The Gift of Wine

By - Dec 1st, 2005 02:52 pm
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By Nathan Norfolk

During holiday crunch time, wine makes a perfect gift. Wine is festive and especially suited for celebrations. And it’s always great for that last minute what-do-I-get-my-boss-or-my-uncle situation. If you don’t know anything about wine, don’t be afraid to ask a wine merchant for advice. They want you to come back and buy wine at their store again so you can feel at ease in trusting their advice. Just tell them your budget and be firm about it. You can even be cheap. There are hundreds of great wines that retail for less than 20 dollars, and there are many that are simply good for less than 10 dollars. If gift wrapping strikes fear into your heart, you can easily just slip a bow on the bottle. Most retailers also carry a plethora of decorative bags  made solely for gift giving.

If you’re paranoid about getting just the right wine for a gift, here are a few simple guidelines.

First, get something different. The big California wine brands already get everyone’s attention. A decent merchant will steer you clear of all the normal impulse wine buys you could get at any grocery store. There are many good wines at every imaginable price point, so that avoiding the Beringers and the Kendall-Jacksons of this world should be easy.

Second, if you are going to buy someone a gift, you may as well get one for yourself. This may sound self-indulgent, but when do you have a better excuse to treat yourself than the holidays? Try the wine out and see what you think. This will give you the ability to a give a gift that is that much more personal. If you don’t like the wine, don’t give it as a gift (or at least don’t give it to anyone you really like). If you do like it, share your thoughts on the wine with the recipient.

No one will think you’re cheap if you just give one bottle. In the best-case scenario you can cater to someone’s wine desires, but if you don’t know what they like here are a few safe suggestions at a variety of prices.

• The real deal French Champagne starts at about $30 a bottle. No other wine is quite as elegant or appropriate for the holidays. Most of them will have the word “Brut” prominently displayed on the label. This indicates that the Champagne will be bone-dry. If you seek something a bit fruitier, look for Extra-Dry or Demi-Sec styles. A great budget Champagne is the non-vintage Duval-Leroy.

• For those with Champagne taste and a beer budget, there are plenty of sparkling wines in the eight-to-20 dollar category. Sparkling wine simply refers to any wine with bubbles that isn’t made in the Champagne region of France. Italian Prosecco is bit more floral and fruity than Champagne and typically about half the price. Two great producers of Prosecco are Jeio and Zardetto, both retail for less than $15.

• If you think all white German wine is sweet plonk, now is the time to try them again. 2002, 2003 and 2004 were all fabulous vintages in Germany. German Riesling is the perfect wine for those that want something on the sweet side, and for more discerning wine drinkers. Nothing helps wash down cookies and fruitcake like a subtly sweet Riesling. Most of the German Rieslings also have little more acidity than their American counterparts. That makes them a great accompaniment to a variety of foods.

• Spain offers some of the best wine values in the world. On top of that there are a slew of Spanish wines now coming into our market. Most of them are under 20 dollars and made from varieties that aren’t as run of the mill as Merlot and Chardonnay. Two red varietals are Spain’s stars, Grenache and Tempranillo. Grenache (sometimes labeled Garnacha) tends to produce a slightly spicy, raspberry-scented, medium-bodied red wine. Great Spanish Grenache values are Tres Ojos and Vina Aliaga.

Tempranillo-based wines tend to be aged in oak and have a pleasing, silky texture coupled with a hint of vanilla. Many of these wines come from the Rioja region of Spain. Marques de Caceres and Montecillo are two popular and easy to find producers of Tempranillo-based wines. Don’t just look for these. See what other Spanish wine gems your local wine seller offers.

Lastly, when shopping for wine during the holidays, avoid the temptation to buy anything with Santa Claus or reindeer on the label. There will be mountains of this stuff in grocery stores in December, and come January there will be the same mountains will be sold at a discount.  VS

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