Learning the Wines and the Hows of Magic Tricks

Max Jacobson is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition

Subjects such as wine and magic may strike a casual observer as hard to understand, but both are really quite accessible. At Costa Mesa's Hi-Time Cellars, Orange County's most complete wine shop, one can get a quick introduction into the world of wines. Meanwhile, nearby at our top magic store, Hollywood Magic, mind-bending secrets await cash-bearing customers.

2 to 2:30: The front of Hi-Time Cellars is actually a cluster of specialty areas: gifts, coffees and teas, a cigar emporium and a large area filled with deli foods. You'll be tempted by aromas of tobaccos and freshly ground coffees before spotting Le Biarritz Deli, a separate room set off by a tile floor and tables with faux-marble tops. The deli serves terrific sandwiches, such as the Nicoise, which has tuna, tomatoes, red onions and green peppers on a freshly baked baguette. The charcuterie is a Dagwood-like creation packed with smoked turkey, French garlic sausage and prosciutto. Both sandwiches, which come with a salad, are $5.75. Eat hearty. Wine touring on an empty stomach is a bad idea.

2:30 to 3:30: Now you are set to visit the wines and spirits in this huge store. Those who would like a formal tour should ask to be guided by John Nguyen or Gary Hill. Both are wine experts who conduct regular seminars and tastings. (Hill also publishes a bimonthly newsletter for the store, which you can obtain by getting on the house mailing list.)

Enter the climate-controlled cellar by walking down a small ramp near the back of the store. As you do, you will pass a display of the '93 Gold Medal Award winners from the last Orange County Fair. The wines, of course, are all for sale.

It's cool down here, actually between 54 and 58 degrees Fahrenheit at all times, the ideal temperature for storing wines. The store's 14,000-plus selections are grouped according to country, grape variety and regions. So if you are looking for, say, an Italian Cabernet from Piedmont, you'll get to it by simply following signs. All California wines are on the cellar's mezzanine level. California wines are set up by varietals, and the wineries have been alphabetized, as authors in a bookstore. They really do make it easy for you.

Back upstairs, in the main part of the store, take a peek at the fine spirits--collectors' items such as rare single malt Scotches, vintage Cognacs, vintage Armagnacs and unusual labels, the finest of which peek out at you from behind a glass case. How about a crystal decanter of Louis XIII Cognac for only $899? No? Well, there are more than 600 different beers, domestic and imported, in the walk-in micro-brewery room a few feet away.

3:30 to 4: The Hi-Time tasting bar is set up so that you can experience great wines without having to spend big money. It's a long bar with a colorful mosaic top and a dozen or so stools, across from two contraptions called California Wine Machines, multibottle dispensers that keep wines airtight after they have been opened. Tastes are 1 1/2 ounces and generally range from 50 cents to $5. Recently the store featured Comte Lafon Meursault 1990, a world-class white, and Sassicaia, a red wine from Italy and one of the so-called "Super Tuscans." Tasting these great wines adds a perspective no seminar, or tour, can fully explain.

4 to 5: Halloween is soon to come, and everyone wants to be someone else. Professional makeup artists at the nearby Hollywood Magic Inc.--which has been in operation 43 years--will outfit you with beards, glow goo, wigs, masks and costumes--anything you need to be anything you want to be. "This isn't K mart," says second-generation owner Janor St. Pierre. "We give you real service."

But the real specialty here is magic tricks, everything from a $1 sliding-coin trick to a stage-quality guillotine for $275. You are paying, essentially, for the secret. One of the professional magicians on the premises will demonstrate and explain the trick to you until you are confident with it. While I visited, a magician named Terry Zembrzuski dazzled me with some card tricks. He didn't offer to tell me how they were performed, and I suspect I wasn't carrying the kind of scratch he would have required before revealing any secrets.

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1. Hi-Time Cellars

250 Ogle St., Costa Mesa

(714) 650-8463

Open Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

(Le Biarritz Deli serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday.)

All major credit cards accepted.

2. Hollywood Magic Inc.

298-D E. 17th St., Costa Mesa

(714) 646-4374

Open Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Parking: Both stores have large parking lots.

Buses: OCTA buses 45/45A (Orange-Costa Mesa) and 57 (Santa Ana-Newport Beach) stop at the corner of Santa Ana Avenue and 17th Street.

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