Finding the right holiday gift for the wine lover on your list can be tricky. There are a lot of wine tchotchkes that do little more than take up space, and gizmos that claim to improve a wine through some sort of magic. Beware of those. Cute little “charms” to dangle from your stemware so your guests can keep track of which glass is whose tend to get lost after the first use, and after a few glasses no one can remember who had the purple grape cluster, anyway. (I use a Sharpie to write my initials on the base of the glass. It washes off.)
Cork pullers? Don’t bother, unless your friend is struggling with one of those ancient “angel wing” openers. Wine lovers already have cork pullers. Aerators claim to age your wine in minutes so that you don’t have to cellar a bottle for years, but in my opinion they just make a lot of noise. Spend your money on wine.
Ah yes, wine! Be careful, though: Unless you really know the recipient’s palate, you run the risk of wasting your money. Remember to consider his or her preferences rather than your own. Does your friend like local wines? Consider a trial membership in the Virginia Wine of the Month club (www.vawineclub.com). A three-month subscription for one bottle per month costs less than $50. That might be a fun gift for friends residing on the West Coast. For California wine lovers, the Bounty Hunter (www.bountyhunterwine.com), a Napa-based retailer specializing in hard-to-find, small-production wines, has several clubs. Wine.com offers gift baskets and collections that take the work out of shopping and shipping. The “Tour de France” gift set includes three bottles of wine for $40.
There’s always more to learn about wine. In addition to the books I recommended in last week’s column, wine classes can be great for budding oenophiles. The French Wine Society (www.frenchwinesociety.org), based in Washington and supported in part by the French government, offers classes and tastings led by certified instructors. A $100 annual membership includes two instructional Webinars a month and discounts on classes and online study programs.
Or give your wine-loving friend a chance to learn from the masters. Jay Youmans and Kathy Morgan, the Washington area’s only master of wine and master sommelier, head up the faculty at the Capital Wine School (www.capitalwineschool.com), where an introductory class on wine basics costs $75. The curriculum offers classes for novices as well as professionals, including the extensive certification programs offered by the Wine and Spirits Education Trust and the Society of Wine Educators. The Capital Wine School offers classes on France through the French Wine Society.
The most practical gift is stemware. Wine lovers can never have enough wine glasses, in part because they break but also because we always fall in love with a new shape. (Yes, wine glasses can be sexy.) If you know someone who has a favorite style of wine glass but is running short, consider purchasing replacements. Is your friend offering you a nice cabernet in a jelly jar? A nice set of red wine glasses will up his game. (Glasses for red wines tend to be bigger than those for white, to allow the aromas to develop.)
Riedel is the marquee brand and typically most expensive, but Schott Zwiesel and Spiegelau are also excellent. I recently purchased champagne flutes made by Peugeot from BestWineGlass.com. Now whenever I enjoy a bit of bubbly, the wine seems to sparkle a little brighter. With good stemware, your friends will remember you every time they raise a toast.