Giving gifts to wine lovers during the holidays can be anxiety inducing. Especially if your recipient tends to have many of the basics covered when it comes to wine. And forget about what a hassle that people like me tend to be. I’m one of those wine lovers who already has most of the gear that he wants, and has very strong opinions about everything else. Sound like anyone you know?
I’ve said before that buying wine for your favorite wine lover can be an exercise fraught with peril. Many wine lovers I know would much rather choose their own wine than have someone buy a bottle for them. Many of you know what I’m talking about when I describe the pang of guilt we feel when someone has clearly bought a pricey bottle of wine that we would pass over quickly in a wine store if we were looking for something to buy ourselves.
And don’t get me started on the complete waste of money that most wine aerators and other gadgets represent. Or those fancy crystal decanters that weigh 10 pounds and won’t even allow your hand into them to clean properly with a sponge? Ridiculous.
Have no fear! I’m here to help you find something that even the pickiest, over-opinionated wine lover like me would enjoy (provided we don’t already have one). Whether you’re looking for a stocking stuffer or something seriously substantial that will earn you heartfelt and damp-eyed thanks, I’ve got you covered.
The Essence of Wine Book
This is a fantastic book. How do I know? I wrote it. A coffee table book of photographs and essays about the many flavors and aromas of wine, it is a collaboration between yours truly and award-winning food photographer Leigh Beisch and her art director Sara Slavin. The photographs are stunningly gorgeous, and the essays aren’t half bad either. For each of the 46 different aromas profiled in the book, I offer wine recommendations that you can seek out to experience that particular flavor or aroma. The book won The Chairman’s Award at the 2015 Louis Roederer International Wine Writers Awards, and even the New York Times said nice things about it. If your favorite foodie or wine lover doesn’t have a copy yet, it’s a sure fire gift that’s bound to please. $75 plus shipping. Buy it from me directly.
The Beginning of Your Wine Education
The other book I would recommend this year is the newest edition of the Atlas of Wine, recently released by Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson (full disclosure, Jancis pays me to write for her). The Atlas has been called the single most useful wine book in existence. And while I’m not sure if it is the wine book I reference the most, it is certainly in the top three, and this latest edition has all sorts of updates that make it even more indispensable. Now if only they just would put all of that information online. But until they do, you’ll want a copy on dead trees. $34.49 in hardcover. Buy it on Amazon.
Napa Wine Maps
Antonio Galloni has been building his own empire of wine criticism and resources after leaving the employ of Robert Parker in 2013. One of the more interesting, valuable, and beautiful efforts he has undertaken since then has been his work with acclaimed cartographer Alessandro Masnaghetti to create incredibly detailed maps of Napa Valley and its sub-appellations, including many named vineyards. They come in handy folded formats, rolled and suitable for framing, and first edition signed prints, costing $25, $50 and $500 respectively. Buy them at Vinous.
If you’re dealing with a serious wine lover, especially one who regularly opens older bottles of wine, you can’t find a better gift for them than The Durand wine tool. Specifically designed to deal with the most fragile of corks, this handy little tool is an awesome piece of wine equipment. $125. Available from http://thedurand.com/.
Vintage Wine Posters
Win advertising hasn’t been the same since about 1895. No seriously, the big illustrated posters advertising wines around the turn of the century represent a high point in marketing, in my opinion. These days, they’re collectors items and an original vintage print will set you back a couple of thousand dollars. But they’re beautiful, and make wonderful additions to dining rooms, living rooms, studies, and yes, wine cellars, provided you’ve got one big enough to hang out in, let alone with wall space for one of these beauties. There are lots of places to buy such posters online, for various four digit price tags, such as Spencer Weisz Galleries in Chicago.
Code 38 Wine Key
Know someone who opens a ton of wine and would appreciate the difference between an ordinary corkscrew and the Tesla of corkscrews?. If you’re really looking to impress someone, or if your recipient happens to be a wine professional, they will certainly love using the Code 38 Wine Key, which brings precision engineering and fantastic modern styling to the simple corkscrew. Extravagant? Yes. Totally swanky? Definitely. The basic model starts at $225, and the most tricked-out Titanium version tops well above $500. Available from http://www.code38.com/.
