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How do you enjoy your wine? From a glass with dinner to a bottle with friends, there are lots of wine accessories out there that help make a bottle taste a little better. One example that’s perfect for entertaining is wine bottle holders. Ceramic wine bottle holders in particular keep chilled bottles cool longer (without all the drips of ice) and add a decorative note to the table.

wine bottle holder

Of course, to fully enjoy wine you need to get it open. There are so many corkscrews out there to choose from, but I think the classic waiter style is the best in terms of ease and size.

corkscrew

Once you have the bottle open, cork wine stoppers with fanciful designs are another excellent wine accessory. Instead of trying to cram the original cork back in, these fit easily but still keep an open bottle tasting great for days after. A trick to keep wine longer is to store open bottles of both red and white in the refrigerator; just let the red come up to room temperature before serving.Wine Corks

Other must-haves for wine are the right glasses. Aficionados use a variety of glass shapes depending on the grape, but generally you’re ok with large wine glasses for reds, more tapered glasses for whites, and flutes for champagne and sparkling wine.

white wine glass

red wine glass

Love big bold red wines? A decanter is definitely wise. These let wine breathe and allow the flavors to really open up. An aerator performs a similar task while you pour the wine, but in a matter of minutes (perfect for causal dinners).

Wine is a great way to be prepared for impromptu parties or unexpected guests. I love this simple list from Kris Schoels of Young Married Chic as to what you should always have on hand to be prepared for a last-minute get-together:

1. A great bottle of champagne.
2. Bread, cheese, fresh fruit.
3. Chocolate and extra desserts.

So simple, yet so perfect. Are you prepared?

chocolate assortment

Wine certainly makes everything more festive. Check out our Pinterest board on everything wine for more ideas, then let us know you favorite wine accessories from wine bottle holders to glasses by leaving a comment below.

Corkscrew image courtesy of YannGarPhoto.wordpress.com.

White wine glass image courtesy of Robert S. Donovan.

Red wine glass image courtesy of yashima.

Bread image courtesy of designsponge.com via Emilia Ceramics on Pinterest.

Chocolates image courtesy of aalphotos.

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Christmas wreath and handmade ceramicsDo you have someone on your holiday gift list this year that’s nearly impossible to buy for? The person who has everything might be your boss, mother-in-law, or a close friend, but no matter who it is, the frustration can be intense when trying to think of some suitable gift ideas. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Blue Striped Vase by Talavera VazquezI’ve talked with people in the Palo Alto pop-up shop these last few weeks about the folks that difficult to shop for and come up with some ideas about holiday gifts that are sure to please. From stripe painted vases to Tuscan utensil holders, here’s my gift guide for the 2012 holiday season.

Stripe Painted Vase. Large or small, the graphic charm of a stripe painted vase is hard to resist and is a great decoration for either the home or office. The blue and white stripes of this stripe painted vase by Talavera Vazquez go with any décor. Fill your gift vases with some festive branches or a winter bouquet and skip the need to wrap.

Unique Serving Platter. Ideal for the party planner in your life, a beautiful serving platter not only enlivens a party or dinner, but also can double as wall decoration when not in use. The simplicity and freshness of Tuscan lemons are always a winner, or choose Talavera Vazquez’s blue and white Mexican tray. Pair with a cheese knife or other serving utensil for a complete gift set.

Tuscan Utensil Holder. Guaranteed to please any stylish cook, a Tuscan utensil holder is a practical and cheerful way to hold kitchen counter essentials. Whether a blue rooster or luscious fruits, Tuscan utensil holders remain a classic go-to gift. Here too you can add useful kitchen tools, like wooden spoons or silicone spatulas, and bring a smile to anyone who loves working in the kitchen.

blue rooster utensil holder

Playful Pitcher. Pitchers are incredibly versatile, which makes them a great gift idea. A pitcher can decorate a shelf, brighten a kitchen, hold flowers, or serve a favorite beverage. The playful polka dots of this handmade pitcher by Richard Esteban are festive while the classic rooster pitcher by Ceramiche Bartoloni exudes Italian charm.

