [inaudible 00:36:50]. We work with him to make sure that he thinks everything makes sense as a gift or that it’s age-worthy or I even speak to some of our team at Wine Enthusiast Magazine sometimes for like a little bit of advice or we … We have this wealth of brain power here in this office.
MDS: Right. I was flipping around your site and I noticed that you have Susan Kostrzewa as one of your curators, right? You have some curated collections.
JS: Yes, exactly. One of the things in line with guiding people on what to purchase is we have what’s called one-click registry so instead of someone landing on the site and being like, “What do I do now?” they can actually, in one click, add a collection or a bundle up an entire registry recommended by us and build it so they don’t have to build it from scratch.
JS: Whether that’s someone who is a whiskey person or a cocktail guy or someone who just wants to really balance the bar like just the essentials, we’ve put together collections with everything from storage, glassware, week night wine, anniversary wine and in one click, your whole registry is done.
MDS: Remind me. I did take a look so your collections, about how many … In your preset collections, about how many wines?
JS: It’s wines and the drinkware as well all in about like 35 to 45 gifts.
MDS: Okay, all right.
JS: Probably a good bridal shower, I’d say.
MDS: Yeah. That’s a good bridal shower or a … I guess that’s a small wedding now, isn’t it?
JS: Yeah, small wedding but if you add several collections, that right there is almost a hundred gifts and that’s where the influencer collections come in that you mentioned. There’s our recommended starter collections and then we work with partners like Sue Kostrzewa, the executive editor of Wine Enthusiast Magazine, to put together her dream registry.
MDS: Okay, wow. Then, you also have, so there’s glassware, barware.
JS: Yep, and even wine fridges, storage, kind of everything you would need to set up your home bar from scratch which feels a little more adult than some of the other things you buy in your early 20s.
JS: It’s probably something that not everybody already has completed by the time they’re getting married. Now, you can get like a nice rack or even, yeah, fridges and decanters, openers, aerators, all the kind of [crosstalk 00:39:07].
MDS: For example, if you have a collection of wine, if there’s like a registry that is more age-worthy wines where we might see a decanter or a couple of different decanters or …
JS: Yeah, or a Coravin which we also sell …
MDS: Okay, Coravin.
JS: … or even specific glassware for those kinds of wines. We try to make it really turnkey so you kind of get, “Oh, these things go together. These pieces make sense as a gift together.” One of the things I was mentioning to you before we started is the hardware versus software kind of concept. Being able to get the hardware which is the drinkware and the software like wine and spirits in one gift makes for really holistic gifting experience for somebody.
MDS: Yeah. Prior to when you got married, I guess your sister got married a couple years before.
JS: Yes, almost the same weekend actually two years-
MDS: Okay. Were you in that period of time where like all of your friends were getting married?
JS: Yeah, still.
MDS: What have the wine choices been like at your friends’ weddings?
JS: At other friends’ weddings? I can tell a lot of the time, it’s what the caterer makes the most margin on. That’s really why I like to be able to give someone help if they’re curious.
MDS: Is that help, is that advice available on Thirsty Nest as well?
JS: Yes, absolutely, or they can even e-mail me, email@example.com. I’m happy to personally recommend something for them but yeah, I typically recommend getting a lean white, a fuller white, lean red and a fuller red and then, Rose and sparkling if you can have a nice-
MDS: Sure, right. I guess I mean a lot of that also depends on what the menu choices are and what you’re serving.
JS: Yep, and your budget.
MDS: There’s that. Don’t be silly. The budget. Is there a section on Thirsty Nest or wedding like wine, not wedding gift but wine to serve at your wedding?
JS: Absolutely. Under the for the wedding section, there’s ceremony and reception wines and spirits as well, things that are easy to batch cocktails with, for example and then, we even have wines to purchase for your engagement party, your bridal shower, your bachelorette party, the kind of more like fun party vibe wines and spirits or your bachelor party, scotch, whiskey or even some fun like pre-bottled cocktails, I think, are really in right now.
JS: They’ve been really cool. We sell those on there as well.
MDS: Remind me, were you married a year ago?
JS: Exactly a year ago this first weekend of June.
MDS: Okay. Kind of from the inception, so from the time that you registered to the time you got married to now to the launch of your site, it’s been a year.
JS: Yes, that’s true.
MDS: Wow. You’ve really moved quite quickly on this.
JS: Yeah. The second I had the concept, I started doing all of this research into the data and looking into whether or not it existed already. There are ways to do it but they’re not really very modern friendly or user friendly. If you go to your local liquor store, you can kind of do it like that.
MDS: You can register or …
JS: Yeah, but then someone would also have to go to your liquor store. It just didn’t feel like it was guided and curated in a way that was easy to use and be modern. Another one of the things that kept coming up with my friends throughout the years that I realized would be helpful for this site is personalized cocktails. Everyone has their cocktail they want for their wedding.
MDS: Okay, right.
JS: I noticed a lot of people making the mistake of having these like high octane old fashioneds because it was cool and people would just get so drunk.
MDS: Yeah. Especially as on the editorial side, when we’re doing … When we have like a batch cocktail for a party, we keep them pretty low octane.
JS: They should be.
MDS: There’s like a lot of club soda in those things.
JS: Yeah, because especially if it’s hot in the summer or it’s just easy to drink too many of them.
MDS: Yeah. No, it is. The last thing you need is to … You don’t want to be responsible for having people like over-boozed up at your own wedding.
MDS: They can kind of do their own thing and especially if the cocktails are slightly sweet.
JS: True because you can’t taste it.
MDS: You don’t know. You have no idea.
JS: Yeah. That’s another thing that we have a lot of guidance around on Thirsty Nest, how to pick that out yourself. That’s just not because you’re necessarily even buying something from us for it just so we can be helpful through the whole process and the entire beverage experience for your wedding, we want to be as helpful as possible.
MDS: Thirsty Nest, it’s not just a shopping site. There’s editorial on it.
JS: A lot of editorial, yes, because we realize that there wasn’t really a voice explaining how to do this in a way that had a good sense of humor and was beginner level all the way up. We wanted it to be accessible just like Wine Enthusiast Magazine but in a way that was really digestible and digital, I guess. It’s very kind of like bite-sized and you kind of feel armed with knowledge and then you can go about your day.
MDS: Right, a little offering.
MDS: Great. I hope you have an extremely busy June this year.
JS: Thanks. Yeah, we hope so too.
MDS: A super bridal season.
JS: I hope so.
MDS: I’m sure and as we know, people get married all year, not just in June but I feel like you’re going to have a lot of work on your hands with this.
JS: Thank you.
MDS: Good luck and congratulations.
JS: Thank you. I hope so. Thanks for having me on.
MDS: Sure thing.
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Last Updated: June 5, 2023