Buying wine as a holiday gift is relatively easy. First, almost everyone can use a bottle of wine even if it is destined to be served to guests. Second, it always fits.
Or is that really the case? Like a good sweater, wine needs to fit the person -- and the occasion. Not everyone likes red wine, for instance, and that bottle of Jar Head Red may get a laugh -- but not from the host who was counting on you to bring a nice wine for dinner. So this week we'd like to offer some guidelines in bringing wine to holiday parties and make some gift suggestions for the oenophile in your family.
It is appropriate to bring wine to a holiday open house or dinner party, but don't expect it to be immediately opened or served. The host probably has spent hours carefully selecting the wines. Also, your host is too busy greeting guests to say anything more than "thank you" for your wrapped bottle of wine. For that reason, you should include a card as a reminder of who provided the wine -- most guests forget -- or write your name on the label so that you will be remembered when the wine is actually opened.
You don't need to spend a lot of money. Even wine connoisseurs will appreciate an unusual wine or something that you have recently discovered. If you want to leave an impression, though, or wish to acknowledge someone's meaningful assistance, spend a little money.
Two bottles we are giving away as gifts this year are Jaboulet Beaumes de Venise, a lush Rhone wine for about $25, and Millegrand, a blend from southern France that can be found on sale for about $12.
Our favorite bottle to bring a dinner host is champagne or sparkling wine. It's the time of the year when most champagnes are consumed and it's a universal wine for most foods and celebrations. We recommend Nicolas Feuillatte, a real French champagne that costs less than $30, or Gruet, an unusually good sparkling wine made, in all places, New Mexico.
We'll be writing more about champagne in the next couple of weeks.
Here are some other suggested gifts for the wine enthusiast:
*Magazine subscription. Our two favorite wine-related periodicals are the Wine Advocate by Robert Parker Jr. and Marvin Shanken's Wine Spectator. Both magazines present up-to-date tasting notes on wines from around the world but differ greatly in their style and format. The Wine Advocate is a standard reference point for serious wine enthusiasts. The text-only format is very straightforward with abundant, well-written and descriptive tasting notes. The publication does not accept advertising. Cost: $75 per year for six issues or $99 a year for an electronic version.
The Wine Spectator comes in a glossy large format with lots of photos, tasting notes, features and news. The magazine is filled with advertising from wine producers, prompting some critics to speculate about a conflict of interest. Cost: $49.95 a year for 15 issues or an online version for the same price.
*Corkscrews. You can never have enough corkscrews. We often misplace them or they eventually wear out. Our favorite is still the waiter's helper, a simple device that resembles a jackknife. There are more gimmicky devices that sometimes work and sometimes don't. A corkscrew is a good stocking-stuffer, too.
*Carafes. If your friend has enough wine glasses, maybe a beautiful carafe would be appreciated. We have several and there never seems to be enough. Even young wines can benefit from being poured into a carafe.
*Nice bottle for the cellar. Some wines that can be cellared for a few years or enjoyed now include Beringer Private Reserve, Opus One, Silver Oak, Joseph Phelps Insignia, Radio-Couteau pinot noir. Joseph Drouhin makes some incredible white burgundies that range from a reasonably priced chablis ($29) to an extraordinarily decadent Beaune Clos des Mouches ($100).
*Or, how about a few bottles with a theme -- like chardonnay from six different countries -- or a few wines from southern France with a copy of the "French Connection" or a copy of "Sideways" with all the wines featured in the movie?
*Wine baskets. Stores do a good job putting together creative gift baskets.