Hey folks – considering that this is a holiday week here in the USA, and considering that it happens to be Dude’s personal favorite holiday (Thanksgiving), and considering that I still consider myself on paternity leave… This post is a short one, and really just an excuse to share a fairly recent baby picure, BUT… It will also offer you some (hopefully) useful holiday wine advice.
Over a decade ago (!), I wrote what I humbly consider the only/final treatise on Thanksgiving holiday food-and-wine pairing advice, thus rendering all other Thanksgiving holiday food-and-wine pairing advice obsolete.
Figuring out what to get the wine lover who seems to have everything can be a source of great anxiety during the holiday season. People like me tend to buy the stuff they want, when they want it, and we also have very strong opinions about the difference between useful gear and utter crap.
This is what leads many people to simply give the wine lover a good bottle of wine, but that’s an exercise fraught with peril, in my opinion. True wine geeks would much rather choose their own wine than receive a bottle from someone who doesn’t exactly know their tastes, no matter how good the intentions.
So if not wine, what do you get your favorite oenophile? First, let me tell you what’s even worse than a bottle of wine they wouldn’t like. Please don’t ever, ever buy them one of the million wine aerators on the market. They’re all utter crap, and many are complete scams, to boot. Nobody needs a wine aerator. Nobody.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s some stuff that your favorite wine lover might not already have in their possession. 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.
When you’re looking for something inexpensive, here are a range of gift ideas from $5 to $50 that aren’t run of the mill.
Decanter Cleaning Device
Now I’m anti-decanter, myself. Most decanters aren’t worth their price, in particular because they take up a ton of space, are hard to clean, and frankly all they do is look fancy. You can do the same job with a glass lemonade pitcher (and you can get your arm into it to clean later). However, I recognize that not everyone is willing to serve their First Growths out of a lemonade pitcher, so decanters will always be a thing. Which means getting them clean will always be a challenge. Enter this handy little device which uses a strong magnet and a plastic scrubber to let you get at any stubborn deposits on the inside of your beautiful decanter (especially if you’ve soaked them in hot water and a little distilled vinegar). $19.95. Buy it at WashinGoal.Com
Sparkling Bottle Stoppers
Now, finishing a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine, once opened, should not be that much of a problem, but occasionally everyone has one that doesn’t get finished and 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. $14.45 for a set of three. Buy them at Amazon.
The Irony of Wine: Hipster T-Shirt Edition
How do you know someone is a badass wine insider? They show up on a pandemic Zoom call wearing one of Andre Mack’s t-shirts on top, and… well, we’re never sure what they’re wearing on the bottom these days, right? 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 a piece and you can check out the full selection of delicious logo jokes and other wine ironies at Mouton Noir.
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. $6.49. Available at Bed Bath & Beyond.
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 favorite local wine store. Not all wine stores offer gift certificates, but I’m sure you can find one in your area. If you’re looking for some suggestions, I recommend the following stores who can ship nationally:
When you’re looking to make an impression, here are gifts from $50 to $200 that will impress the most discerning wine lovers.
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 $12 for first-class shipping. Buy it from me directly.
The Ultimate Guide to Champagne
The other book I would recommend this season is more than just a book on Champagne. It’s also a set of gorgeous maps that bring Peter Liem’s thoughtful and in-depth treatise on the terroir of Champagne to life. The book and the maps are beautifully published in a box that holds both the book and the maps, and it’s honestly one of the classiest wine books you’ll ever manage to get ahold of. Anyone, even the most die-hard Champange lovers will get something out of this atlas, analysis, and ultimately a celebration of Champagne. $35.91 in a hardcover box set from 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. I use mine all the time, and it has saved me from the dreaded dissolving-cork syndrome more than a few times. It’s worth every penny of its $125 price tag. Available from The Durand.
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. $202 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 roughly $90 per year. Purchase a gift subscription at World of Fine Wine.
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 will suffice. 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 use at home when I’m not drinking from my precious set of Zaltos (see below). $60 for a set of six. If you want larger glasses, go for their Cabernet stem, if you want slightly smaller glasses, choose their Sauvignon Blanc stem. Both will do the trick for any wine. Buy on Amazon.
Drinking the Wine Leftovers
For those that aren’t looking to have a random glass of wine from any bottle (and therefore require the pricey services of a Coravin – see below), but still do want to be able to keep the remains of a bottle fresh for some time, consider the Eto. This snazzy device, bills itself as a sophisticated decanter, but really serves quite well as a wine preservation system. I have a very discerning friend who swears by his and says he doesn’t use the Coravin much anymore. $160 for one, with discounts on pairs. Available from Eto.
