Holiday season presents special challenges if you have wine- or spirits-loving friends or relatives, particularly if you’re not so keen on the subject. Oh, sure, you’re not against enjoying a good beverage, but you just aren’t wacky about beverage aromas or vintages or knowing the history of a family you’ve never met who is from a small commune in remote France.
But you know someone who does follow those topics with a passion usually reserved for one’s own kin. And you want to offer him or her something special at this giving time of year, but –– and you know the drill –– you get lost and confused amongst a sea of labels in every wine shop in town.
As for buying a liquid that your lucky gift recipient already has or for which he or she has shown a marked preference, well, that is not quite the original and caring statement you wish to make for your money and your efforts.
Worst of it all, you go through this session of angst every year.
Fortunately for you, the Happy Hour Gift Giving Research Institute, or HHGGR, a nonprofit organization, like everything else around here, has done some heavy lifting for you. And even if a few of these thoughts are not quite what you were seeking, at least maybe we will provide some direction, making matters a bit easier for you to tell your guy/gal, “Hey, you’re a pain in the butt, but I love you anyway.” That kind of sentimentality is hard to come by these days.
So, here they are, in no particular order: a few ideas that should bring a most appreciative response from the recipient and maybe cut back on the returns or re-gifting program that you two have embarked upon in years past.
Wine clubs take the guesswork out of purchasing any wine for the demanding wine-lover on your gift list. You serve up a credit card and then sit back and wait for UPS to bring the bounty.
Some wine clubs are operated by wineries. This is helpful if you know what wines your gift receivee (not a word; I know) likes. If he or she is a fan of a particular Napa Valley cabernet or something from the Russian River in Sonoma, just head for that winery’s Web site and sign up. Usually you can choose at what level you want to join, and often you can choose whether you have an interest in just red wines or just white wines or a combination.
The wines arrive quarterly or monthly, again depending on the pricing level to which you committed, and there is no obligation to take any shipments, or even stay a member, after the initial shipment. Most clubs will get the first shipment off to you right away with a nice little gift card.
Other wine clubs, such as the California Wine Club and the Wine of the Month Club, offer a broader range of product. The advantage here is that you are not receiving just one label but a similar style of wine from a number of different areas over the course of the year. Folks learning about wine may get very excited about this approach because it broadens their knowledge: Each shipment is accompanied by copious notes about the varietal featured, the climatic conditions leading up to harvest and other important things to know about what is in the bottle.
There are also clubs devoted to beers and spirits. These operate in similar fashion to the wine clubs. And it is quite a little thrill to receive those packages at given intervals and see the surprises within.
The range of volumes now available is astounding, and there are more being released every day. The published-book category of adult beverages has absolutely exploded with great books covering a wide range of topics and editorial experiences.
Opus Vino author Jim Gordon has left no stone unturned in this 800-page massive volume of work, which goes in-depth into every wine-producing region and the products from around the world.
The Ultimate Wine Companion by Kevin Zraly of Windows on the World Complete Wine Course fame (also a highly recommended volume) has put together a compendium of great wine articles from noted authors and offered them up in a most readable and pleasurable fashion.
With Let Me Tell You About Wine and Pocket Wine Guide, 2011, Oz Clarke has finally penned a great volume that educates the reader about enjoying and learning about wine. In Clarke’s usual fashion, he makes the topic understandable and highly pleasurable. Then he also publishes volumes that keep you up-to-date on new releases, etc. He is a complete author about his subject matter.
Red, White and Drunk All Over is Natalie MacLean’s humorous take on all matters wine. This award-winning author pulls no punches and in her candor draws back the curtains so we can see that in some cases the emperor really is nude.
In The Wine Bible, Karen MacNeil covers all the bases, essentially answering all of those questions that tend to lead to betting or ongoing fights. It’s better to have the book.
Champagne Cocktails by Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown, the first couple of the cocktail culture, is an update of their 1999 volume, and the new effort is just as intriguing, filled with recipes that one would never even think of, but they are all tried, true and delicious.
Many of these books are just-released, and although I encourage you to patronize local book sellers, in some cases, you may have to order them online at Amazon and other large providers.
Toys and Gadgets
A few years ago, we thought that the corkscrew was going the way of the pop-top on beer cans. The widespread use of screw-cap enclosures would have eliminated the need to carry hardware around just to open a container of wine. Although screw-caps, known in the trade as Stelvin, have made significant inroads, cork has not gone away, and, in fact, as of late, we are seeing somewhat of a resurgence in its popularity. Therefore, all of you who have held out on purchasing a quality corkscrew, figuring they were soon to be a museum exhibit, should go get a nice one. The better ones are easier to operate.
Then there is the entire array of products using the Bernoulli principle (don’t ask) that claim to aerate the wine as it is poured into the glass. I think I am safe saying that most winemakers think these devices work. The most popular one is a Vinturi, and, in my experience, doing side-by-side comparisons, the aeration of the wine caused by this device does open the wine to a wider range of aromas and flavors.
Then again, so does decanting, but carrying around a delicate glass decanter, for most of us, is usually not an option. Either way, the story here is that bringing air to bear on just-opened wines is a good idea in most cases but particularly in the case of young wines. Decanter or Vinturi: You make the call.
Fine glassware; leather wine tote bags; wine keepers; and wine videos such as Sideways or Bottle Shock or maybe John Cleese’s hilarious spoof, Wine for the Confused, all are treasures sure to be used and enjoyed.
Trips to Wine Country; wine festivals; wine education seminars; or, in the case of spirits education, membership in the Museum of the American Cocktail, right here in New Orleans, all make for memorable gifts. “Remember when we went to Willamette in Oregon, and the night before, we contracted food poisoning from that dip and spent the entire time, right up to getting on the airplane, in the hospital? Was that great or what?”
Nevertheless trips to Wine Country are incredible times. Spending the day bouncing from winery to winery, tasting beautiful beverages and being in gorgeous natural surroundings is not a shabby way to enjoy wine. The entire California coast is awash in vineyards, and then there are similar scenarios up through Oregon, heading into both the eastern and western areas of Washington state and on into Canada.
Don’t be too ambitious. Concentrate on a particular area, but, yes, travel is the gift that keeps on giving.
We are lucky to be in an area that likes to party, and festivals are fun. Of course, the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience is a must-participate- event in late May. Late April is the annual staging of the Sandestin Wine Festival, and in mid-March comes Savor Dallas. A couple of tickets to any of these events means good times to come.
For the spirits-lover in your household, Tales of the Cocktail in mid-July is a phenomenal gathering, and the Monteleone Hotel is the headquarters, so be a tourist in your own hometown. Check in for a couple of days, and be close to the action. It’s also not a good idea to get behind the wheel of a car after attending seminars and grand tastings all day and into the night.
OK, those suggestions ought to get your creative juices flowing. Take them literally, or branch out and create your own special gift, certain to be appreciated by the wine- and/or spirits-lover in your family.
‘Tis the season to be merry. Don’t be ordinary or mundane. Stretch out. The great thing about giving wine and spirit gifts is that there is certain to be a lot of sharing going on. Don’t skimp on yourself. Happy Holidays!
The Wine Show with Tim McNally can be heard every Sunday from noon to 2 p.m. on WIST-AM 690.