Sunday, 30 December 2007

Jewellery and Wine - Pearls, Jade, Topaz and Crystals


According to Pliny the Elder the Romans used to drink pearls with their wine. No one is quite sure whether they dissolved their pearls in sour wine (vinegar) or used crushed pearls and sprinkled the powder into the wine.

The most famous incident of pearls being drunk with wine is Cleopatra's wager with Mark Anthony. She wagered that she could drink the value of a whole province – whether this was to seduce Anthony or to impress him with her wealth no one knows (it was probably both). When he took her up on her wager Cleopatra tossed one of her splendid pearl earrings into the wine, it magically dissolved and she drank it. But for the protests of the onlookers, including Mark Antony's, she would have followed with the pair, which, like the first, was worth 100,000 sesterces.


In a Tibetan wedding ceremony it is customary to drink wine from jade cups. Jade has been used in Asia since Neolithic times and the ancient Chinese thought that was solidified Dragon semen – hence its association with marriage. Jade combines the 5 virtues of chastity, justice, courage, modesty and wisdom and is sacred to the Goddess Kwan Yin and to Buddha.


Steeping Topaz in wine was used to cure dimness of vision and was strongly recommended by St. Hildegard. The stone would be placed in wine and left there for 3 days and 3 nights. When retiring to sleep, the patient should rub his eyes with the moistened topaz, so that this moisture lightly touched the eyeball. After the stone had been removed, the wine could be used for 5 days.

In mysticism the Topaz is said to dispel anger and nightmares, to warn its wearer of poisons and to protect him from sudden death. It is reputed to make men handsome and women fertile but it's probably not a good idea to rely on its magical powers as it was also claimed that you could put your hand in boiling water after a Topaz had been thrown in it and remain unharmed!

Agate and Crystal

Wine was recognised long ago to revive the nerve centres after an animal bite. Many different recipes with different ingredients were developed to enhance these effects and Snakestone (Banded Agate) was reputed to be one of the most effective. If Crystal is mixed with a dry wine it is supposed to be a cure for dysentery.

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Jewellry and Wine - The Amethyst

The Amethyst has been associated with wine for thousands of years. It's fabled origin stems from the myth of the Nymph beloved by Bacchus who was turned into the gem. Bacchus was angered and vowed to kill the next mortal by setting tigers on them. Amethyst was a beautiful maiden on her way to worship at the shrine of Diana the Huntress. Diana turned Amethyst into a pillar of crystal to protect her from the tiger's claws and Bacchus, horrified by what he had done, poured a cup of wine over her to try to turn her back to a mortal. The deep purple soaked into the stone giving her the characteristic purple colour of the Amethyst.

Considering the myth of Amethyst's creation, it is no surprise that the Greeks and Romans believed that it could combat drunkenness and wine goblets were often carved out of Amethyst.

According to Leonardo Da Vinci, Amethyst has the power to dispel evil thoughts, making it a stone that encourages piety and celibacy. Its purple color makes it also a stone of royalty. It is the traditional Bishop's ring - the ring of the Princes of the Church – as it combines royalty with piety. Rosaries are often made with Amethyst.

In other traditions, amethyst was believed to be sacred to Buddha, and Tibetan prayer beads are often made of amethyst for that reason. The stone is said to ward against nightmares and protect from sorcery, and many medieval texts advise sleeping with an amethyst beneath the pillow to protect yourself from the evils of nightmares and sorcery during the night.

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Thursday, 20 December 2007

Waiter Is That Gold In My Wine?

Preferably gold should be in rings on my fingers not in my wine glass but astonishingly there is a wine that has 24-karat flakes of gold floating about in it. Hundred Acre Gold is an odd blend of Voignier, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer – grapes I am not too sure were ever meant to go together. What's more is that although the wine is bottled in Napa the grapes are grown in the Barossa Valley in Australia and are shipped to the USA frozen at 25°. Is this wine having an identity crisis? It sounds more like a mid life crisis to me!