Mini Oak Barrel for Vinegar Making
Sometimes you don’t want to drink the leftovers, or sometimes you don’t get around to it. So why not put them to some use? Most wine lovers I know also happen to be foodies, and appreciate the difference between good vinegar and bad vinegar. This 5-liter oak barrel (which you could even personalize with a name) 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 5-liter version. Other sizes available. Buy at Amazon.
If price is not an issue, and you want to get your favorite wine geek something special, here’s a list of gifts at which no one can turn their nose up.
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.
Drink WITHOUT OPENING THE BOTTLE
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 4 years since the launch of the tool, and it has literally transformed by-the-glass wine lists around the world, not to mention changing the way that many people drink their wines. The company now has a dizzying number of different models to choose from, many of which have bells and whistles that I don’t necessarily think are worth the extra money. My recommendation would be the sturdy Model Five. No matter which model you get, it’s a pretty astonishing and handy invention. $299. Available from Amazon.
Vintage Wine Posters
Wine 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 collector’s 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 Code 38.
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. And then there are times when you don’t want to chill just one bottle, but five. So perhaps you want a fancier ice bucket? This beautifully modern “Noe” bucket is brought to you by the mavens of Italian design, Alessi. $270, and available at Nieman Marcus.
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.
Would you look at this young pup? Tacoma, 2013. So young. So full of Pacific Northwest frivolity rather than subway-hardened NYC grit. Those were the days.
Let me comment about the beverages in my loving embrace. Best advice for holiday drinking w/ a crowd: GET MAGNUMS. Big bottles rule. Roederer Estate, the California outpost of the famed Champagne house, makes a great Brut (dry) sparkling for about 24 bucks. That’s the price for a regular bottle or, as folks in Champagne like to say (in a mix of derisiveness and tongue firmly in cheek), a “half-magnum.”
Beer lovers, the Anchor Steam Christmas Ale is a classic. I wish I still had that poster of every label since 1975. If you love beer and trees, you are gonna be happy. Finding magnums will make you (holiday) legend.
I’m off to San Diego (weather-permitting) tomorrow. Four days in some (more) balmy weather and plenty of fish tacos. Special guest: Mom! She’s traveling from Reno. I’m going to spend a day visiting some wineries in Temecula, which is only about an hour away. Other than that I want to chill, read, and go to Balboa Park. I’m back in NYC at a reasonable hour on Christmas Day, so may hit a nice hotel resto and chill at the bar or look for some fellow wayward souls out and about.
Since 2004 I’ve been talking about choosing wines for x day on the calendar, y special occasion, z oddball event. How many more arrows do I have in my dang quiver for this? What to do about holiday wines?
I was thinking about this while at Vino Volo in SeaTac, on my way to visit family in Tacoma for Thanksgiving weekend. I don’t travel with wine because checking bags is anathema to me. Frankly, I wasn’t going to bring any wine and just chug whatever was around. (I said as much in my newsletter. Subscribe! I get weirder, more off the cuff, opinionated, etc.)
Well stoping at VV and seeing an old pal from my retail days, Geoff, had me changing my tune. I picked up two bottles. Was very impressed with the selection at Vino Volo. You’ll pay a premium for retail wines. But considering I didn’t have to check a bag, retrieve it, and obsess about breakage, I call it an excellent deal.
I’ll get to the dynamic duo of wines. First I want to explain choosing holiday wines by “labels with memories.” These are not some #smartlabels internally loaded with memory that can “demystify” wine and “engage” drinkers with “curated” content.
It’s rather like an old, familiar, quirky signpost whose distinctness transports you to a time, a place, a person, a table. MAYBE EVEN DOWN LOVE’S MEMORY LANE, IS THAT SO CRAZY?!?
Now these labels aren’t the slick, rad, modern graphic design-y stuff I usually dig. They have a swoon-worthy amount of ye olde* charm that completes me.
Also, I just realized both labels have houses on them. Well, calling each a house is putting it a bit simply. But I want to be shrunk to scale and transported into these tiny label houses (that are actually large) and live my tiny life drinking out of tiny cups with tiny cats. THE END. (Maybe they’re smart labels after all? Whoa.)
Anyway, the holiday wines for Turkey Day.
Abbazia di Novacella Kerner 2017 (Alto Adige, IT) [$18]
I first wrote about this wine in 2010 and then again in 2012 so after six years, why not make it a trifecta? It’s made at a monastery in the extremely picturesque Alto Adige wine region way up in northern Italy. That should seal the deal already. Speaking of deals, average price on Wine-Searcher is $18. It’s a white wine with a very small amount of sweetness you won’t really notice cuz it’s a mountain bomb of alpine floral refreshment. Dang, this wine is so easy to drink.
