Taking a bottle of wine to a dinner party has always been among the warmest ways of saying thank you to a dinner invitation. Gifting wine is also one of the most convivial ways of sending a holiday greeting and it isn’t nearly as complicated as you might think. Here are some tips for creating memorable holiday gifts with a bottle.
First, don’t worry too much about picking the “right” wine. My experience is that while many people have favorite wines, most people don’t know the full range of wines available today. That is to say, they don’t know a lot of wines that could become favorites because they haven’t tried them yet. I have a friend who insisted she didn’t like white wine until she was coerced into having a Chablis (a crisp, unoaked chardonnay from France) and now ranks it as a new favorite. The lesson from this story is to give a gift of wine you like – in addition to being a particularly personal gift, there’s a good chance your recipient hasn’t had it yet and may end up sharing your enthusiasm.
A “collection” of wine makes a great gift idea and many good wine shops offer some already-compiled options. You might opt for these ready-made groupings or go a more individual route. You could choose a trio of reds from the same region or focus on one grape variety as it is made into wine in three different countries (say, cabernet sauvignon from France, California and Australia, or pinot noir from Oregon, New Zealand and Burgundy). You could create a “wine tour of the New World” with six bottles showcasing the classic wines of several countries, a gathering that has as its common thread neither grape variety nor region, but your passion and thoughtfulness.
When it comes to holidays, Champagne is always an excellent choice. I’m not one of those people who think sparkling wine is only for celebrations. Champagne is a great wine first, a wine that happens to have bubbles, and it is notable for being extremely versatile when it comes to pairing with food. Champagne, with its crisp acidity, is a wonderful match for many foods, especially dishes that are fried or have a rich cream sauce (the bubbles refresh your palate), foods that are spicy (with relatively low alcohol, sparkling wine doesn’t accentuate chile heat) or foods that are either high in acid (like ceviche) or a little salty (salt balances acidity). One of my favorite pairings (though I grant you, not particularly in the holiday spirit) is Champagne and French fries. This is the most popular time of year for retailers to put their sparkling wines on sale, so you might find some terrific bargains out there. For example, at Sunset Corners Wines & Spirits there is a great deal right now on one of my favorite Champagnes, Louis Roederer Brut Premier – $39.95 is a terrific price, and staffer Kamille Palacios is always an extremely insightful guide to matching wine to guest.
Finally, I’d be remiss in not suggest one gift idea that doesn’t involve alcohol, at least not directly. When I was just getting interested in wine, I bought several books to get a better understanding of what I was tasting. Most of the books I purchased are out of print now, but one remains and is better than ever. Two of the world’s greatest wine writers, Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson, released the terrific eighth edition of their “World Atlas of Wine” just two months ago and it is already one of the best-selling wine books of all time – I read recently that more than four million copies are in print. The new edition is a treasure trove of information not only about wine but about where wine is made. This is the story not only of what wine is, but also why it is – why sauvignon blanc is different in Sancerre and Marlborough, why chardonnay from Chablis is distinct from chardonnay from Sonoma, how Rioja wines have changed over the years and much more. From contour lines on a vineyard map to graphs showing you every conceivable nuance in wines around the world, this is an affordable and indispensable book for wine lovers. I can’t recommend it highly enough (and it also has a holiday design – a green cover in Europe and a red cover in the U.S.).
Well there you have some ideas about gift-able wine. We could continue the discussion all day, but I hope this gives you some ideas that may in turn spur ideas of your own. Remember, wine is a vehicle for sharing and in this season of sharing experiences, friendship and family, wine – in one form or another – can be a convivial centerpiece for your celebration.
Cheers, and happy holidays!