Apparently adding gold to your drink was thought to restore health and bring wealth in ancient civilisations like Egypt. In Medieval times gold flakes or coins were added to drinks as the belief that something that rare and beautiful could not be anything but healthy. Even some modern forms of alternative medicine assign metallic gold a healing power.

It's not only wine that has gone Midas mad - Vodka has got into the act as well - Gold Flakes Supreme Vodka is the ideal bling drink with guess what? 24-karat gold flakes. The vodka is quadruple distilled and uses underground spring water. Then there is Goldschlager - a cinnamon schnapps with added gold flakes. There is even a Sake called Kinpaku-iri that is infused with gold.

Well, I think the world has gone gimmick mad and the thought of picking gold flake out of my drinks does nothing for me whatsoever!

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Pyramid Power

You probably won't believe it but it''s true – pyramid power is being used to make wine. Summerhill Pyramid Winery in the Okanagan, British Columbia have built a pyramid in which to age their wines.

When Stephen Cipes, owner of the winery, first visited the Okanagan in 1986, the New York developer believed he'd found unique conditions to produce "intensely flavoured small grapes" - the perfect base for sparkling wine. Cipes brought grape clones from France and personally planted them on his hands and knees.

The vineyard is over 50 acres of organically grown grapes and the soil is boosted with Glacier rock dust to improve its trace minerals.

How the pyramid helps the improve the wine I don't know but they do explain the many theories of pyramid power on their website – I must admit that I don't quite follow the mathematical one of Pi and Phi but they do say that:

“Time being a "given" based on the earth's rotation around the sun in an oval or elliptical route, versus being in the pyramid with it apex circling the sun as a toy top would as it tilts while it spins. Therefore, our conception of time while in the Pyramid may be "distorted". How long have we been in here? Is it time that ages wine?”

Or have they been drinking too much of it?

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Diamond Decked Cab

The ultimate in bling – Harrods or Selfridges in London have a diamond bedecked black cab sponsored by Moët & Chandon. The world's first Swarovski crystallised Black cab (that lights-up by means of electro luminescent (EL) technology). The one-off cab is a celebration of the 'Crystallised Collection' from Moët & Chandon and boasts a record-breaking 200,000 Swarovski crystals scattered across the taxi to form an image of a Moët & Chandon bottle and champagne bubbles.

The EL technology lights up the crystals in sequence and in time to a musical score. Anyone buying a limited edition Moët & Chandon crystallised Methuselah (equivalent of 8 bottles) from Harrods or Selfridges in London will get personal use of the cab for the night.

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Wine Infused Chocolate

Cocoa Farm is introducing the first and only chocolate to be packed with raisins full of Australian varietal wines. They are available as a chocolate block (Wine Infused Chocolate) or as individual drops (Wine Chocolate Drops). I have tasted this at the London International Wine and Spirits Fair earlier this year and it is divine!

Cocoa Farm planted their own Cocoa Plantation – the only one in Australia and the wines used to infuse the chocolate are Merlot, Shiraz and Pinot Noir.

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Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Angels, Stars and Fairies

According to the Daily Telegraph Angels are no longer popular on the tops of our Christmas Trees. Demand has fallen so much that Woolworths has dropped angel tree toppers from its shops this year. A decade ago angels were still outselling star tree toppers but now stars outsell angels more than 10-fold.

The Angel represents the Angel Gabriel who came down to earth with the news to the Shepherds of Christ's birth and the Star represents the Star of Bethlehem that lead the Three Kings to the Nativity.

Apparently the Christmas Fairy was originally a little figure of the baby Jesus. In late 17th century Germany this became a shining angel. In Victorian Britain little girls would take the angel down after Christmas and dress him up in dolls clothes. Eventually the angel evolved into the fairy. However the Fairy could hark back to pre Christian times.

We still put the fairy on top and the kids still fight on who’s going to put her up there!

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Feathered Friends

Vineyards in Marlborough, New Zealand are using falcons to scare off smaller birds such as starlings from eating the grapes. The more traditional alternatives include expensive netting over the vines, scarecrows or loud noises to startle the birds.

