Wine lovers are easy when it comes to holiday gifts. Give us wine!
Okay, I can see some pitfalls: Perhaps the guy is a wine snob (snobs are almost always guys) and you want or need to impress him. You're already into a price category where the wrong wine will just be an expensive dud. But the real danger is overthinking it. If you're creative in your choice of wine, any wine lover will love you for it.
Here are three strategies to guide your gift choices for your wine-loving friends and relatives:
●Think local. If your recipient lives out of town or across the country, send a bottle or two of your local vino. If your friends are in California, introduce them to the Finger Lakes with the delightfully floral Semi-Dry Riesling from Agness Wine Cellars, or the minerally rieslings of Kemmeter Wines and winemaker Johannes Reinhardt. Maybe your wine lover friends haven't had the opportunity to try the aromatic gamay from Chateau Grand Traverse or any of the wines from Left Foot Charley in Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula, or Kim McPherson's Rhone-style blends from Texas. If you know a cabernet sauvignon fanatic, call up Markko Vineyard in northeastern Ohio — yes, Ohio — and order up a bottle or two. Include a note saying, "You've never tried a wine like this!" and you will whet their appetite and anticipation. And you will become an unofficial ambassador for that wine region.
●Order from your friends' favorite winery. Even if they already have the wines, they will appreciate more.
●Let someone else choose. Wine clubs offer selections of several bottles each month or quarter. This can be tricky territory: Some corporate wine clubs appear to be little more than online versions of big-box stores, with "exclusive private label" wines produced by the few large companies that make most American wine, known for quantity and low price, not so much for quality.
But a few companies have been using the growing direct-to-consumer channel to offer wines from domestic producers and importers that may not be widely available through normal distribution channels. To make a long story short, consolidation among alcoholic beverage distributors has favored larger brands and made it more difficult for smaller producers to reach the market. And we wine lovers want the smaller producers, because they make wines more expressive of where the grapes were grown or the winemaker's personality.
Winestyr, founded in 2011 in California's Sonoma County, aims to represent small, family-owned wineries through the direct-to-consumer market. Winestyr moved its operations to the Chicago area this year, opening a bricks-and-mortar "lounge" and a fulfillment center to make shipping to the East Coast easier. The company now sells wines from more than 100 wineries and has expanded beyond California to include wines from Oregon, Washington, Arizona and elsewhere.
Winestyr offers various clubs with monthly or quarterly shipments, but you can also buy a single gift box and let the company proceed with the sales pitch on a club membership. The website also features a handy chat feature with someone named Scott, who is apparently always on call to answer your questions.
Bob Wilson, Winestyr's chief executive, says the company aims to please wine lovers "in their 30s or 40s who are not quite wine geeks" and don't have "the time and desire to do the research necessary to find great wines from great producers or go to an actual bottle shop." A recent Winestyr shipment included a gamay from Division winery in Oregon and a pinot noir from Sandhi produced from ungrafted vines in Santa Barbara County.
Another direct-to-consumer option is the Weekly Tasting, offered by the online sales site Wines 'Til Sold Out. Each week offers a selection of four wines, domestic and imported, chosen alternately by Laura Maniec, a master sommelier, or Elizabeth Schneider, a certified sommelier in the Court of Master Sommeliers program. The tastings are interactive — each week includes a 10-minute video online and tasting notes or talking points — about each of the wines. For gifting, you can buy your friends a one-week gift pack or a gift card to apply to a club membership.
One caveat: Current regulations favor shipping directly from wineries to out-of-state customers, but you may have to shop around to find a producer or wine club that will be able to ship your gift, depending on where your recipient lives. A recent enforcement crackdown means that retailers have had trouble shipping alcohol out of state unless it is to one of the 14 states (plus the District) that explicitly allows it.
That's not to say you shouldn't consult your local wine retailer for gift advice. After all, there's nothing like presenting a fascinating wine in person. You might even get a chance to taste it yourself.