I really like the script for “Kerner” and the ornate frame for the monastery painting. The latter is so charming. I stare at it and imagine leaving everything behind. (Which would be like my IKEA bed, a bike, and a coffee table plucked from the street. Easy-peasy.)
Château Thivin Côte de Brouilly** (Beaujolais, FR) [$27]
What can I say about Cru Beaujolais that I haven’t already said? These are wines from ten designated sites that are like uber-Beaujolais. You can age them and they also have a complexity recalling fancy Burgundy (Pinot Noir) just north of the region. (Though Cru Beaujolais is made from Gamay.) Côte de Brouilly may not be the most prestigious of the crus but go by the impeccable producer, Château Thivin. Cru Beaujolais has gone up in price over the years, but if you love elegant reds with substance please gobble up all the CB you can while it’s sub-$30.
This label. I love the color scheme. With the rusty-orange mountain and roof, green trees, and yellow-y cream, it’s a label I can spot from a mile away. It’s not a color scheme that should work but it’s absolutely perfect here. The font for “Château Thivin” really does something for me, too.
I’m also transported back to Beaujolais, where I recall a dinner with a handful of winemakers who brought large pots of assorted rib-sticking dishes and we hung out a winery over long tables. It was, in fact, a dinner at Dominique Piron’s and Claude Geoffray from Thivin was there as well. (Also Jean-Paul Brun. Wow, that was a Beaujolais geek’s dream.) So this label is extra-special and MEMORABLE and that’s how I’ll choose my holiday wines FOREVER.
I’m not sure how much time I’ll have over the holiday break to post here on 1WD, so here’s my version of a Christmas-time-card-thingy. What you probably cannot see on the pic of the tree are ornaments that include Santa getting hosed on wine, a TARDIS, Yoda’s head, BB-8 (he’s a perfect ornament shape, really), a ball with the Rioja logo on it, and Spider-man carrying a bag of presents.
Anyway, thank you for being here (all year), and thank you for being you (most of the time, anyway). Please go hug someone that you love, and have yourself a safe and happy holiday season!
* – Yeah, I said “Happy Holidays” and not “Merry Christmas.” That’s because there are a lot of Winter holidays celebrated this time of year by a lot of different people with different backgrounds and different political, cultural, and religious affiliations, and I sure as reindeer poop don’t know which one you happen to be celebrating. If you’re offended by that, then bite my mistletoe.
First, there’s the Vacanti Spirale Wine Glass ($50 per two-pack). The idea behind this stemware is that it’s designed for bottle-aged reds; there’s a nifty little spiral indentation at the bottom of the glass that’s supposed to trap sediment, so that your teeth don’t end up becoming what traps the sediment. Of course, you could just decant properly, but even then you tend to end up with a least a little bit of precipitate in the glass when you start reaching the last dregs of an older red.
The little spiral thingy is not only visual cool, it actually works, though admittedly the use case for the Vacanti is fairly limited. The only real word of caution I can add is that the Spirale design wrecks total havoc on sparkling wines, sending the bubbles up in a concentrated stream that strips away a surprisingly large percentage of the pleasure of drinking those wines; if you grab some of these, avoid pouring bubblies into them at all costs.
But… what’s far more interesting, in my limited testing, was how versatile the Cab glass ended up being on the drinking front. I threw just about every style of wine at this thing, and it handled all of them either very well or almost-danged-superbly. It’s best for fruity, balanced whites and reds that aren’t too strong in alcohol, but it worked out just swell for more delicate styles and even bubbles. The only thing that it couldn’t handle (mostly a factor of its size) was the dessert wine category. Other than that? It could end up being the only stemware option that you (whoops, I meant the persons on your Nice List) need.
It is definitely beginning to look more like spring; in the wine business that means the arrival of the Rosé! I can think of no better foil for the winter doldrums than to tease one of the scarce sunny days on the deck with brunch or late lunch. Whether Easter, or any Sunday, there are fewer things as civilized as taking a meal al fresco with a nice bottle of Rose!
The Rosé Revolution is now hegemony! Never in my life have I tasted and seen so many Rosé. Beyond the great Bandol and Tavel, we see Rosé coming from every great wine region in the world. Not only is it just about the best thing for an afternoon quaff, Rosé also lends itself to a wide variety of foods. The touch of anthocyanin, that gives Rosé its color, also gives the wine more body which allows it to pair with heartier fare!
Looking for something to pair with your Easter Ham? Look no further. Roast Turkey, Standing Pork Crown Roast, Cedar Plank Salmon, Tuna Salad – you name it, Rose will fit the bill. Almost just to prove my point, I would like to present a perfect party dish that is made for Rosé – Oven Roasted Lamb Rack Salad with Couscous, Fennel, Mint, and Tomatoes.