In California, Getty Pollards company B-1RD has developed the Vineyard Falcon Crop Protection Program which uses trained falcons. The falcons don't hunt down and kill starlings – their very presence is enough to frighten them off.

With an average wingspan of 3 ½ feet and a weight of between 1 – 2 lbs the falcons are relatively slow when it comes to soaring and gliding but they come into their own when they dive as they can reach speeds of up to 200mph.

Unlike robins or quails that commonly hide in the bushes when they see a predator approaching, starlings behave much like a school of fish. When they are busy chomping on grapes and a falcon comes into view, they quickly flock together and fly as high as possible to avoid being picked apart by the predator's razor-sharp talons. On the other hand, if the starlings arrive at a vineyard and see the immediate threat of a falcon patrolling the vineyard, they will simply fly away to find another place to snack.

Since the Peregrine falcon was only recently removed from the endangered species list in the United States, Pollard uses two types of foreign species, the Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) and the Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus)--both of which can be legally bred in the United States.

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The Sound of Wine

If you are looking for a Christmas present for the wine lover in your life then this is perfect!

Tony King, an Australian musician, composer and wine aficionado, has created music made exclusively from wine-related objects.

You can listen to his album Sound of Wine online and read his story. I've tried it and I really like it. He uses crystal glasses, corks, barrels and even his own breath as he blows into wine bottles to create incredible music that can sound like a pipe organ, Celtic whistles, or a Pan flute. It's even been described as sounding like birds and whales, and in some cases, seems like a full orchestra.

However one wishes to depict it, the music is a sound unlike anything else. It's dreamy, it's toe-tapping, it's catchy. Although it's not classical music per se, it has been the most popular music on Australia's leading classical music station.

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Candy Canes at Christmas

The origin of the candy cane goes back over 350 years, when candy-makers both professional and amateur were making hard sugar sticks. The original candy was straight and completely white in colour. The first historical reference to the familiar cane shape goes back to 1670, when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany, bent the sugar-sticks into canes to represent a shepherd's staff. The all-white candy canes were given out to children during the long-winded nativity services.

The clergymen's custom of handing out candy canes during Christmas services spread throughout Europe and later to America. The canes were still white, but sometimes the candy-makers would add sugar-roses to decorate the canes further. Later red stripes were added to the canes that we recognise today.

There are many other legends and beliefs surrounding the humble candy cane. Many of them depict the candy cane as a secret symbol for Christianity used during the times when Christian were living under more oppressive circumstances. It was said that the cane was shaped like a "J" for Jesus. The red and white stripes represented Christ's blood and purity. The three red stripes symbolized the Holy Trinity. The hardness of the candy represented the Church's foundation on solid rock and the peppermint flavour represented the use of hyssop, an herb referred to in the Old Testament.

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Stiletto Vodka

Stiletto Vodka is a new brand from an entirely woman-owned spirits company. The vodka is a wheat-based spirit imported from Kyrgyzstan and distilled 6 times and filtered 5 times.

The vodka made its debut in the USA at Emeril Lagasse's NOLA Restaurant in the New Orleans French Quarter and the brand will donate 25 cents from each bottle sold goes to support breast cancer research and another 25 cents goes to support the Emeril Lagasse Foundation which helps bring mentors and education programs to low income kids.

The vodka is also available in chocolate, vanilla and mint flavours.

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Computing With Wine

Microsoft has made its way into the wine business (sort of) through the recent launch of their Blue Monster Reserve label. Created by the Stormhoek winery, the wine will only be available for Microsoft, it’s employees, and most likely current and potential clients.

Apparently the wine label was designed “to promote innovation inside the company.”

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Alco-pop Sake?

A Sake company has launched a new type of drink called Sake2me according to Sake2me is destined to hit the hottest spots in San Francisco and its target market is the 21 – 39 year olds. Sake2me has 4 exotic flavours.

The 6.3-ounce glass-bottled drinks blend imported "junmai," or very pure sake, with Asian flavours such as ginger-mango, Asian pear and green tea into a spritzy drink with seven percent alcohol. They'll retail in four packs for about $12.99.

