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Holiday Gifts for Wine Lovers: The Only Advice You Need

I take special (perhaps even perverse) pride in eschewing all the typical seasonal storylines that are churned out, regular as clockwork by the wine media all across the country. I don't hold it against most wine journalists that they write about pink wines in the summer, what to pair with Thanksgiving dinner, which bubblies to drink at New Years, etc. etc. Their editors come to them begging for such stories. I don't have an editor, and you'll never get such articles from me, both because I find them trite, and because I tend to disagree with most of what they have to say (OK, OK, pink wines ARE good during the summer, but also for the rest of the year, too).

So, you may ask yourself, what the hell am I doing writing about holiday gifts for wine lovers? I'm doing my usual thing -- telling you that all the rest of the advice you're getting out there is bullshit.

Here's the deal as far as I'm concerned. By far the best present any serious wine lover could get is a bottle of wine that they are really excited about. The only problem is, your chances of actually buying them a bottle they might be really excited about are extremely low unless you know them and their tastes VERY well.

So don't do it. Never buy a serious wine lover a bottle of wine for a gift, at any time of the year. Let them buy it themselves.

That's right, I'm talking about gift certificates.

By far the best possible gift you can get a serious wine lover -- someone who knows what they like -- is the chance to go get it themselves. If you know what wine stores they patronize, go get them a gift card or gift certificate and watch the joy on their faces as they experience the adult version of being a kid in a candy store. There's always one bottle (or a dozen) that serious wine lovers have been coveting, and the opportunity to buy it without agonizing over whether they really need it.

So forget about all those stupid accessories (we wine lovers tend to be pretty opinionated about which ones are good and which ones we want). Don't fall for the trap of buying wine books (most wine lovers would rather drink than read). And for Pete's sake, please don't buy any wine. That's our job.

Now go enjoy your holidays, and make sure that your favorite wine lover shares some of their favorite wine with you. That's what holidays are all about.

Comments (17)

AJ wrote:
12.20.08 at 9:54 AM

Talk about hitting the nail on the head. Bravo!

12.20.08 at 10:40 AM

Great idea!

Dylan wrote:
12.20.08 at 3:50 PM

Great thought process, and very on point. But, Alder, is this your way of dropping a hint to your own friends and family before gift-giving commences?

Alder wrote:
12.20.08 at 5:32 PM

Whoa. Dylan. It hadn't even occurred to me that this post might be taken that way. Thanks for asking what is now clearly an obvious question.


Don't give me any wine, or any gift certificates for wine. I have way too much already !! No gifts needed this year period, unless you made them out of twigs and string and rocks. Tough economy.

Rajiv wrote:
12.21.08 at 1:36 PM

Good advice, certainly, but what about people who want more thought to their gift than a gift certificate? I wouldn't look a gift certificate in the mouth, so to speak, but I'd also appreciate a bottle of wine I'd never heard of before.

For the wine lover of intermediate experience, a bottle of wine from an obscure appellation can be an opportunity to expand one's palate, to try a wine you normally wouldn't spring for yourself, and perhaps be surprised.

Pete wrote:
12.21.08 at 5:30 PM

I'm a serious wine lover and I would much prefer a bottle of wine to a gift certificate -- if it's coming from a fellow serious wine lover.

12.22.08 at 9:09 AM

I must say that I disagree with the GC idea. Or rather let me put it a different way. A GC is great... I love receiving them. And I'd love to receive a GC from my favorite local caviste. But as a wine lover and someone who's quite steeped in the juice in terms of literature and tastings and what not, I love when a fellow wine lover presents me with a bottle that means something to them personally. It's their way of trying to share a part of their life with me. Sometimes the bottles great, sometimes the bottle's sub par, and every once in a while it's classic. But what is most intriguing is when you're able to taste and smell your friend (OK I probably could have picked a better way to word this) inside the glass. The connection to person and place when that person is someone special to you can be quite a compelling and juicy story.

WineWonkette wrote:
12.22.08 at 10:14 AM

I HATE when people give me gift certificates. To me it says, "I really didn't have time to spend thinking about what you'd like, so I spent two seconds and got you a gift certificate." My husband, on the other hand, LOVES gifts certificates from Williams-Sonoma! Could be a man thing--cause it's quick and does not require hours in a store during the holidays.