The other thing I love about Rosé? Even the priciest Rosés are still relatively affordable in the vast scheme of things. One of my favorite things to do, for a party, is fill a galvanized tub with a bunch of Rosé + ice and let people have at it! Rest assured there are great inexpensive Rosé, and you can find a lot of them here at Esquin Wine & Spirits.
Floral and red fruit aromas mingle on the nose, with a refreshing and balanced palate. This Spanish Rosé pairs beautifully with grilled vegetables, fish, pasta, or on its own. 70% Garnacha 30% Monastrell
We are pleased to welcome the new 2016 Les Lauribert La Cuvee de Lisa! A gorgeous Rosé with tart, refreshing acidity that is balanced with notes of barely ripe strawberries. It’s springtime in a bottle!
When you’re the “wine guy,” the one that everyone kind of expects to hit it out of the park when you bring wine to a party, what’s the vinous game plan when you’re invited to holiday dinner parties to ring in the new year?
In a word, ringers.
You grab items from the sample pool that you know (or, at least, are reasonably certain) are going to be high quality, and likely will go over well with everyone.
You bring the good juice.
Which is, unsurprisingly, precisely what I did.
There’s more to this little story than gee-whiz-the-wines-were-pricey-but-really-great, however. The reason I picked these – and in one case, it was an inaugural release – is that the brands themselves are proven quantities. So, get your saliva glands geared up, and let’s dive into the high-end of the sample pool, shall we?…
It’s very, very hard not to like BP’s non-vintage Brut. Blending is the name of the game here, not just in the fruit – Pinot Noir (45%), Chardonnay (33%) and Pinot Meunier (22%) – and vineyards (over thirty different Crus) – but also in the vintages for the house style; the reserve wines go back to the 1980s. Throw in a bit of barrel fermentation and a long time sur lie, and you have one of the yeastier, toastier non-vintage Champers, though there are plenty of fresh apple fruits in here to go around.
The key thing with BP’s house style, however, is that (in my experience) the non-vintage Brut ages ridiculously well. So much so that I almost never bother to check on the disgorgement date for these, as they tend to develop almost as well as some vintage Champagnes.
Russian River Valley’s Dutton-Goldfield is firing on all cylinders right now (for some evidence, see their entry in last year’s MIW list). The Freestone Hill Vineyard Pinot is one of their top-line releases, coming from a spot near the Bodega Bay that was planted in the late `90s. 2014 was excellent for RRV, and this Pinot benefits in big ways from weather that was lucky even by sunny California standards. There was no press wine used, and only 657 cases produced. But if you like Pinot that’s both fruity and nuanced, you’ll want to locate a bottle of this.
This list could get long, because there’s a lot going on here; black and red raspberry fruit, nutmeg spice, earth, dried herbs, black tea, hints of orange peel, sandalwood… basically, it’s another stunner from a producer lineup that runs the quality gamut in a narrow band between “generally excellent” and “superb.”
This is Churchill’s first release of a 30 year Tawny (which requires enough aged, high-quality stock to produce, so the wait is understandable). It’s easy to bet on these guys, however, because the past has shown that bet to quite safe (for more on that, see the previous 1WD coverage of their vintage releases). The fruit comes from the Cima Corgo, and according to Churchill’s is a field blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão, Tinta Barroca, (no, we’re not done yet) Touriga Franca, and Tinta Francisca.
This isn’t Protugal’s most complex 30 year Tawny, but it is one of its freshest, and arguably one of its purest. Yes, there are plenty of dried fig fruits, Sherry notes, rum aromas, and spice notes, but it’s the vivacity of this stuff on your tongue that makes you do a titled-head-fake, double-checking that you’re not actually drinking a 20 year or something younger. Not exactly simple, but certainly simply gorgeous.
Yeah, I know, that goes against everything that your senses tell you, especially when you see thirty different types of Port for sale on a wine store shelf. But quantum physics defies much of the common sense that you develop to survive at the macro-physical level, and it happens to be true, too. It just won’t give you as bad of a hangover.
Anyway, I’ve been singing this dois estilos de porto song for several years now, and I’m not backing down now. There are only two styles of Port wine, and the rest of it is detail. Granted, there are a lot of details, And the devil is, absolutely, in those details, and he will give you a brain-meltingly awful hangover (ask me how I know), but that doesn’t stop the differences in Port types – small and large – from all being details.
If you’re looking for a reminder – along with some super-nifty visual representations of the flavors, aromas, and nuances offered by most of the different types of Port expressions out there – check out my latest for Fix.com, titled A Port Wine Primer.
As always, the Fix.com way-cool infographic is embedded below after the jump, and I always get a kick out of seeing how they pictorially represent my wordiness. For the impatient among you, skip directly to the bottom to see what they did with the food pairings, it’s pretty bad-ass.