It’s the holidays yada yada. Once again, the year is careening to a close with alarming finality and potential for collateral damage. Family dinners and corporate gatherings loom large on the horizon like accidents waiting to happen. Now more than ever the art of being able to instantly redirect a bizarre or political conversation is more than a necessity—it’s a survival skill. But take solace. It’s all temporary. And with the right flavor of strong water, it’s manageable. Here’s some sage holiday advice:

Holiday gifts: when in doubt, give sparkling wine or Champagne. And you don’t have to spend the big bucks on Champagne. There are plenty of good domestic bubblies, not to mention Franciacorta or various Crémants.

Holiday dinners: never take an expensive bottle–or god forbid a bottle out of your cellar—to a dinner with more than six people attending. It will be a complete waste, and you might consider committing a felony as you watch some fashionista put ice cubes in a glass from your bottle of Coche-Dury Meursault. Need I say more?

Last and most important: it’s imperative that you give yourself something really nice for the holidays. You can’t possibly expect anyone to have a clue about what you really want. So, get something cool, frivolous, or shiny. You’ll be glad you did.

Otherwise, here’s the seventh annual holiday list from the TG blog. Read, listen, watch, sip, and enjoy!

The Holiday Book Bag

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles

Recommended by good friend Andy Meyers, MS. I am not a big fiction/novel reader, but Amor Towles’ Gentleman is by far my favorite book of the year. This beautifully-written story should be on everyone’s reading list. 

Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles, by Kenneth Womack

Kenneth Womack is considered one of the foremost Beatles scholars, and Solid State does not disappoint. The book includes lots of detail on the album’s day-to-day sessions, as well as the equipment used in the recording. Most intriguing is a lengthy description of the eight-track recorder George Martin procured for the group. Note that Abbey Road is the only Beatles album recorded in stereo on an eight-track machine. The end of the book chronicles the dysfunctional end to the group months after the album was completed. Suggestion: pair Solid State with listening to the newly remastered 50th anniversary version of the album (listed below) and you’ll experience something amazing and worth repeating. 

The Style of Movement: Fashion and Dance, by Ken Browar and Deborah Ory

Ken Browar and Deborah Ory are husband-wife dance photographers. The sequel to their gorgeously photographed The Art of Dance includes images of more than eighty of the world’s most famous dancers, captured in movement and styled in garments designed by some of fashion industry’s biggest names. The Style of Movement is simply remarkable for its beauty and photographic virtuosity. It’s a wow.

The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

I was in Book Passage in the Ferry Building in San Francisco last month while in town for an event. I picked up a shiny new copy of Princess Bride and started reading. The next thing I knew I was at the counter buying it. I read the entire book on a flight to San Diego later that day. Here’s the deal: if you’ve not read The Princess Bride, you simply must. And if you’ve read it, you need to re-read it. It’s my favorite adult-ish fairy tale and a fantastic movie as well (see below—again). 

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, by Walter Isaacson

Another brilliant biography from Walter Isaacson. The author chronicle’s Franklin’s complex life and spares no detail in the later years when he played such a critical role in the negotiating the end of the Revolutionary War with the British, as well as his part in writing both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. A great read.

Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, by Samin Nosrat

Samin Nosrat is that rare chef who possesses the language-writing skills to get at the essence of what makes good cooking good. Isolating the four basic vital taste elements of cooking, i.e., the title, Nosrat takes you through basic kitchen technique and gives you the “chops” to be able to improvise successfully in the kitchen with just about anything. Everyone who likes to cook should own this book. It makes a great gift. Buy yourself a copy while you’re at it.

How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill

There are lots of St. Patrick jokes and memes that surface every year around mid-March. But the real St. Patrick is so much more important to us—to all of Western Civilization, for that matter. In fact, without the St. Patrick and his establishing the monastic movement in the 4th century, it is highly doubtful that there would be any books at all. And what we call the classics from Ancient Greece and Rome would simply not exist. Thomas Cahill, noted historian and academic, writes of St. Patrick and his profound effect on tribal dark age Ireland—and the Catholic Church itself. How the Irish Saved Civilization is a wonderful read, and the first of six volumes in Cahill’s series entitled “Hinges of History.” I read all six books last spring. You should at least read this one. 

Flawless: Understanding Wine Faults, by Jamie Goode

My only wine book recommendation for the year is definitely at the deep end of the pool. Jamie Goode is an outstanding writer/blogger from the UK. His new book on wine faults should be a must-read for anyone in the industry. In Flawless, Goode takes the point of view that with a single exception (TCA), context needs to play a major role in judging what we label wine faults. Be forewarned that there is more than a bit of chemistry involved. However, the book is enormously informative and Goode does his utmost to make the very complicated understandable.  