The Coravin II Wine Access System
The Coravin has quickly revolutionized the wine world in its own small way, by allowing us all to have a glass of wine from any (non-sparkling) wine without removing the cork. It’s now been more than 2 years since the launch of the tool, and it has literally transformed by-the-glass wine lists around the world, not to mention changed the way that many people drink their wines. The company now has lots of different models to choose from. I reviewed the Model II when it came out a couple of years ago, which I think is still the most relevant for most people. No matter which model you get, it’s a pretty astonishing and handy invention. $288. Available from Amazon.
GoVino Plastic Wine Glasses
Sometimes you just don’t want to mess with breakable wine glasses, but who wants to drink wine out of a Red SOLO cup? That’s where GoVino glasses come in. If you want to sip a nice glass of wine by the pool without worries, these handy little reusable plastic wine glasses are all you need. They even have a little spot to rest your thumb. While they won’t provide you quite the same aesthetic experience as a lovely crystal glass, they will certainly allow you to swirl, sniff, sip, and enjoy the full aromas and flavors of your wine. $16 for a set of four. Buy on Amazon.
The Best Everyday Wine Glasses
You know all that talk about the different wine glasses you need for different grape varieties? It’s all hogwash. You need only one glass for red, white, and sparkling wines, and for most people this Schott Zwiesel Tritan is it. Titanium crystal is the sturdiest stuff on the market, and this glass is both visually elegant, modern in style, and perfectly shaped for wine. It also happens to be quite reasonably priced for a top-quality wine stem. This is what I drink from at home when I’m not drinking from my precious set of Zaltos (see below). $60 for a set of six. I recommend their “Sauvignon Blanc” as an all-around stem that isn’t too big, isn’t too small, and treats every wine nicely. Buy on Amazon..
The Best Wine Glasses Money Can Buy
There are wine glasses, and then there are Zaltos. Most people only need to pick up one of these gorgeously hand-blown works of art to understand instantly what they are all about. Fantastically light, delicate, and so finely wrought they seem effortless to use. Drinking from a Zalto stem represents the most luxurious way to appreciate any wine. While Zaltos come in several shapes, their Universal glass is just that — perfect for anything. If money is no object and you’re looking for a treat to give your favorite wine lover, there are few things that will impress as much as these glasses. Lead-free, handblown crystal from Austria. $59 each or $354 for a set of six. Buy them at Winemonger.
The Irony of Wine: Hipster T-Shirt Edition
How do you know someone is a badass wine insider? They show up to a party wearing one of Andre Mack’s t-shirts under their Hugo Boss sport coat. Mack is a superstar sommelier-turned-winemaker, as well as one heck of a t-shirt designer. Most people I know in the wine business have at least one of his shirts. My favorites include the Oscar Jayer (My Bourgogne has a second name, it’s J-A-Y-E-R), and Barolo King.
The shirts run $25 apiece and you can check out the full selection of delicious logo jokes and other wine ironies at http://moutonnoirwines.com/schwag.
A Subscription to The World of Fine Wine
Easily the best wine periodical in the world, each hefty, quarterly issue of The World of Fine Wine is more like a book than a magazine. Filled with great photography, fantastic writing, and top quality wine criticism, this magazine will appeal to anyone who brings a bit of an intellectual bent to their wine appreciation. I like to think of it as Granta for wine, if that analogy works for you. The World of Fine Wine is where some of the best wine writing is being done today. $157 per year for a US Subscription printed on dead trees.
You can also get digital subscriptions as well through their handy iPhone and iPad app, which may be preferable for those who don’t want to have these big thick magazine stack up around the house (as beautiful as they are, they do really take up a lot of shelf-space after a few years). Digital subscriptions will run you $84.99 per year.
Purchase a gift subscription at Exact Editions
A License to Chill
Like many accessories made specifically for wine lovers, the standard ice bucket can certainly be done without, or replaced by much more utilitarian alternatives, such as stock pots, paint buckets, salad bowls, etc. But there are times when you either want to make a statement, or times when you want a little more aesthetic pleasure from the things you use. So perhaps you want a fancier ice bucket? And if you’re going to have a fancy ice bucket, then it better have room for two bottles of Champagne. This classy affair designed by Ralph Lauren will do the trick if you want to chill with style. $250, and available at Bloomingdales.
