Gift Giving Uncorked

By W Peter Hoyne

During the holiday season many of us may be searching for that perfect gift for a close friend or relative who has an appreciation of wine. Unfortunately, there is far too little information or honest advice available for us to make a decision about a unique bottle of wine. Many times, it can be challenging or even anxiety provoking to enter a wine shop and not know what to purchase. The selections can be overwhelming and often you just don’t know where to begin. What you need are some helpful hints or simple strategies for choosing that ideal present for those wine savvy friends or for someone who just enjoys a good bottle of wine every now and then. Here are the fundamentals:

First, do your research. You’ve heard this phrase often enough; it applies to wine purchases as well. Search for a store that specializes in wine and spirits and one that has knowledgeable personnel available to answer your questions. Although your local convenience or grocery store may be just a short distance away, they can limit your options and may not offer you the selection, value or service that can help you expand your horizons. Travel the extra distance if needed; it will save you time in the long run. Remember that the majority of individuals entering a wine store during the holidays are doing it for the first time, so you’re not alone Also, there are some great values and brands to be found at Costco or even under the Trader Joe’s label, although you may have to sacrifice the personal recommendation option.

Next, decide on a budget. Choose a dollar amount that you feel comfortable with before entering the store. A red blend from Paso Robles or Lodi, California may cost between $20-30.00 while a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon can cost you upwards of $100.00. The cost for a white wine can be substantially less if you decide on a Pinot Gris from Oregon or perhaps a Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma Coast. Chardonnays with any pedigree from California are usually modestly priced, although they still range between $30.00-50.00. There’s always room to move up in price points, but save this option for that special individual who has a keen appreciation of wine and will appreciate your efforts. As well, don’t ignore less expensive alternatives from Spain, Italy and South America. If you are in need of a quick reference, Wine Spectator Magazine will publish its annual “Top 100 Wines for 2021” later this month. Reading our wine reviews will help and there are other publications that do likewise. Browse through the lists and search for something that strikes your interest. One of the top ten wines may be hard to acquire, but there are 90 other choices to meet your needs.

When selecting a wine, be sure to know your guest and their level of appreciation of wine. Are they perfectly content with a bottle of rose´ or perhaps do they have a passion for drinking red wine with meals? You don’t have to overspend, but you don’t want the wine to end up in the stew or the family’s holiday sangria.

Red, White or Rose´? We’re in the midst of the holiday season with a bounty of holiday fare. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot immediately come to mind first, but Chardonnay outpaces the others in overall sales for a reason. Chardonnay from Russian River Valley or Willamette Valley, Oregon are best known for their balanced styles and are less influenced by oak. Alternative whites include Viognier, unoaked Chardonnay, Albarino, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc or Riesling from Alsace or even a Roussanne. Each of these will pair well with holiday meals. Don’t discount rose´ because you are not basking by the pool on a summer day. Many of these pale beauties, especially those from Provence, France are perfect gastronomic wines for the dinner table.

Reds are for the serious minded. Most avid wine drinkers cherish their reds and drink them frequently. While sturdy red blends are the current fad, there are an abundance of varietals from which to choose. People who savor reds do so because of their broad flavor profile. There can be an essence of chocolate fudge, boysenberry, espresso, red licorice, etc. along with some sweet oak and mouth coating tannins, which is their attraction. They can have varying degrees of power and concentration. Pinot Noir and Spanish Tempranillo are among the softest reds. Pinto Noir should immediately come to mind, either from Russian River Valley in Sonoma, California or from Willamette Valley, Oregon if you are uncertain about choosing a particular red. These regions offer an adventure not to be missed. If it is for a couple, it may work well to offer a red and white wine. Merlots are usually in the mid range and Petite Sirah at the far end of the flavor spectrum. Spanish Riojas and Italian Chiantis can be equally exciting as food wines while being the perfect companion for mildly flavored holiday meat dishes.

Champagne, Champagne, Champagne; what can be more magical than receiving this celebratory beverage for the holidays. Even the nondrinker will savor a bottle of Champagne on New Year’s Eve. More importantly it expresses a sense of luxury and confidence. According to the recent IMARC Global Champagne market trends “the rising socialization trend, especially among the young population, coupled with the increasing influence of cocktail culture, represents one of the key factors strengthening the growth of the market. Moreover, due to rapid urbanization and inflating income levels, there is a significant shift in consumer preferences towards premium Champagne.” Overall growth in sparkling wines increased 1.4% in 2020. With regard to buying habits Nielsen contends, “many consumers are turning to the smaller luxuries in life as they abandon expensive vacations and delay big purchase items such as cars and appliances.”

If you want to re-prioritize your purchase of a bottle of Champagne, there are alternatives to choose from along with an abundant selection of sparkling wines. Choose a sparkling from California’s North Coast, a Cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy or even a Cremant from France.

Purchasing a gift of wine will allow you to explore the wine growing regions of the world. As we begin to rebound from Covid-19, make this holiday season a joyous celebration and remember to take time to share a bottle with friends and family.