Drink Accessories. If your boss is a beast before that first cup of coffee, a mug and beans from their favorite roaster is a great gift. I think cup and saucer sets are a bit dressier than your average mug, whether they’re espresso cups or the giant cup and saucer by Gorky Gonzalez ready to fuel an entire morning. For wine lovers, a wine bottle holder and delicious bottle of red, white, or rosé gives them something they’ll enjoy now and for years to come.

What are you go-to gift ideas for holiday gifts? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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Love French ceramics from the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries? Then you need to check out the exhibition that opened last Saturday, October 6, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Entitled “Daily Pleasures: French Ceramics from the MaryLou Boone Collection,” it features over 130 examples of faïance, soft-paste porcelain, and hard-paste porcelain used in French daily life.

I found out about this exhibition months ago and wrote about it when comparing French ceramics past and present. For example, the curves of French country pottery pitchers mirror those of antique ewers which traditionally held water for washing in the morning. Other French ceramics in the exhibition include tablewares, tea accouterments, toiletry items, and even pieces used in times of sickness. The sugar bowl and spoon featured on LACMA’s blog is charming, with soft pink accents and a curiously slotted spoon.

Covered Sugar Bowl, 1780, Lunéville, France; and Sugar Spoon, 1775, Lunéville Petit Feu Faïence Manufactory, Lunéville, France; gifts of MaryLou Boone, photos © Susan Einstein

“This exhibition reveals and celebrates both the artistry that exists in the service of the utilitarian and the ability of this discriminating collector to bring together remarkable examples of that artistry,” said Elizabeth Williams, assistant curator of decorative arts and design at LACMA, in a recent press release.

Wine Bottle Cooler (Seau à demi-bouteille). Chantilly Porcelain Manufactory, Chantilly, France, c. 1730-1735. Soft-paste porcelain with glaze and enamel, The MaryLou Boone Collection. photos © Susan Einstein

I couldn’t agree more, especially looking at examples of handmade French pottery today, from French platters to the elegant curves of a French ceramic serving bowl. I was amused to see a French ceramic wine bottle holder circa 1730-1735 as a featured piece on the LACMA website. The Asian influence is obvious, as is the practicality of having something to keep wine cool. Unlike the porcelain jars for pomade, a wine bottle holder is a practical ceramic piece people still use today.

Many of these pieces look like they came from Asia because they were imitations of pieces from Japan and China that only the very rich could afford. Today’s French ceramics embrace colors, shapes, and textures of a timeless (yet contemporary) French aesthetic. French country pottery is a pleasure not only to see, but also to use, though the delicate artistic touches on Sylvie Durez‘s birds or the edging of Poterie Ravel’s French platters invoke the early examples of this tradition the LACMA exhibition highlights.

“Daily Pleasures” runs until March 31, 2013, so if I make it down to L.A. before it’s over, I’ll definitely check it out. Have you seen this exhibition or know of others that focus on French ceramics in your area? Leave a comment below and let us know!

“Daily Pleasures” images courtesy of LACMA.

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There are few things that are more delicious than the pairing of cheese and wine, so it’s no wonder that this duo is the star of so many parties. You don’t need to be an expert to love the idea of wine and cheese, or to throw a fabulous wine and cheese party. Some plates, bowls, glasses, and bottles and you’re already well on your way.

Here are six ideas to make your cheese and wine party a success:

1. Leave out the snobbery. Experts can clearly articulate what makes up a wine’s “nose,” but many of us casual wine drinkers prefer to just enjoy the wine, regardless of its subtle nuances of aroma and taste. The look, swirl, smell, taste method is classic, but encourage people to share what they think using their own vocabulary. One trick I’ve seen is to cover all the bottle labels with a wine bottle holder or paper and only mark the grape (or just a number) so that people can form their own opinions without being swayed as to the wine’s region or brand.
2. Share the work. My favorite cheese and wine parties involve the guests bringing a bottle and a cheese based on a theme. It could be as simple as “red” or “Sauvignon Blanc” or get more complicated with a night dedicated to Spanish reds, New Zealand whites, Californian Wines, or bottles from 2008 only. This ad hoc approach can create some interesting (and delicious) cheese plates as well.wine tasting party idea
3. Arrange your plates in threes. Construct an appealing cheese plate with this simple rule. Have at least three things on your plate (more if it’s big) – two cheeses and one fruit, three cheeses, one cheese with some nuts and honey, you get the idea. Make sure to have a separate knife for each cheese on the plate to prevent mixing.4. Bring on the extras. Fill plates and bowls around the room with fruits, nuts, crackers, bread, and other accompaniments for your cheese and wine. Sliced apples, grapes, and dried fruits are a good starting point and can lead to some complex pairings. Some chèvre and grapes on a plate and a large bowl of fresh sliced baguette always appeals.

