IT'S THAT time of year again, and ther are infinite gift posibilities to please that special oenophile. One can always safely give a good bottle of wine or a fine wine book. However, non-liquid wine gifts can also please wine zealots.
My ideal holiday gift is a round-trip ticket to France's Burgundy countryside with a week's lodging and meals at the hotel-restaurant Lameloise in Chagny, where I could eat quite well and taste my way through some of the choicest vineyards in Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault and Corton-Charlemagne without venturing more than 15 kilometers from my hotel. Or you could substitute the exquisite hotel-restaurant Chez La Me're Blanc in Vonnas, which puts you in easy striking distance of the vineyards of Beaujolais and Maconnais. This kind of gift should run about $125 per person per day plus air fare.
A more leisurely way to see the vineyards of France is undoubtedly by river barge. These luxurious boats or peniche, as the French call them, traverse the inland waterways in France and serve glorious foods and delicious wines. Esplanade Tours of Boston (800-343-7184) offers one-week riverboat tours of Champagne and Chablis at lofty prices, but if you're in the mood to give an out-of-the-ordinary gift to that special wine lover, this is your answer. Expect to pay at least $1,430 per person, but this price includes three meals per day and all the wine you can drink.
Another gift for the person with everything except a place to store his or her best wines is a temperature-controlled wine vault. These custom-designed chests come in various sizes and maintain a consistent temperature and humidity for those precious bottles of wine. They can cost less than $2,000 for the smaller units (which hold 200 bottles), or over $6,000 for the larger units. If you're interested in these wine vaults, then contact Lacave at 800-221-1042 for furthur information.
If you simply can't bear to spend such sums on a holiday gift, you can still do quite well.
Every wine enthusiast loves a good corkscrew. These nasty little devices rarely work right, but there are three on the market that are remarkably effective. The large, rather gawky Screwpull ($9.95 to 12.95) is flawless in operation, virtually guaranteed to get any cork out of a bottle in one piece. Williams-Sonoma has a lovely solid brass corkscrew for $16 which includes a personalized one-letter monogram on it. In addition to its esthetics, it works beautifully. My favorite corkscrews are the restaurant- or sommelier-style models, which are compact and extremely fast and efficient when well made. One of the best on the market is made in England. At $3 plus postage this corkscrew can be obtained by writing Yorkshire Fine Wines Co. in Nun Monkton, York, England Y058ES. If you order now, though, you may not get it by Christmas.
Another innovative gift is a gold-plated champagne stopper for $10 at Williams-Sonoma. This unique device is intended to keep a champagne from losing its effervescence when kept overnight. Since I never, never leave any good champagne undrunk, I can't vouch for its effectivness, but reliable sources report that it does work.
Several other wine gift ideas include attractive stemware and decanters. Wine glasses need not be expensive to be perfectly suited for fine wines. I prefer a plain goblet with a long stem and an 8 1/2- to 12-ounce bowl which is more narrow at the top than at the base. This allows the wine to be swirled without spilling, and funnels and traps the wine's bouquet. Decanters always make attractive gifts. For the wine collector with big bottles of wine, a magnum decanter is a perfect gift.
Afraid of spilling wine on that freshly cleaned linen tablecloth? There is one device that does indeed prevent those little drips of wine from descending on the table. It's called the Winebutler and is a silver-plated cap which easily fits in all standard-size wine bottles. As you twist the wine to prevent dripping, it catches any runaway drops and returns them to the bottle. It is a handsome little device, costing between $12.50 and $15, depending on whether you order the silver-plated or pewter model. It can be purchased from glassware shops that also stock a good selection of silver-plated or silver flatware. If you can't find a Winebutler you can order one from Megliori, Inc., 632 South Ave., Box 100, Garwood, N.J. 07027.
Lastly, a meaningful wine gift for the Anglophile in your life is a subscription to Decanter, the popular English magazine on wine. It is published monthly and is available for $36 a year (surface mail) or $80 (airmail). You can subscribe by writing to Decanter Magazine, Ltd. 16 Blackfriars Lane, London EC4, England.