The program prompts you to identify each wine: Old World or New? Country, region, subregion? Grape variety? Vintage? Your answers are matched against a panel of master sommeliers as the wine’s identity is revealed. If you’ve been judicious in your tasting, you can reevaluate the wine and compare notes with the experts.
I’ve tasted through a few Master the World kits, and it’s a humbling experience. Ultimately, though, the point isn’t to validate your impressions of wine against those of a few people with red pins on their lapels. The goal is to learn what to look for while tasting high-quality, representative wines from around the world so that you can appreciate the variety and nuance wine has to offer.
Another option would be to give a class or subscription to a local wine study program. The Capital Wine School in D.C., led by master of wine Jay Youmans, and the San Francisco Wine School, led by master sommelier David Glancy, have pivoted during the pandemic to offer online courses. So has the American Wine School, with locations in Chicago and Cleveland.
You can also help your wine-loving friend satisfy vinous wanderlust from the comfort of the couch. A subscription to Somm TV, an online streaming service with programming on wine, food and travel, costs just $50 for a year.
I’m skeptical about wine gewgaws that promise instant gratification, such as aerators that were all the rage a few years ago. These noisy funnels through which we pour wine, mimic the effects of letting it “breathe” in a decanter for a few hours. Wine takes time, and rewards patience. There’s an “emperor’s new clothes” aspect to these gimmicks, leading us to taste what we are told to taste.
That said, there’s a new gizmo that intrigues me, called WinePrO2. It’s inventor, Tom Belcher, describes it as “an oxygenator, not an aerator,” because it injects pure oxygen rather than air into the wine in your glass. A short burst will bring a fresh pour instantly to the oxygen saturation level you gain from letting the wine breathe for two hours in a decanter, Belcher told me in an interview.
My unscientific trials seem to validate Belcher’s claims. Used on a tight, young, tannic red wine, a quick squirt from the WinePrO2 certainly made the wine taste fruitier and more accessible. I don’t know how long that effect lasts, but I can see definite uses for this device in the wine geek’s armory. When the party runs long and you want to open another wine but there’s no time to decant — spurt it with O2! If a wine tastes reductive or funky and you think, “let it air out for a while” — no, give it a spurt! When using your Coravin — a device that extracts wine from the bottle without removing the cork or oxidizing the wine — WinePrO2 can help preview how the wine might taste in a few months or years. The WinePrO2 offers instant gratification — or at least a hint at gratification to come.
Finally, don’t forget the obvious gift: wine. A sampler or subscription at NakedWines.com will include wines unavailable elsewhere. These are often the private labels of winemakers for better-known mainstream wineries, not available through normal retail channels. And who doesn’t love an exclusive?
You could also give a style of wine usually overlooked and undervalued. I’m thinking port, sherry and madeira. A 10-year-old tawny port from Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca or Warre’s will cost about $30 to $40. A modest 500-ml bottle of 10-year-old tawny port from Broadbent will set you back just under $20, and taste like a lifetime.
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