The premium sake market is growing by 30% a year, with explosive demand during the past 18 months. Beer, which has always led the alcoholic beverage market, is losing share to distilled spirits and wine. And the fastest segment of the wine market is among drinkers trading upward into the premium price bracket.

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Recycling With A Difference

A new company called Apres Vin has come up with a fantastic way of recycling wine making left overs. They are based in Washington and create gourmet grape seed oils based on varietals such as Riesling and Merlot infused with chipotle.

The ground-up seed meal from creating the oil can also be dried to make varietal flours such as Merlot and Chardonnay, which can create purple tinted baked goods. The flour is also high in antioxidants. The company is also exploring other options such as wood stove pellet fuel made from grape stems and seeds, paper and ink from the grape skins and even Chardonnay biodiesel.

A distillery in Scotland, the Tullibardine Distillery have come up with another good recycling idea. They are selling wood chips for smoking meat and fish. The chips are made by chopping up Tullibardine Distillery's used oak casks. The barrels previously contained 12 year old whisky, before having been reincarnated into smoking woodchips. The chips are said to impart a subtle whisky flavour.

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Christmas Tree Baubles

Christmas Tree baubles originally came from Bohemia (modern Czechoslovakia) and along the border areas with Germany at a place in Thuringia called Lauscha. In the 17th century, glass beads were made for chandeliers and for decorating dresses. Some of the early strings of chandelier beads also were used for decorating Christmas Trees, and a type of wooden chandelier with Nativity figures carved along its arms, called a Spinne, because the candlelight reflecting on the strings of tiny beads resembled a spiders web glistening in the frost.

Early Glass balls were made at Lauscha as end of day games. Glass blowing was thirsty work, and the blowers would drink a lot of ale. Mild though it was, by the end of the day, many were a little merry, and would have these glass blowing games to see who could blow the largest ball before the glass burst! These balls were gathered up by the wives, who would silver them, by swirling a silver nitrate solution around the insides, and take them to the Christmas markets at Coburg. There they were sold as Christmas balls to avert evil from the home over Christmas, hung or stuck onto sticks in the hallway of the house. This custom was a later version of the Holy Bough customs, a vague memory of keeping bad things from the house at the Holy Season.

Unfortunately, many people believed them to be witches balls, and the consequence of that is that these balls are found to day hanging in the windows of little antique shops - particularly in the UK, and the shop assistants will not sell them for they believe they will be selling their luck if they do!

Woolworths was the first retailer to sell glass ornaments and the story goes that F W Woolworth was not too sure about this new product line. However, Woolworth changed his mind by 1890 when he was selling £12 million worth of ornaments in his stores.

The shapes of glass baubles are symbolic: Fruit and vegetable shapes symbolize the harvest. Birds represent the biblical messengers that bring God's love and peace to the world. Birds were also symbolic of good luck and good fortune. Pickle shapes signify luck. The Fish shape is an early Christian symbol for Christ. Baubles with reflectors (ornaments with geometric concave indentations) during Victorian times, were often called witches eyes and were placed on the Christmas tree to fend off any evil spirits. Star shapes represent the Star of Bethlehem.

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Recommended Red

If you fancy a bottle of red try Chateau Haut Gravier. It’s a super wine from the Cotes de Bourg. Chateau Haut Gravier is a good ruby colour and is packed with ripe black fruits with a hint of pepper on the nose. Having been aged for approximately 12 months in oak barrels there is a hint of this in the taste.

This well rounded red is a good example of wines from this quite small wine producing region. A region that boasts that it produces a better medium bodied red wine than its neighbour - Bordeaux.! Cotes de Bourg is located on the right bank of the Dordogne at the point where it meets the Gironde river 19 miles north of Bordeaux.

Chateau Haut Gravier is smooth and full and goes extremely well with steak on the BBQ! Not to mention Tagliatelle and Lasagne.

Check out Nick's Blog: Discovering Chateau Haut Gravier for tasting notes, details on the vineyards and wine makers and food pairing suggestions.