Mini Oak Barrel for Vinegar Making
Even the most die-hard wine lovers occasionally have a little wine left over. And most wine lovers I know also happen to be foodies, and appreciate the difference between good vinegar and bad vinegar. So help them make their own! This custom-made 5-liter oak barrel from Tuthilltown Barrels is the perfect way to make and age your own wine vinegar. Just simply add a little high quality vinegar to start, and then gradually fill up the barrel with unused, good quality wine, and violá. $84 for the 3 liter version. Other sizes available. Buy at http://www.tuthilltown.com.
BUILT wine bags
There are fancy wine carrying devices, and then there are useful wine carrying devices. These neoprene wine bags are most definitely the latter. I’ve got several, and they are how I end up toting most of my wine around to restaurants, parties, and anywhere I’m bringing a couple of bottles. They’re nicely designed, insulating, and provide good enough padding that you don’t have to worry about knocking over a bottle when it is snugly fitted inside. I can’t live without mine. A 2 bottle tote costs $14.31. Buy it at http://www.amazon.com.
Full Grain Leather Wine Tote
OK, so useful not good enough? Then go classy. Only the vegans among us would not want to tote their wine around in this gorgeous leather wine tote from JW Hulme, which is available with a monogram for that personal touch. Understated, elegant, and durable enough to leave to your children in all likelihood (especially if they have the same initials). And yes, it’s priced like a family heirloom, too. $275 at http://www.jwhulmeco.com.
Sparkling Bottle Stoppers
Now, finishing a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine, once opened, should not be a problem, but every once in a while, that third or fourth bottle in my house doesn’t get finished. While there are some folks who would never let this happen, the reality is that sometimes you want to save the last of that bubbly for another day. That’s where these handy little gizmos come in. You could shove a regular wine cork into that bottle, but there’s no guarantee it will fit, or if it does, that it will seal very well. These guys snap on with a satisfying “clack” and make sure that there’s a tight seal on the bottle so there’s the best chance of preserving the bubbles. Every bubbly lover should have at least one. A great stocking stuffer at $9.90 for a set of three. Buy them at Amazon.
The Best Stemware Cleaning Device
Washing your nice wine glasses is always an exercise in gentle deliberate movements. But that’s invariably when most delicate glasses are broken (other than being accidentally knocked onto the floor). You have to be careful when washing stemware, but on the other hand, sometimes they can be a royal pain to clean, especially if, like me, you have slightly larger hands that don’t always fit along with that brush into the bowl of the glass. This inexpensive little device, then, is your savior. Wonderfully soft and shaped perfectly for wine glasses, it makes quick work of cleaning any glass. $5.99. Available at http://www.bedbathbeyond.com.
Wine Glass Marking Pens
Also in the stocking stuffer category…. Wine glass charms are so 2002. These days when you invite a bunch of people over for a glass of wine (or five) it’s easier and more fun to just write people’s names on the sides of the glasses. That way after the sixth glass of wine, no arguments break out about whether you had the piece of cheese wine charm or the bunch of grapes wine charm. The writing wipes off easily and is non-toxic. And of course, it comes in a whole rainbow of metallic colors so either host or guest can get creative. $8.99. Available at Amazon.Com
Gift Certificates for Wine
If all else fails, I don’t know a single wine lover who wouldn’t love a gift certificate to their local wine store. Not all wine stores offer gift certificates, but I’m sure you can find one in your area. I recommend:
Flatiron Wines in San Francisco – Buy a Gift Card
Flatiron Wines in New York – Buy a Gift Card
JJ Buckley in Oakland – Buy a Gift Certificate
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Best of luck in your holiday shopping, and remember, a glass or two of wine will make this whole process a lot easier. Happy holidays and happy drinking!!
Disclosures: In case you care, I receive affiliate fees from any Amazon links.
Image of wine glasses with holiday decorations and gift card courtesy of Bigstock.