By David Kiley Thoughtful gift giving is a craft, if not an art. And when it comes to wine, the more thought, research, and care that goes into the gift, the better it will be received -- and the better the giver will feel, too.
Granted, the world is full of wine and wine paraphernalia. And tastes and passions in the world of oenophiles are as subjective as politics and religion. The world is your wine cellar as far as choosing. But I'm going to make some suggestions here anyway to keep wine regifting to a minimum this year.
For the budding wine enthusiast still on the path of discovery:
1999 Allegrini Amarone, $59.99
1997 Bertani Amarone, $79.99
Zenato 2000 Amarone, $51.99
These wines are lush and excellent for drinking now or a decade from now. Amarone is from the Veneto region in Northeast Italy. It's not as fruity as a pinot noir, nor nearly as deep as cabernet sauvignon. These aren't wines that turn up on every wine list, so they're ideal for quenching thirst and curiosity. They're also wines welcome in any enthusiast's wine cellar. So, you can't go wrong.
Another route to helping your curious student of wine is to give him or her a tasting in a gift basket. Choose three or four bottles of the same varietal, but from different parts of the world. A selection of excellent rieslings, for example, from various regions, will allow the recipient to compare and contrast how the different growing regions effect a single grape. I've tasted all of the ones listed below and can recommend them.
St. Urbans-Hof Reisling QbA Mosel-Saar-Ruwer 2004, $11, Germany
Dr. Konstantin Frank Riesling Finger lakes Dry, 2001, $19, New York State
Kiona White Riesling Washington 2004, $9, Washington State, U.S.
Leon Beyer Riesling Alsace ERR Rare 2000, $40, France
Clos Clare Clare Valley 2001, $25, Australia
For the wine drinker who's into cute and funny names:
I don't care much for the trend of overly precious names for wine. Too often, I find the names cover up what's simply a mediocre product. The following wines, though, are welcome in my wine cellar despite their novelty names.
Oregon Argyle Merlot Nuthouse, 2002, $30
From one of Oregon's top wineries, the wine is very good, but not if the recipient is on Prozac.
Two Hands, Bad Impersonator, 2003,$34.95
It's an excellent shiraz by Two Hands, an Australian winery. It gets its name because the winemakers say it doesn't taste like a typical Barossa Valley shiraz. The bottle bears a photo of a very bad Groucho Marx look-alike.
Bonny Doon Bouteille Call NV Syrah Port-style NV, $16
This winery sometimes tries a little too hard with its labels, but its affordable wines rarely disappoint. A serious port drinker might not like it, but a dabbler with a sense of humor might. Give it with some excellent Sharffen Berger chocolate, and suggest consuming those gifts together.
For the regular wine drinker who buys a lot of Yellow Tail:
Casa Lapostolle, Cabernet Sauvignon, $8.99
Casa Lapostole Chardonnay, $7.99
Casa Lapostole Clos Apalta, 2002, $51.99
This grouping intentionally includes two inexpensive wines and one upper-priced vintage from a very good winery in Chile run by Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle and her husband, Cyril de Bournet, of the French family which owns and operates Grand Marnier. All three wines, despite their spread in prices, are very good -- and good examples of the improving product coming from Chile. Chances are that a devoted Yellow Tail drinker hasn't tried these wines yet, and it may open eyes to trying new wines beyond the safe confines of brand familiarity.
The inexpensive wines may well appeal to your gift recipient for repeat purchasing, and the pricier Clos Apalta, a garnet Chilean red with lovely fruit and tannins, adds a little heft to the gift. It could be cellared for a few more years or drunk immediately.
For the drinker who likes wine after the meal:
Serious Port drinkers love to be remembered at the holidays. Those who support our habit are often rewarded with equally good gifts. Try to ascertain whether your recipient prefers tawny, vintage, or ruby. While I enjoy all three, others can be more finicky. Tawny Ports get prolonged oak aging and thus turn out a bit paler in the glass as they lose some of their pigment and get quite woody. Ruby is young Port, aged no more than three years. And vintage is from a single year.
Dow's Port, 1991, $59.99
A bit more reserved than other ports. Bright notes of licorice and as classy a bottle as there is for under $100. This is pretty safe if you don't know the particulars of your recipient's Port tastes.
Croft Port 2003, $58.99
An excellent Port that could be drunk now, but would be better as an addition to the recipient's cellar.
Fonseca 40-year Tawny Port, 119.99
This complex beauty has a lot going on the glass, from figs to toffee and even notes of marzipan. Share it with someone you love.