The Wine Diet

There is a new best seller out which advocates the health benefits of red wine based on research into the French Paradox and the Mediteranean Effect (why people who live there have longer lives). Roger Corder, Professor of Experimental Therapeutics at the William Harvey Research Institute in London, has spent several years studying the properties of red wine and the health status of its drinkers worldwide - the fruits of which he has now presented in his new, ground-breaking book, The Wine Diet, which comes with the promising subtitle "a complete nutrition and lifestyle plan".

Little, Brown UK published The Wine Diet in December 2006 and immediately sold through their first printing. The book has been a huge hit with the UK press, getting a major five-part serial in The Daily Telegraph and appearing in everything from food and wine columns to the tabloids.

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Celebrity Wine Diets?

Word on the street is Victoria Beckham has put herself on a ‘wine diet’. Meaning she now specifically drinks a glass or two of wine to get her appetite going. Friends say that Victoria is tired of everyone criticizing her size 0 body and is willing to try anything to make herself eat.

It’s been reported several times that all Victoria ever allows herself to eat is steamed fish, vegetables and salads. Eating this way for years has killed her appetite for carbohydrates or any other foods. Friends say when Victoria drinks she gets the munchies just like the rest of us that scarf down bar food and pancakes after a night of drinking.

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For Adults Only

OK, so we have wine making Rock Stars, Actors and Fashion Designers – there is also a wine making Porn Star!

American porn actress Savanna Samson, has her own wine list - Sogno Uno (Dream One) and Sogno Due (Dream Two).

Sogno Uno is made in Italy under the guidance of up-and-coming winemaker Roberto Cipresso (he also makes the wines for Diesel) and is a blend of 70% Cesanese, 20% Sangiovese and 10% Montepulciano.

Samson, who lists ballet, wine and yellow Ferraris as her passions, tasted her way through 80 different Italian samples in a week, before proclaiming her preference for the Cesanese, a rare grape mainly found in the Lazio region.

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Designer Wine Labels?

The Fashion Industry has succumbed to the benefits of wine making as well - jeans label Diesel has launched 3 new wines at Vinitaly. Renzo Rosso, founder of the label, makes wine in Marostica in Vincenza, Veneto with renowned Italian oenologist Roberto Cipresso. At over £100 a bottle in restaurants, they will be as reassuringly pricey as a pair of Diesel jeans.

The three wines are Bianco di Rosso, a Chardonnay, Rosso di Rosso (Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon) and Nero di Rosso (Pinot Nero) are sold under the Diesel Farm name. I bet they were disappointed to learn that the name Vin Diesel was taken!

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The Simpson's Duff Beer

You don’t even have to be a real person to promote drinks. Celebrity cartoons are in on the act. Remember Homer Simpson’s favourite tipple - Duff Beer? Mexican Rodrigo Contreras Díaz. is producing it in Jalisco. It’s distributed only via internet. The limited edition lager beer has been a success, selling over 200 boxes (containing 12 bottles) in 2 weeks. Each box costs around $ 20 plus shipping.

I haven’t found out where on the internet you can get Duff Beer – it’s highly contentious as 20th Century Fox brought legal action against the Lion Nathan Brewery in Australia which was selling it – they had their products pulled off the shelves and destroyed (making it a collector’s item in the process).

The only legal Duff Beer is made by the Daleside Brewery here in the UK - Duff being the Gaelic word for “dark”!

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Promoting Wine Beyond the Grave

You don’t have to be in the land of the living to have your name added to a product to endorse it - Hendrix Electric Vodka ( is a “super-premium” vodka created by Distilled Resources. He joins the ranks of Marilyn Munroe and Elvis Presley.

Napa Valley winemakers Bob and Donna Holder produce robust reds under an exclusive agreement with Monroe's estate, ( and Marilyn Cabernet, and a more youthful Norma Jean Merlot (the label peels off to reveal her original Playboy centrefold). There's also a Velvet Collection in magnums.

