THE BLOG
01/27/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Your Private Sommelier's Gift Giving Guide

So Christmas may be over, but you still need some last minute gifts for those relatives spent the last four days sleeping on the floor of the airport.

You bought some kickass gifts, but let's be honest -- with all this gift buying and giving, isn't there a little voice inside saying, "and what about me?" So, Aunt Ethel knitted you a duck sweater again, even though you are 40 years old. You got fruitcakes and boxes of those horrible gingerbread cookies, and someone bought you a totally useless device (without a receipt to return it), on the order of a Garden Weezil, even though your back patio is hardscape.

Meanwhile, you have to buy a killer gift for the host who is holding her New Year's eve party at that great five-star hotel. You have to bring the hostess a really great gift... she has her own wine cellar, so no "extreme value wines" on the order of Two Buck Chuck! What to do?

You need some great wine gifts, and nothing makes a better gift than that cult bottle everyone is buzzing about -- the one that will make them say, "OMG, this is so sweeeet!" And while you are shopping for that celebrated gift, gift yourself with my hidden gems! My gifts for you may not have the same fame, but they do have fabulous flavor. They're pedigreed picks, but easy on your purse. Of course, if you've lost your entire investment portfolio, buy the less expensive picks as gifts -- they'll never know the difference!

1. For that Glam Galfriend: Fabulous Fizz
Salon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Le Mesnil sur Oger 1997 -- $380

The village of Le Mesnil may be the finest piece of real estate in all of the Champagne region -- it's where Salon and Krug get their best grapes. This 1997 with tiny bubbles is still young, but shows elegant flavors of honey, brioche, caramel, cream and butterscotch that will have your gal pal "drinking stars."

For You: Rare Wine Company's Champagne Blanc de Blancs Le Mesnil NV -- $30
The grapes for Rare Wine Company's Blanc de Blancs Champagne come from the same place as Salon and Krug, so let your gal pal join the rappers and celebs in drinking those -- you know better! This real-deal Champagne shows all the delicious toast and cream flavors that Salon does. Find it at Wine Exchange, a huge wine superstore in a dreary strip mall in Orange, but they deliver. So call them and order up a half- case before it's all gone.

2. For that Francophile/Oenophile: Bodacious Bordeaux
Chateau Palmer 2003 -- $150

This Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot is still a pup, but a class act all the way. With blackberry and vanilla flavors, well -- integrated oak and jammy finish, it's a classic.

For You: Alter Ego de Palmer 2005 -- $50
Chateau Palmer's Alter Ego is a "second" wine (same winery, same winemaker) and some wine critics (yours truly included) think it's even better than the "Grand Vin." It has the same delicious flavors as the big wine at one-third the price

3. For that Introspective Intellectual: Purple Poetry-Pinot Noir
Sine Qua Non Hollerin' M Pinot, California, 2002 -- $345

Sine Qua Non winemaker Manfred Krankel has been called a "mad genius" for good reason. His wines are astonishingly deep, concentrated and rich. He gives his wines different names every year and my favorite, "Just for the Love of It," 2002 Syrah, garnered a perfect 100-point score from famed wine critic, Robert M. Parker. "JFTLOI" is now going for over $700, making "Hollerin' M" Pinot a good deal.

For You: Antica Terra Pinot Noir, Oregon, 2006-- $45
Maggie Harrison, Manfred's assistant winemaker for eight years, is now making Pinot Noir in Oregon and Syrah (under the Lillian label) in California. After all she had to have learned something from Manfred in eight years.

4. For the Ferrari Fanatic: Super Tuscan-Testarossa
Tenuta dell'Ornellaia "Ornellaia," 2005 -- $170

While you are shopping for Antica Terra at Hi Time Wine Cellars, pick up this Italian Stallion for those friends who brag about staying at Italian villas every year. This is Tuscany's answer to Bordeaux with black cherry, chocolate and spice flavors. Made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

For You: Tenuta dell'Ornellaia "Le Serre Nuove," 2006 -- $49
Another second wine that is almost as good as the "Grande Vino." This little brother of the famous Ornellaia has delicious earthy flavors with spice, vanilla and minerals. It's a fraction of the price of Ornellaia's top wine (above) and will be ready to drink much sooner. With silky blackberry, coffee and vanilla flavors, it's made from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, and ready to drink now.

5. For the Trophy Hunter: The Eagle Has Landed
Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004 -- $1795

Considered the ne plus ultra of California cult Cabernet Sauvignons, this limited-edition wine sells for $750 via mailing list -only to collectors who buy it from the winery's mailing list-only to a small group of collectors who buy it from the winery and often turn around and "flip" it for two, three or four times the price. "Screagle" was made by rock-star winemaker Heidi Peterson Barrett from 1992-2005. Since 2006, it's made by Andy Erickson. This is the most sought after Napa Cabernet in the world.

For You: Paradigm Cabernet Napa Valley, 2004 -- $60
Heidi Barrett, former Screaming Eagle winemaker, makes Cabernet wines under a number of labels including her own "La Sirena" Cabernet Sauvignon, but this one is the bomb!! With rich, fat, blackberry fruit and smooth tannins, it just sings with a bit of air. Find it at "boutique" wine shop,

6. For that Gonzo Golfer: A Perfect Hole in 1(00!) or Tennis grand Slam: Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Washington State -- $300
I have been collecting Quilceda Creek wines for many years. Since QC got 100 points from critic Parker in 2002, lots of other people have joined me! Get thee on their mailing list, so after a year or two, you too, can have the opportunity to buy Washington State's best Cabernet Sauvignon at about $100 per bottle. It's the Northwest's answer to first growth (top dog!) Bordeaux, with blueberry, chocolate and cherry flavors.

For You: Andrew Will 2005 Champoux Vineyard, 2005 -- $55
The grapes for Andrew Will's Bordeaux-style blend come from the same vineyard as Quilceda Creek. The Champoux (pronounced "shampoo") family vineyard is arguably the best in all of Washington State.

7. For Aunt Ethel and Uncle Ed:
Château d'Yquem, Bordeaux, 2003 -- $170 (for 375 ml)
This is a dessert wine. It is, in fact, the world's most famous dessert wine, made from "nobly rotted" (it's a good thing) Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes. You do NOT need to have dessert with it, it is dessert. Thick, rich and full of orange, cream, pineapple and toasted marshmallows, this will keep Aunt Ethel knitting duck sweaters for at least another 40 years!

For You: Yarden Gewurztraminer Heights Winery Late Harvest 2005 -- $25 (for 375ml)
This gorgeous dessert wine is made from frozen grapes, deliciously done in an ice wine style. It has tropical flavors of lychee and melon, dried apricots and peaches.
It is sweet, mouth filling and thick, in the same style as the d'Yquem at about one seventh the price. Now that is sweet!