5. Let guests know what things are. Clearly label everything from your cheese plate to your non-alcoholic options to help people find their favorites (and know the real name of that amazingly stinky cheese). If you’re providing the wine and cheese yourself, use chalkboard contact paper as a runner to construct a clearly marked table before guests arrive. This tip from Rock UR Party also lets you draw arrows to what foods pair best with which bottles – it’s smart and fun.
6. Label your glasses. From wine charms to ribbons, even using a sharpie (it should wash off) or chalkboard paint to label the glass, there are plenty of ways to help everyone keep track of their own glasses. Pick your favorite (and make sure you have a few extra glasses in case a few end up lost regardless).

Do you have any wine and cheese party tips? Favorite plates you use? Leave a comment and let us know (and enjoy that glass of vino)!

Wine bottles and glasses image courtesy of .craig.

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I hadn’t been importing ceramics for long when I got what seemed like a strange request: Do you sell any black roosters?! The answer was no. I had colorful Italian roosters on plates, mugs, bowls, and pitchers, as well as tons of  blue and white roosters decorating Mexican pottery, but not one “black rooster” in the collection. While I was a little thrown off by the request for a black rooster, I did have a faint memory of a story related to the black rooster from when a friend and I tasted our way through the beautiful Chianti wine region.

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized Ceramiche Bartoloni paints the black rooster. I was ecstatic, both because of the Bartoloni brothers’ unmatched painting skill and because I’d finally have a black rooster for the Emilia Ceramics collection. After all, we’re not talking about any old Vietri pottery rooster, this is a proud black rooster with a story and tons of personality.

And the new black rooster plates from Ceramiche Bartoloni did not disappoint: The dynamic blue, white, and yellow border perfectly frames a proud black rooster getting ready to crow. It’s also the perfect counterpoint to Bartoloni’s colorful rooster ceramic serving platters, bowls, and mugs.

And now to the story about the black rooster, which goes back to the 1200s in Italy. Florence and Siena had debated for years over who had claim to the Chianti region, each wanting it as part of their territory. Finally, the legend goes, leaders decided to settle the matter by a competition. Two knights (or horsemen, depending on your source) would set out at cock’s crow in the morning, one from Florence and one from Siena. Wherever they met on the road would determine the southern border for each city’s claim over the disputed land.

Siena chose a well-fed white rooster as official timekeeper, while Florence picked a starving black rooster. Again, sources differ as to why the black rooster was starving; the Florentines might even have kept it in a box with no food for several days. In any case, when the day of big event came, the black rooster crowed before dawn while the white rooster slept in and only crowed at sunrise. Thus, the Florentine rider traveled much farther than his Sienese counterpart, and the two men met about 19 or 20 km outside of Siena, giving most of the Chianti region to Florence.

Whether or not this legend is true, the black rooster was branded in 1384 as the emblem for the winemaking League of Chianti and is an important and common symbol for the region. The next time you get a bottle of Chianti, look for the black rooster (gallo nero in Italian) on the seal around the neck of the bottle. Different background colors and borders also represent different kinds of wines, says Wine Trail Traveler.

Complete with a legend, I’m excited to offer these new rooster ceramics. Whether you use them as ceramic serving platters or as a unique wall decoration, these black rooster plates are perfect for anyone who loves rooster chic with handmade Italian charm.

Rooster wine bottle label image courtesy of Live from Italy.