Alder wrote:
12.22.08 at 10:27 AM

Don't think it's guy thing, more of a thing for anyone who has gotten way too many well meaning bottles that disappoint. Of course you could say that maybe it's a guy thing to be disappointed by gifted wine, but I don't think so.

Alexis wrote:
12.22.08 at 2:09 PM

I like the idea of a GC for the holidays or "mandatory" gift giving occasions. I don't have friends who are serious wine lovers, just ones who know what they like. While that means sharing wine knowledge and what's good/bad with them is great fun, it also means that I'm equally likely to get something like a big, oaky CA Chard that will sit in my small collection for the rest of eternity. (As a matter of fact, the last time I got wine for a birthday, I was taken to a wine store and told to pick out something. Best present that year.)

Caveat: I have gotten good bottles when it has been bought for me on a whim (ie, "I saw this bottle, and it was cheap/recommended/whatever, and I thought of you."). On those occasions, I enjoy getting a bottle of wine.

Jason Haas wrote:
12.23.08 at 7:38 AM

Hi Alder,

Really? You would rather receive a gift card than a bottle of wine from someone who is knowledgeable or passionate about wine? I feel like gift cards are the refuge for great aunts whose last gift idea was a sailor suit and who have thrown up their hands at the prospect of ever giving a gift that will be appreciated. But I've enjoyed nearly every bottle of wine that's been given to me by someone who cares about wine. Whether or not it's a wine that I would buy again, the gift usually says something about the giver, which to my mind is the whole point of gifts.

Thanks, as always, for stirring the pot.

Merry Christmas,

Alder wrote:
12.23.08 at 11:54 AM


Yes, I would rather receive a gift card. That doesn't mean I am not touched when people put a lot of thought and effort into picking out a wine for me, but of all the bottles of wine that I've ever received here's how they break down:

5% -- Wine that I would have gone out and bought myself if I had to get a bottle

10% -- Wine that I have never heard of / am unfamiliar with that ends up turning out to be great

40% -- Wine that I know and would never buy for myself.

40% -- Wine that I'm unfamiliar with and isn't so hot.

Remember, we're not talking about bringing a bottle over to my house for dinner (though the same percentages above apply), we're talking about a Christmas gift, wrapped, under the tree sort of thing.

Alder wrote:
12.23.08 at 11:59 AM

Er, and the other 5%.... well, after a few bottles it's a rounding error.

Alder's mom wrote:
12.23.08 at 12:30 PM

Too late Alder :)

Jesse Porter wrote:
01.12.09 at 5:29 PM

Only the pickiest wine drinker wouldn't appreciate a careful and thoughtful effort to find a delightful gift bottle; most of us casual Winos out there would like nothing better than a bottle that says "I know something about you," even if it's as basic as someone's favorite varietal or region. It shows you care and you made an effort, even if the bottle turns out to be a stinker. Sentiment, Alder. It's all about sentiment. Don't be such a grinch.

And if you don't know what your intended recipient really likes, head to your local wine shop and ask the proprietor for something great that's really off-the-map... maybe a rare varietal, or a bottle that's flying way under the radar. Learn the story behind the bottle and include a note explaining why you thought they'd like it.

It's the thought that counts, after all. Every bottle tastes good when you're drinking it with those you love.

Wine Lover wrote:
05.24.09 at 5:03 AM

I disagree with the GC idea. I think an actual gift is more thoughtful and from the heart.

05.24.09 at 3:24 PM

Those are kinda cool wine charms, as wine charms go. I used to have some similar earrings that I bought years ago at the Westheimer Arts Festival in Houston.

But I tend to agree about buying a bottle of wine for someone who drinks alot of wines. Because frankly, every bottle DOES NOT TASTE good just because you're drinking it with someone you love. I love some of my friends, but I wouldn't love a bottle of cheap chardonnay just because they gave it to me. In fact, insisting the person open the bottle in your presence puts him or her in a difficult position, especially if they don't like what you've purchased.

My brother buys us great wine, but that's because he calls and asks for suggestions as if he is looking for a wine himself. That way, he knows the style I like, and also knows what I don't like when I suggest he steer clear of it.

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