Perfect Presents to Keep Under Wraps

By Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
Wednesday, December 5, 2007; Page F05

On the face of it, choosing a gift for a wine lover might seem as easy as, well, choosing a wine. What gift could possibly be more appropriate?

But maybe you're buying for someone with quirky, expensive or just plain mysterious taste. What then? The growth in wine-related gifts means you can choose something practical, inspirational or indulgent that might or might not include actual wine.

You'll find gift ideas at virtually every price point, from the affordable -- such as the CaddyO II Leather Wine Tote With Chiller ($28; -- to the astronomical, such as the rare fine wines from the past 150 years available from the London-based Antique Wine Co. The latter come complete with a presentation case bearing an engraved plaque with your personalized message plus an original copy of the London Times from the recipient's birth date. (Options for 1962, for example, start at 280 British pounds, or about $580, plus shipping; Not every year is available.)

A winemaker's trash can be a wine lover's treasure, as proven by byproducts of the winemaking process that are turned into wine-scented bath accessories. Avon says its Planet Spa Napa Valley Vineyard Crushed Grape Seed Body Polisher ($10 for 8.4 ounces; scrubs away dry skin with Vitis vinifera grape seeds while enriching skin with its natural antioxidants. Your newly exfoliated giftee can flip through the new "Wine Across America: A Photographic Road Trip," by photographer Charles O'Rear (Ten Speed Press, $35), with 224 pages of color photos celebrating wineries in all 50 states.

We would have loved to have owned a BottleWise Duo ($49; in October, after we picked up a bottle of wine from sommelier Brian Duncan's Bin 36 in Chicago. Worried that it would break if we packed it in our checked luggage that morning, we forgot we still had it in our carry-on when we went through airport security. ("Please, someone should drink this -- it's a wonderful wine!" we pleaded, before the guards unceremoniously tossed it.) This carrier allows you to cushion two bottles of wine in separate leakproof plastic pouches and sturdy canvas cases before packing them in your luggage.

Your giftees can blind-taste the wines they bring home with a kit from Bagged Wine, which includes numbered velvet pouches and simple tasting sheets. Start with a five-bag Starter Kit ($18), or go all the way with a 20-bag Collector Kit ($45;

And with Nuvo Vino's SnapShot Wine Thermometer ($50;, you can make sure to serve those wines at the right temperature -- and without running the risk of contaminating them. This nifty device "reads" wine from a distance of one inch. (On its Web site, the company lists the recommended serving temperatures of more than 400 styles of wine.)

Ultimately, though, the gift that wine lovers want most comes bottled and corked (or capped). Still, you have to pick wisely.

One strategy is to find a wine that people might not buy for themselves, such as a splurge bottle of champagne, which can be put to good use this month. This holiday season, Mumm Napa is offering magnums of its NV Mumm Napa Brut Prestige ($50) and NV Mumm Napa Reserve Brut ($65), which turn any table into a party. Mumm Napa winemaker Ludovic Dervin credits sparkling wines in magnums with having "richer, more complex flavors" and "smaller, more abundant bubbles" than those in standard bottles, because the wine ages on the yeast longer in the bottle before disgorgement.

The textured black bottle holding the Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne 1997 Palmes d'Or ($120) is beautiful on its own; it comes in a matte gold-colored, bottle-shaped gift case, which is slipped inside its own velvet bag. The packaging befits the elegant blend of pinot noir and chardonnay within.

Introducing an adventurous wine lover to something unusual is also a good bet. We'd suggest a bottle of NV Kluge Estate Cru ($32), a fortified chardonnay-based aperitif that is aged in Jack Daniel's barrels, giving it a toasty quality. It is delicious by itself or with a twist of orange peel. Or pair it with a chocolate or fruit dessert after the meal.

We love it when people introduce us to wines that have personal meaning for them. Ottawa restaurateur Stephen Beckta first turned us on to Canadian ice wine with a bottle of Cave Spring Riesling Icewine (the 2004 is $60 for 375 ml). A bottle of NV Jackson-Triggs Proprietors' Reserve Vidal Icewine ($20 for 187 ml) is an even more affordable introduction to this luscious, labor-intensive dessert wine, which is made from grapes left on the vine into the winter and allowed to freeze, concentrating their flavor. It accompanies foie gras or fruit desserts equally well.

We've also been crazy about apple ice wine since our first sip of NV La Face Cachée de la Pomme Neige Ice Cider ($30 for 375 ml) last year. Imagine the essence of literally dozens of apples packed into a single half-bottle. That's a lot of flavor -- and it's a wonderful accompaniment to cheeses (especially aged cheddar and Camembert), foie gras or fruit desserts. Served chilled, it will be a hot gift for a wine lover who's the apple of your eye.

[See: In the Wine Aisle]

Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, award-winning authors of "What to Drink With What You Eat," can be reached through their Web site,, or

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