Wine is a great Holiday gift. We offer our advice on selections for both the casual wine drinker and the seasoned wine enthusiast. We suggest you make your wine gift exotic by choosing wines from lesser known countries and producers. Countries like Austria and Portugal make wonderful wines that are likely to be new and different to the person receiving your gift.
Of course, which wine you buy as a gift depends on both your pocketbook and the person you’re giving to. We usually think of wine- drinkers as falling into three categories: The Casual Wine Drinker, who may not know the difference between Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. Serious Wine Drinkers, who know what they like but pretty much limit themselves to the popular brands. And the Semi-Pro who knows wine and probably has more than a few bottles stashed in a wine cooler, closet or cellar. Let’s consider which wines each of these might like to receive for the Holidays. We’ve limited our choices to wines that should be available in most good wine stores. All prices are retail prices recommended by the winery or importer; the shelf price is often lower.
The Casual Wine Drinker. There’s no point in spending lots of money on the Casual Wine Drinker, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give a bottle that will give a lot of pleasure. Stick with the well-known varietals, but find a new producer or new region. Argentine Malbec would fit the bill. Ask your purveyor for a mid-priced Malbec from a producer like Andeluna, Salentein, or Doña Paula. We recently tasted the 2009 Doña Paula Los Cardos Malbec and especially like it. Best of all, it costs just $10 a bottle. Everyone these days loves Pinot Noir, and a good one for the casual drinker has been produced by Carneros winemaker, Sean Minor. His 2009 4 Bears Pinot Noir ($17) is ripe, flavorful and fleshy and is unbeatable for the price. A good, sparkling wine is another option. One that all casual wine drinkers would love is the Roederer Estate ($18) from California’s Anderson Valley. And if your friend prefers white wines, try a cool coastal Chardonnay from California. When we visited the Santa Lucia Highlands last year we enjoyed the 2008 Mer Soleil Barrel Fermented Chardonnay ($19). While a little higher priced than the other wines recommended here, it’s a sure thing!
The Serious Wine Drinker. The Serious Wine Drinker is likely to be a little more open than the Casual Wine Drinker to trying something new. Here we recommend you find something that will stretch his or her wine knowledge just a bit. Our first choice might be a different varietal from a reliable producer. One such bottle we tasted this past year is Montes Alpha Carmenere ($19) from Chile. It’s a reasonably priced, delicious, full-bodied red wine from a very good Chilean winery. We also offer many suggestions on pairing Carmenere and food on our website. Among white wines, we’d recommend an Austrian Grüner Veltliner such as Anton Bauer’s 2009 Rosenberg Reserve ($24) or other Anton Bauer cuvees. They combine flavor, acidity, and minerality that are hard to find in one bottle. Red table wine from Portugal would also be different. We recommend the 2008 Quinta Vale Meão Meandro ($20), the 2008 Quinta do Vallado Tinto ($29), or the Herdade do Esporão Reserva ($21) all wines which have abundant red and black fruit, spice, and complex flavors.
The Semi-Pro. The Semi-Pro is the most difficult to buy for. If you have lots to spend, you could pick a top end wine that is certain not to disappoint. The 2008 Phelps Insignia ($185) is one such wine – expensive but worth it, and the person receiving it will recognize both its quality and value. If your pocketbook is looking for something a little lower in price, there are many options. Everyone loves a good Oregon Pinot Noir, and Cristom produces some of the best. The 2007 Cristom Marjorie Vineyard Pinot Noir ($50) is exceptionally good, but so are Cristom’s other bottlings, reviews of which can be found in our recent article. Another option is a rich, full-bodied Ribera del Duero wine like the 2006 Bodegas Condado de Haza Crianza ($30) or the 2006 Cyclo ($51). If these specific bottlings are not available in your local store, ask for something similar from Ribera del Duero.
Of course, one other terrific wine gift is an introductory subscription to the International Wine Review, just $25 for six months. Purchase on-line.
Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler