The holiday season is fully upon us and I imagine (at least, I hope) I am not alone in discovering that there are a couple of places on my gift list I overlooked. Finding a last minute gift is, to use a seasonal (if not a Floridian) metaphor, tough sledding. We’ve missed most online shipping deadlines and in stores, the crowds can be overwhelming. Shelves are bare of the most popular (which is to say, the easiest to figure out) gift ideas and the last minute pressure of coming up with something wonderful somehow renders my brain as slow as molasses in winter.
In the spirit of preserving joy for wine and food lovers everywhere, I offer a few last minute gift ideas that, if you are quick about it, you can still arrange before December 25th or save up as a New Year’s gift.
The best gift I know for a family member or close friend who wants to know more about wine (and please excuse the bit of self promotion) is to arrange for them to take one of the wine classes offered by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, or WSET. I teach three levels of this excellent course that was designed by a team of Masters of Wine, the most prestigious wine expert designation in the world (fewer than 400 people have this certification). We have classes coming up in South Florida between February and June and a gift certificate to one of these courses would be an exceptional present for your favorite wine lover.
In a WSET class, a small group of wine lovers gets tutoring in a concentrated and systematic approach to understanding and appreciating wine. In these classes you taste and learn alongside other passionate wine lovers and people in the wine trade and there is a course for every level of wine experience. You can learn more about these classes and how to give a gift certificate to an upcoming course on my personal blog and on my website, lynfarmer.com as well as from the website of the group that created the course, Fine Vintage, Ltd.
Photo credit: Wine Folly
Another ideal gift for a wine lover of any level of experience is my favorite wine book of 2015, Madeline Puckett’s Wine Folly – The Essential Guide to Wine. Madeline is the creative force behind the Wine Folly Website, one of the most visually compelling of all wine sites as well as one of the most informative. She’s taken her inimitable visual way with explaining wine (she’s a wonderful artist and graphic designer) and translated it into a book that is available at a bargain price and, if you are a member of Amazon Prime and order before 9 am Thursday, will be delivered by Saturday for a fee, or on Sunday for free.
I realize this isn’t the same as getting it on Christmas Day but it comes close, and this is a great book for any wine lover. Madeline’s graphics explaining everything from why wine colors differ to the dominant flavors in cabernet sauvignon will help anchor sometimes abstract concepts firmly in your mind.
Finally, a gift of wine is always appreciated though it can be a fallback for the unimaginative at times. How to make your gift of wine memorable? Why not pair it with a special cheese so you have a creative tasting in a single package? Here are a few great pairings that I guarantee will put both the wine and the cheese in a great light:
Photo credit: Rolf Krahl
Sauvignon blanc and goat cheese – this is the most classic pairing imaginable, but not just any sauvignon blanc will do (nor will just any goat cheese). My suggestion is to get the best Sancerre you can afford (figure about $30-$40) – this is the quintessential sauvignon blanc from France’s Loire Valley and, with a winemaker like Lucien Crochet you will have a beautiful wine with a subtle flavor that matches perfectly to one of my favorite goat cheeses from California’s Cypress Grove Creamery. You can find it at most good cheese shops.
Champagne with aged Gruyère – the acidity of the champagne and the salinity of the cheese makes a beautiful combination. Get a good, non-vintage Champagne (and don’t cheat by getting a sparkling wine from elsewhere – for the holiday get the real thing from the Champagne region of France) and get a good Gruyère from a cheese shop, not one of those lifeless imitations in a plastic sarcophagus you find in some grocery stores. Another great match for Champagne is the hard, orange cheese called Mimolette. It tastes a bit like caramel and it’s a great match – I first had it when I worked a harvest in Champagne and if it’s what the wineries give the workers, it works for me!
In my experience the best wine and cheese matches are with white wines, not with the reds everyone goes to first. The tannins in red wine often come up just being hard and unpleasant with many cheeses. If you want red, then you are best off pairing a softer style of red wine like a good Beaujolais (and not the recently released Beaujolais Nouveau) with a fresh, creamy cheese like a slightly aged Brie or Camembert.
A wedge of cheese and a bottle of wine – put them together in a gift bag and you’ll be Santa’s favorite helper this year. Toss in a copy of Wine Folly and a gift certificate for a WSET Course and you could be the favorite elf of all time.