You're stumped: what to buy for geeky wine pals who have it all. With mere days left on the shopping clock, there's no need to fret. Beverage shops are stocked to the rafters with the best selections of the year. Five simple wine-related gift ideas will help ease the pressure. Finish your list and get on with your toasts.
These ideas are for wine newcomers and those toughest to please; your supervisor who's basement is akin to a mini wine shop, the generous aunt who recites scores from wine mags.
Port -- Not everyone drinks port, but there's a place in every cellar for good bottles.
Two standout producers are easy to locate: Smith Woodhouse and Quinta do Noval. You'll be giving port made with precision and immpecable fruit. Basic standouts include Smith Woodhouse Lodge Reserve and Noval Black, both upgrades from the basic level rubes they make. Expect to pay $15-20 dollars for a bottle. Try the Smith Woodhouse 10 year Tawny or the Noval 2007 Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) for strong versions of these styles. You'll pay about $30 dollars. Both producers offer vintage versions; 2011 the recent vintage into the American market. Prices range from $45-55 per bottle for Smith Woodhouse to $75-90 for Noval. Remember vintage ports are for drinking in years to come and tend to have a long life. Older vintage ports can be found on the market if a specific vintage is important. Buy the non-vintage wines or the LBV for current drinking, wrap appropriately, and distribute with a hug or a carol. For the wine drinker who has too much of the other stuff, the gift of port may reawaken appreciation of this lovely beverage.
Bubbles -- Sparkling wine gets major attention around holidays, but the truth is, it's just as important during the other eleven months of the year. Any wine room can use extra bubbles; there's always an occasion to celebrate. With the market flooded, choosing a sparkler can be a struggle. Champagne can be a very personal choice, much in the way one gravitates toward a style of bourbon for a house spirit. So consider alternatives instead, all from regions outside Champagne.
Gruet from New Mexico stands tall amongst domestic sparkling wine producers. The Brut, Blanc du Noirs, and Brut Sauvage (the driest in the stable) all make great, versatile gifts. Prices average $14-18 dollars.
Bisol, a fine Italian producer of the popular category Prosecco, makes an everyday version under the Jeio label. Expect to pay about $14 for a bottle of Brut, Extra-Dry, or Rose. Or locate the "Crede" or "Cartizze", the latter from a tiny hillside vineyard. Nationally, the Crede runs about $18, and the Cartizze $45.
Eric Bordelet in Normandie, crafts a number of lovely organic apple and pear ciders well worth seeking out. Ok: so it isn't grape-based bubbly, but his cidre are delicious and refreshing. The Brut Tendre, Poire L'Authentique, and Granit, are so compelling you'll want to gift them more often. The ciders of Bordelet would make even Monsieur Scrooge smile with delight.
Big and Little Bottles -- Big bottles, like the double-sized magnum, are the ultimate dinner party accompaniments. Not readily available in shops, they're still around in enough numbers to provide cool choices. If you know your father in law drinks mostly Shiraz and rarely ventures past that grape, why not celebrate that fact with a magnum, or even a 3-liter bottle of a sure thing? Big bottles come in everyday styles and in age worthy formats. Tailor the style to who you're buying for. And plan ahead for next year. Many big bottles are available but not routinely stocked in shops. Special order your gifts months ahead of the rush.
Little formats -- namely half-bottles -- are incredibly practical for some couples and for single folks who don't drink much in one sitting. It's also a way to give sweet wines and champagne. Sometimes a "half" is just the right amount when it comes to toasting, or for featuring desert wine. And if the budget allows, you can give multiple half-bottles, or even a case of 6, 12, or 24, depending on the wine.
Glasses -- You're still undecided. You've circled the wines repeatedly, to no avail. Now head over to the department store and grab an extra set of goblets. Entertaining and regular sipping signals busted stemware in the house. Glasses in four-packs are among the most useful gift choices for wine gals and guys. Granted -- shape, size, and brand preference varies. If you know the home style (Ikea, Libby, Riedel, or Target) don't get something wildly different from the norm. If you gift the exact glass you use when you're over playing Charades, that's cool. A set of back-up glasses is a very good thing to have stashed away. For those new to wine, pick something practical and not outsized, something easy to use, easy to clean. Forget the two-foot tall bucket on a stem that only works with 1982 Bordeaux. Throw in a bottle or two on the side for testing purposes and you're done.
Wine Reads -- Shopping for books about wine is a little like choosing the bottles themselves; you have to wade through a lot to get to the really meaningful stuff. For all wine libraries, consider the essential, informational Oxford Companion to Wine, edited by Jancis Robinson. Oz Clarke's Encyclopedia of Grapes helps guide the reader through grape basics, into esoteric plantings, and finally to the wines from them all. For the sheer joy of travel in wine country, Nigel Buxton's Walking in Wine Country takes you back to days of wandering sleepy hamlets in France.
A number of on-line subscription services with terrific information are available as gifts. Arguably the best of all is the long running Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar. Now on-line only, Tanzer and his small staff are perhaps the most comprehensive and toughest of the major wine critics in print today. Expect detail and background on wines, regions, and wine producers you won't commonly encounter anywhere else.