Old in Art School: A Memoire of Starting Over, by Nell Irvin Painter

Nell Painter is the Edwards Professor of American History, Emerita, at Princeton University. She’s also an award-winning author of many books, including Sojourner Truth, Southern History Across the Color Line, Creating Black Americans, The History of White People, and Standing at Armageddon. Old in Art School is Painter’s memoire of fulfilling her lifetime dream of pursuing an art degree–at age 70. Her account is by turns humorous, sad, poignant, and courageous. And Painter’s insights on age, race, gender, and politics make the book a compelling read. Highly recommended.

Fahrenheit 451; The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

Two Bradbury classics I re-read earlier this year on flights to hither and yon. Bradbury’s writing and storytelling can only be described as masterly. The issues in both books—especially the dystopian world of Fahrenheit 451—are timeless.


Abbey Road, 50th Anniversary Edition, The Beatles

The Beatles’ final studio album was remastered for its 50th birthday this year. The results are stunning in the form of better clarity, separation, and balance in the sound. I’ve always thought that side “B,” starting with Here Comes the Sun, was nigh untouchable in the realm of pop/rock music. With the new edition it sounds even better, if that’s possible. Suggestion: pair the CD with Kenneth Womack’s book listed above. 

Richard Strauss: Four Last Songs, Jessye Norman (soprano), Kurt Masur, Gewandhaus Leipzig

Jessye Norman passed away this past September at the age of 74. For decades, she was one of the top sopranos on the planet with brilliant performances and recordings in both opera and recital. Her recording of Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs with Kurt Masur is one of my very favorite classical recordings—and widely considered the benchmark performance of the work. 

The Complete Concert by the Sea, Erroll Garner

The recording of Erroll Garner’s concert in Carmel on September 19, 1955 is one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time. The reissue from 2015 contains 11 previously unreleased tracks. If you’re a jazz fan, this is a must. 
Fly the Coop: Bach Sonatas and Preludes, Emi Ferguson and Ruckus

The very mention of Bach flute sonatas may send you to a realm of Sunday brunches in questionable venues with neglected potted plants. Not so, here. Emi Ferguson is an outstanding baroque flautist and singer. Her performances of Bach with her group Ruckus takes the composer out of the museum and breathes fiery new life into the music. I’ve always thought that this was the way Bach was performed back in the day. Here’s a quick link on YouTube. Check it out:


Holst: The Planets; Strauss: Also, Sprach Zarathustra, Eric Leinsdorf, Boston Symphony

Epic performances and recording by the Boston Symphony in the ‘70’s. Also, a sentimental favorite recording as Armando Ghitalla is playing principal trumpet on the works. He was one of the great artists to play the instrument in the last century. I was fortunate to study with him in grad school at the University of Michigan.


Princess Bride

One of my very favorite movies. If you’ve never seen it, you must. If you don’t own it, you should. Pair with William Goldman’s book above. 

Good Omens

A wonderful six-part adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s novel about an angel and demon who team up to stop Armageddon. My favorite TV of the year. Likewise, pair with Gaiman and Pratchett’s cheeky novel of the same name. 

Hooch: Holiday Wines

I’m often asked about suggestions/favorite bottles for holiday gifts or dinners. Here’s a list of perennial favorites from near and far. Some are pricier than others and some easier to find. But all are guaranteed to temporarily change your life. If you have trouble tracking something down, use winesearcher.com to find a retailer.


Ruinart Brut Rosé, Champagne
Iron Horse Cuvée Brut X, Green Valley
Ca’ del Bosco “Cuvée Annamaria Clementi,” Franciacorta


Henri Bourgeois Sancerre “La Cote des Monts Damnes”
Domaine Huet Vouvray Sec “Clos du Bourg”
Dr. F.-Wines Prüm Riesling Spätlese, Wehlener Sonnenuhr
Franz Künstler Riesling Grosses Gewächs, Hochheimer Hölle
Pewsey Vale Riesling “Contours,” Eden Valley
Cantina Terlano Nova Domus Riserva
Louis Michel Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir
Mount Eden Estate Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Peter Michael Estate Chardonnay, “Cuvée Indigène,” Knights Valley


Beaux Frères Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley
Thivin Côte de Brouilly
Tollot-Beaut Aloxe-Corton
Thierry Allemand Cornas “Reynard”
Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva “Asili”
Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Gran Selezione “San Lorenzo”
Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
Planeta “Santa Cecilia,” Noto, Sicily 
John Duval GSM “Plexus,” Barossa Valley
Henschke Shiraz “Mount Edelstone,” Eden Valley
Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon “Martha’s Vineyard,” Napa Valley
Storybook Mountain Reserve Zinfandel, Napa Valley


Dönnhoff Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel, Niederhauser Hermannshöhle, Nahe
Donnafugata Passito di Pantelleria “Ben Ryé,” Sicily
NV Seppeltsfield “Para” Grand Tawny, Barossa Valley