Elvis Presley Graceland Cellars ( produces All Shook Up Sauvignon Blanc, Jailhouse Red Merlot and Blue Suede Chardonnay. Then there's Jerry Garcia, the former lead singer of The Grateful Dead. The Napa Valley Winery Clos du Bois negotiated a deal with the estate of Jerry Garcia, the former lead singer of The Grateful Dead his estate to produce J. Garcia Wines (

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Paris Hilton Goes Nude to Promote Prosecco

Wine makers have realised that linking their brand name with celebs brings a new fan base.

Paris Hilton used her celebrity status to launch the new Rich Prosecco ( in Paris. It’s sold in a can. The drink has sold over 10 million cans in Europe since it launched.

What's more Paris has gone nude to pack that extra punch into the promotion - see Nick's Blog for more information.

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Danny DeVito

Danny DeVito is coming out with his own line of the lemon-flavoured Italian liqueur. Danny DeVito’s Premium Limoncello is produced and bottled on an estate of lemon trees on Italy's Sorrento peninsula.

His Limoncello is made from the zest of the lemon to create a 60-proof liqueur best served very cold or over ice. The Limoncello is bottled in a black bottle with a transparent lemon on the front and a 750ml bottle will be $23.99 and is available at

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Ghostbusting Wine

Dan Ackroyd, star of Ghostbusters and The Blues Brothers, recently invested $1 million in Niagara Cellars. Located in Canada's most established wine region, the company includes four established wineries: Thomas Vaughan, East Dell Estates, Lakeview Estates and Birchwood Estates.

Ackroyd plans to use his high profile to promote Canadian wines in the U.S. He also plans to sell the wines through his ten House of Blues restaurants across America.

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Showbiz Wine!

Celebrities and wine go together hand in hand and there are a growing number of Pop Stars who turning their hand to making them. The latest celebrity to join the ranks of wine making celebs Cliff Richard, Barbra Streisland, Olivia Newton John and Sting is none other than Barry Manilow.

Fans of the singer can now get their hands on Manilow Wines in five varietals: a 2003 Napa Valley Chardonnay and Merlot (produced at Flora Springs), a Zinfandel from the Sierra Foothills (made at Macchia in Lodi), and a California Cabernet Sauvignon and 2004 Central Coast Pinot Grigio (produced at White Crane in Livermore). They are retailing between $20 -$25 a bottle and can be obtained through the site (along with Manilow chocolate, perfume, accessories, jewellery, tea and candles!) Sounds a bit like Paul Burrell’s enterprise to me (

Whether Barry has much to with his wine production techniques remains to be seen – some celebs take it very seriously and others just add their names to wines made by professionals to cash in.

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Grape Anti Aging Cream

Selfridges in London are debuting Davi Skin which offers a line of luxury skincare for men and women, including Le Grand Cru (priced just under £100) which is an anti-aging face cream that nourishes the skin with antioxidants found in fermented grapes. In addition, the collections include a daily lotion, SPF 30 for women and SPF 15 for men, and a cleanser.

The women's line also includes a toner while the men's range contains a shave cream and an aftershave balm.

Daviskin is founded by Josh LeVine and none other than Carlo Mondavi – the grandson of winemaking icon Robert Mondavi. No prizes for where they get the grapes from then! For more information, visit

Mouth Wash Wine

Wine could make a good antibacterial mouth wash to fight tooth decay and a sore throat, according to Italian researchers.

Professor Gabriella Gazzani and colleagues at the University of Pavia in Italy have pointed out in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that wine can be used to combat harmful oral bacteria.

Wine has been used to treat wounds since ancient times and has antibacterial properties. The team showed that red and white wine were effective in inhibiting the growth of several strains of streptococci bacteria that are involved in tooth decay, and some cases of sore throat.

The compounds responsible for the antimicrobial activity were wine acids and red wine was found to be more active as an antibacterial agent than white. Professor Gazzani is now investigating the mechanisms by which wine can stop tooth decay and the possibility it offers advantages over standard mouthwashes.

