The Noble Writ: Gifts for the Wine Lover

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'Tis the season for gift-giving, and if you have some wine lovers on your shopping list, you may be puzzled over what to give them. Having been both a giver and a receiver of wine-related gifts for many years, I offer the following humble suggestions:

Gift Certificates

From my experience, buying wine for the wine lover is not a good way to go. For many wine lovers, a not-insignificant part of the fun is the hunt itself. Whether trying to track down a rare bottle, pursuing some self-devised and regimented approach to tasting one's way around the world of wine or somewhere in between, most wine folks love the act of purchasing wine themselves. Buying wine for a wine person deprives them of this pleasure.

For this reason, a gift certificate to a good wine shop is one of the few circumstances where going the gift-certificate route is not a completely lame cop-out. It provides the opportunity to get the wine lover into a store with reduced financial risk. (Wine people do seem apt to overspend the certificate, but at least it helps numb the monetary pain.) Personally, I always use gift certificates to buy bottles that I never would pick up on my own dime, but that have always interested me. My favorite local shops, all of which offer gift certificates, are Bon Vivant Wines, 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar, the Wine and Cheese Place and the Wine Merchant.

Reading Materials

I find periodicals a good present, in a gift-that-keeps-on-giving sort of way. My favorite wine writing over the course of the last decade or so has been in The Art of Eating, a quarterly publication that should be in every wine and food lover's home. I discovered AoE only about four years ago and kicked myself at the time for missing out on so much wonderful writing that went before. Thankfully, back issues are available, and I've been able to catch up. Among the larger distribution wine magazines, Wine and Spirits has been doing fine work over the past few years, with less of the "lifestyle" filler that plagues some other publications in the genre.

There are also more specialized wine publications that focus on tasting notes (and, unfortunately, points). In choosing one of these, it helps to know what types of wine interest your intended recipient. If it happens to be Burgundy, a subscription to Allen Meadows' Burghound would be an excellent choice. Ditto Claude Kolm's under-appreciated Fine Wine Review, which focuses its coverage on Burgundy, Germany, the Northern Rhone, Northern Italy and good values from anywhere in the world. If Champagne happens to be the drink of choice, the passionate and always excellent Peter Liem has a new Champagne-specific subscription website, that is worth checking out.

On the book front, my top recommendation remains the latest version of The Oxford Companion to Wine. Its comprehensive nature and frequent updates make it an incredible resource for anyone interested in wine. If your wine lover is interested in more specialized topics, the University of California Press has a wonderful catalog of wine titles of the highest quality.

Do be aware that the wine industry is very dynamic, so books that are more than a couple of years old may have limited utility if your goal is planning travel or searching for current-release wines to sample.

Wine Gadgets

There seems to be an entire industry cranking out new "technologies" to assist the hapless wine drinker. Forgot to chill your wine? There's a gadget for that! Don't want to be bothered cellaring a wine for a decade or two? There are dozens of gadgets that promise to do it for you instantly! As you might expect, virtually all of these are at best unnecessary. At worst they border on outright deceptive advertising.

click to enlarge The Noble Writ: Gifts for the Wine Lover
Dave Nelson
Rather than fueling this parasitic market, I suggest purchasing an item no wine lover can ever have too many of: a decanter. They're beautiful, varied in shape and size, infinitely practical and come in a wide range of prices. Simple, well-made glass decanters can be found starting at around $30, while those with bigger budgets can leap into the world of crystal decanters. Do know that by far the most-used decanter in my repertoire is a glass "duck" decanter that probably cost near the low end of the price range, while the least-used is a gorgeous, but really heavy and awkward, hand-blown Riedel crystal model that was a wedding present.

If you know some of the particulars of your wine lover's likes and dislikes and would like a more specific wine shop, book or newsletter recommendation, feel free to drop me an e-mail and I'll do what I can to help.

Dave Nelson is the author of the blog Beer, Wine and Whisky. He writes about wine every Tuesday.
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