Sandemann Vintage Port, 1960, $139.99
This is about as good as it gets in a port without going to an auction. Any port drinker would be pleased to get it. One idea: You might think of this bottle as a good gift for those born the same year.
For the Red State wine enthusiast who has been bashing the French:
Check out the offerings below from Stone Hill Winery. This Missouri winery was named in Paul Lukacs' new book, The Great Wines of America: The Top 40 Vintners, Vineyards, & Vintages, W. W. Norton & Company, 2005, $19.77.
Stone Hill Norton, $17.99
A very dry red wine to enjoy with beef, lamb, hearty dishes, spicy foods, and full-flavored cheese.
Stone Hill Chardonel, $9.99
Similar to Chardonnay. Aged in small oak barrels. Sturdy accompaniment to seafood.
Stone Hill Seyval, $9.99
Produced from free-run juice, and surprisingly good, given the lack of success with this grape in the middle of the U.S.
For drinkers who deserve more because they always give you thoughtful gifts:
1968 and 1973 Bertani Amarone, $559
This excellent winery offers both bottles in an attractive wooden gift box. Amarone ages wonderfully, so these wines will delight anyone with a wine cellar.
Gaja Langhe Sori Tildin, 2001, $350
This Piedmont winery turns out consistently great wines. The structure and tannins in this red are perfectly balanced. An excellent finish lingers on in the mouth. Give this without worrying whether it will be appreciated, and hope the recipient invites you to the uncorking -- which ideally should be after 2010.
For the Champagne and sparkling-wine drinker:
Dom Perignon, 1998, $129
This just released vintage is still finding distribution, so you may be the first to give it to your loved one. Dom Perignon's strength is its balance and, in this vintage, its strong final finish. Some say Dom Perignon has become overrated, and that the brand cachet has surpassed its real value. I disagree.
Champagne Salon, 1995, $190
Full-bodied sparkling wine, with an abundance of fruit. Pricey, but worth it for the right recipient.
Moet-Chandon, Nectar Imperiale, $31; Brut Rose NV, $37; White Star Extra Dry, $27
A package of all three of these excellent, consistent, nonvintage champagnes is a very classy selection for less money than a single bottle of top-drawer vintage champagne. The addition of the rose to the gift is a little extra festive, and may be something new for the recipient to try.
G.H. Mumm, Brut Champagne Grand Cru NV, $56
Floral and lasting finish. Bright taste. From a winery marching back strong from inconsistency in the mid and late 1990s. A very good value.
For the enthusiast expressing interest in cellaring wine:
Haier 20-32 Bottle Wine Cellar, with Contoured Smoked Glass Door, $199.99
This is a starter cellar for the middle-of-the road wine enthusiast, not the ultraserious collector. It has the advantage of fitting under a counter, or functioning as a standalone. Online reviews suggest the company has improvements to make in packaging so the wine ships properly, without damage.
Or maybe a book: Cellaring Wine: A Complete Guide to Selecting, Building, & Managing Your Wine Collection, Jeff Cox, Storey Publishing LLC, 2003. It's $12.83 at Amazon.com.
For the Wine Reader:
The Oxford Companion to Wine, Janice Robinson, editor, Oxford University Press, 1999. $40.95 at Amazon.com (AMZN).
This is an invaluable resource for serious wine drinkers who never quench their thirst for learning about varietals, appellations, wine history, and vineyards.
How to Taste: A Guide to Enjoying Wine, Janice Robinson, Simon & Schuster, 2001. $15.75 at Amazon.com.
This book follows the form of a wine course and is an unpretentious approach to understanding different wines and how to evaluate them for quality and value.
A History of Wine in America: From Prohibition to the Present, Thomas Pinney, University of California Press, 2005, $29.70 at Amazon.com.
An extremely well-written history of California, New York's Finger Lakes, and the rest of the wine-making regions of the country, which now include Oregon, Washington, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
Did you know Ohio was once America's leading producer of commercial wines? Europe still dominates world-class wine making, but for the more studious drinkers among us, it's a good read to see where Americans came from in wine making, and where we're going.
Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine, George M. Tabor, Scribner, 2005. $17.16 at Amazon.com.
In both red and white blind tastings, two American wines, a 1973 Stag's Leap cabernet and a 1973 Chateau Montelena chardonnay, bested the French competition. Time Magazine's Tabor was the only reporter on hand to witness. He writes an entertaining and informative yarn about the event that put Napa Valley on the world wine drinking map.
Kiley is Marketing editor for BusinessWeek