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Christmas Tree Lights

Originally candles were used to light the tree. Martin Luther was supposed to have been the person who started the passion for lights on a tree in the 16th century when he wanted to show worshippers the effects of the wonder of stars twinkling through a forest of evergreen trees.

The candles were held in place by either gluing melted wax to a tree branch or using pins to hold the candle. Around 1900, candle holders were being used, and by 1915 small lanterns and glass balls became a means of holding the candles in place.

Then, in 1882, Thomas Edison's assistant, Edward Johnson, came up with the idea of electric Christmas lights. He lit up a Christmas tree in New York City with 80 small electric bulbs. Within 20 years, stores were displaying electric lights and they were being mass produced and sold to customers.

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Home Beauty Treatments - Wine and Champagne

There are some home remedies and beauty treatments that you can use without visiting an expensive spa or buying lotions and potions. You can use Champagne as a rinse which gives your hair definition, red wine as a tonic for dark hair and white wine for blond.

If you want a moisturiser then crush a few grapes in some honey, spread the mixture on your skin and leave for 20 mins, rinse well and pat off.

If you need a remedy for oily skin you can mix 10 tbsp of grape juice with 5 tbsp of distilled water. Chill in a fridge overnight and apply every morning with a cotton wool ball. Rinse with cold water to close the pores.

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Beer and Sake Beauty Treatments

Taking the trend in wine beauty treatments one step further beer and sake are now getting in on the act. A Czech Republic firm, Chodovar is currently exploring the skin care benefits of beer, and has opened the world's first beer spa, offering beer baths, massages, wraps and a take-home cosmetics line.

A line of products called SK-II is built around a clear, nutrient-rich liquid called pitera that is extracted during the yeast fermentation process when sake is made.

The skin-smoothing properties of pitera were discovered by a Japanese monk who, when visiting a sake brewery in Kobe, Japan, noticed that all the workers had extraordinarily soft hands, says Simone Bretherton, product development manager for SK-II.

"The monk had been in multiple sake factories before. He was there to analyse the taste of the sake, he wasn't interested in skin care," she says.

But since this was the only brewery where he noted the workers' hands, he worked with scientists to discover what was special about its particular formula. Their joint experiments led to the creation of SK-II.

Apparently the company, created more than two decades ago, maintained a relationship with the monk until his death. It was a mutual agreement that his name not be tied to the product, Bretherton says. This all sounds wonderfully authentic until you find out that “the company” is none other than Proctor and Gamble!

SK-II's first product -- and still its most popular -- is the 90% cent pitera Facial Treatment Essence. Additional products include cleansers, moisturizers, anti-aging treatments and masks, all with pitera as a dominant ingredient

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Wine Shampoo

It’s not just skin care that wine and grapes are being used in. Wine Shampoos and Conditioners are starting to hit the market in the wake of the success of vinotherapy. The Castle Bath in Gyula, Hungary uses spa water-wine shampoos, foams and creams in its treatments.

Desert Essence Organics is a line of beauty care products based on ingredients and traditions found on organic farms around the world and offer Desert Essence Organics Italian Red Grape Shampoo and Conditioner. Both Timotei and Schwarzkopf make Grape Shampoos.

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The Wine Lovers Beauty Cabinet

Lovers of Chardonnay can now relax in a bath of Olavie Chardonnay 2007 Bubble Bath. It’s a lavender-scented froth made with an extract of white grape seeds and just one of the current wave of wine-centric spa products and services on the market today.

Coast to coast, spas are offering beauty treatments utilizing wine products. New York’s Delluva Vinotherapy Day Spa has employed a staff of “Spa Sommeliers” to administer a Tasting Menu of treatments including a barrel bath in grape skins. The first all-vinotherapy spa on the east coast, Delluva carries products like d‘Vine’s Zinfandel Exfoliating Scrub-Mask and is the only U.S. outlet for TheraVINE, which uses indigenous South African Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc grapes in its products.

Even all-purpose skin care companies are now using grapes, such as L’Occitane, whose “30-Day Grape Cure” is derived from a century-old French remedy. But some beat the trend, such as Les Sources de Caudalíe, which launched an entire vinotherapy line in 1993 from Château Smith-Haut-Lafite grapes in Bordeaux-Martillac. Caudalie has set the bar high with its creations, like the Crushed Cabernet Scrub, which is potted in a jam jar and redolent of herbal vineyard aromas.

The Willard InterContinental in Washington D.C. has also touted the products, and swaths clients in Chardonnay-soaked towels. Défense from Fruits & Passion whose Chardonnay grape extract Purifying Mask uses green and white clay. Professional products available online include Burgundy-inspired delicacies from Janssen Cosmeceutical, such as Bordeaux-red Grape Body Gel, Stellar Spa’s Resveratrol-rich Vita-C and Mega-C serums; and B. Kamins Chemist’s Anti-Aging Moisturizer, which promises to lift fatigued complexions to a rosy glow.

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Christmas Tree Decorations

Did you know that Woolworths was responsible for popularising commercially made Christmas Tree decorations back in the 1880s and that the Addis Brush Company produced artificial Christmas Trees in the 1930s using the same machinery that made their toilet brushes! The Addis 'Silver Pine' tree was patented in 1950. The Christmas tree was designed to have a revolving light source under it and coloured gels allowed the light to shine in different shades as it revolved under the tree.

Artificial Christmas Trees originated in Germany and were metal wire trees were covered with goose, turkey, ostrich or swan feathers. The feathers were often died green to imitate pine needles.

In the past Christmas Trees were adorned with small toys, cakes, sugared almonds and candles. After 1865 branches of trees were occasionally adorned with glass trinkets and silver wire ornaments following a German tradition. The use of imported German glass ornaments was a custom in wealthier houses and these soon became a status symbol. By 1880 Woolworth's started to sell commercially produced Christmas tree ornaments.

Victorians spent hours making small decorations from twists of coloured and decorated paper shaped into horned cornucopias ready to be filled with stuffed dates or sweetmeats. Silk and feathers were used to make pouches and draw purses to hold sugared fruits and almonds. With silk thread they used macramé and lace skills to make tassels or lace snowflake style doilies, which they soaked in a dense sugar solution that enabled the doilies to be shaped and dried into decorative forms. Cotton wool was used to make little snowmen or wispy angels.

Prince Albert is credited with popularizing Christmas tree decoration in Britain but as early as 1800 Queen Charlotte had a candle lit tree surrounded with presents as the spotlight of her Christmas celebrations. In 1854 a big Christmas tree was set down on the site of the 1851 Great Exhibition. As the custom for using decorated trees grew, demand increased annually and by the 1880s in the London area among wealthy families the demand was so great that nurseries had to ensure that they had a ready supply of trees.

Famous spots for public Christmas trees include London’s Trafalgar Square, which annually displays a large Norwegian fir spruce tree so large it is usually about 60 years old and requires more than 500 lights. Since 1945 these trees have been a gift of the city of Oslo in Norway as a thank you to the British people for their help in World War II.

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Wine and Beauty

The new trend in beauty is for soy milk, rice and wine which have become popular materials for use in cosmetics with consumers increasingly wary of the safety of skincare products made from petrochemical feedstock or those of animal origin, and opting instead for products made from natural in gradients.

The first to try wine beauty therapy in Hollywood were Julia Roberts and Jennifer Lopez.

Using grapes in cosmetology dates back to at least the 17th century and the court of the French King Louis XIV when it was the style to apply aged wine to the face to create a radiant complexion. At the same time, its lightening properties were well-known to French winemakers.

So what is wine’s secret? You've no doubt heard about the benefits of drinking a glass of wine a day, but you may be surprised to learn how many riches are hidden in a tiny grape seed. Polyphenols, substances rich in vitamin E, that have the power to strengthen the skin's natural protective defences and effectively fight off free radicals, which are 80% responsible for aging.

The beauty industry maintains this compound also functions topically, forming a protective layer to fight the aging effects of free radicals on the skin. The antioxidants from grape seeds are 50 times more effective than vitamin E in fighting free radicals and are 20 times more powerful than Vitamin C.

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