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Blue and white ceramics remain a popular choice for home decor. From serving plates to mugs, dinner platters to vases, the color combination is crisp and cool. With such easy elegance, it’s understandable that people often chose blue and white ceramics for entertaining. Whether it’s serving your family dinner or serving fancy hors d’oeuvres at a party, blue and white serving plates and food trays can dress up or down to fit the occasion. Here are some of my favorite blue and white ceramic serving platters and ways to use them. What ideas fit your lifestyle?

Football fiesta

Okay, so the Superbowl has passed, but my favorite sport’s season is in its heyday — yes, March Madness is right around the corner! A bowl of chips and salsa, some wings, maybe these delicious looking mini pigs in a blanket, and drinks – you’re ready to go. Causal and sturdy pieces are best for displaying all your finger food options, like this blue and white ceramic serving platter. The festive motif fits perfectly with any party (and won’t break easily if it gets knocked off the table in all the excitement).

Ladies’ tea party

Maybe you have a book club or just a group of girlfriends that like to get together regularly. I love grown-up tea parties with a giant teapot and delicious snacks to go along with it. This blue and white ceramic serving plate looks divine with a stack of scones ready for butter and jam, cucumber sandwiches, or petit fours. Make sure your guests have plenty to drink with sizable blue and white mugs instead of tiny teacups.

Elegant hors d’oeuvres

Wine and cheese parties are a perennial favorite, either to celebrate a special occasion or just to try some new vintages. This gorgeous new teal blue platter by Richard Esteban cries out for a tasty array of fromage from mild chèvre to Camembert. And when it comes to canapés or other finger foods, Richard’s large blue serving tray is a sure winner with its unique petal shape and vibrant hue.

Do you have other ideas about ways to use your favorite blue and white ceramics? We’d love to hear them, so please share with a comment below!

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My Love Comes Bearing GiftsI’ve been thinking about Valentine’s Day recently (as those of you who get the newsletter already know). If you have a special someone to celebrate it with, it’s time to come up with a plan. It’s probably one of the worst times to try and go out to eat (reservations fill up fast and set menus don’t usually showcase a restaurant’s best dishes). Roses are cliché, the same goes for chocolates. But what about buying ceramics online for your sweetheart?

Think about it. Ceramics are durable (just like your love). They’re timeless (just like your love). They look good for years and can be used as a daily reminder of your love, whether simple coffee mugs or an elaborately-decorated vase. Of course, when you buy ceramics online, you’ll have many options – here are some ideas to help you decide what’s right for your Valentine’s Day gift:

Seeing Red: Valentine’s day is full of red and pink. If your sweetie loves those colors, bonus! Red ceramic platters, mugs, and bowls are just some ceramics to buy that fit personal tastes and the holiday. I think red’s cheerful year-round, but if it’s not a favorite, think about classic blue and white, warm yellows, or even rich greens. A gift that reflects personal taste is always best, no matter the occasion. From clean, graphic ceramics to rich Tuscan and French country pieces, there’s something for everyone.

Shipping: When you buy ceramics online, check out the shipping policy before shopping around. Is there an express option to get your gift delivered before February 14? What’s the policy on breakage? With a week to go, most places should be able to deliver your gift with a day to spare.

Special Touches: Traditional gifts are sweet, don’t get me wrong. But why not add something a little extra? A vase with a note saying “For all the flower bouquets to come” sets up a year-long romantic gesture that’s sure to be appreciated. For wine lovers, this black and white striped wine bottle holder would work well with a bottle of Lucky Night wine by Swanson Vineyards. Love someone who loves coffee or tea? Find the perfect ceramic mug for their daily cup along with some of their preferred brew. The Gran Taza ensures they have enough for the morning at home or the office.

      

When Size Matters: Good things come in both big and small packages. When choosing ceramics to buy, think about your sweetheart’s space and preferences. A statement vase might be beautiful, but take up too much space on a small shelf. If space isn’t an issue, try a bold planter for the window or patio. Even better, complete this gift with a flowering plant, so your Valentine can enjoy flowers long after February 14th.

Pink package image courtesy of Vincent van der Pas.

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