I’m officially jumping on the holiday bandwagon here with a STBNY festive gift giving guide. In keeping with my “teach a man to fish” approach, I’m not going to suggest specific wines, but instead offer some general guidelines and a little inspiration. My overall guiding principle is that it’s worth it to go the extra mile. Yes, I know, it’s easy to pop into your local wine store and buy the first good-looking bottle you see in your price range, shove it one of those silver mylar wine bags, and call it a day. But by making a little extra effort, you can make the present that much more meaningful. Wine is, by nature, ephemeral. Not to sound too cheesy about it, but with some thought you can create a great memory around the wine that lasts after the bottle is finished.
1. Buying a present for someone across the country? If your giftee is really into wine, chances are she has a good relationship with her local wine store. Give the shop a call, mention who you’re shopping for, and see if they can recommend something that’s in line with her tastes. Buying wine online can’t be beat for price and convenience, but there’s a lot to be said for going local and personal.
2. If you and your significant other are wine neophytes looking to boost your knowledge, turn the holiday season into an ongoing educational project. Remember, Hannukah = 8 x the fun. Give a different bottle each day around a theme, like the major grape varieties of the world — Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo would give you a great representation. Or you do a world tour : France, Italy, Spain, Australia, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, and end with a wine from the wine-producing state closest to you. If Christianity is more your thing, try the same with the 12 days of Christmas.
3. While not as sexy as a bottle of Champagne, books are a great gift for the wine lover. Remember that there are thousands upon thousands of wines in the world, and the only way many of us will be able to experience the majority of them — especially the priciest and rarest ones — is through the written word. Liquid Memory by Jonathan Nossiter, a controversial manifesto in support of natural, artisanal wines is a great choice for the Michael Moore-style provocateur in your life. Been Doon So Long, by quirky Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Grahm is perfect for the loveable iconoclast. (And your business school friends who are obsessed with “brand building” — this guy really gets how to make the most of his idiosyncratic personality. The fact that he makes good wine doesn’t hurt, either.)
4. A very good year. Sure, there’s the classic gambit of buying a wine from the gift recipient’s birth year, but that can get expensive and logistically tricky. Instead pick another meaningful year — the last time her team won a championship, the year her kid was born, the year you guys took that awesomely ill-advised trip to Cancun — and find a wine that did well that vintage. (Good news for deep-pocketed Yankee fans: by all reports, 2009 looks to be a winner in Bordeaux so far.)
5. One of the buzzwords for 2009 was “trading down” — forsaking Pomerol in favor of $12.99 Chilean Merlot. For the former banker who’s still adjusting to her reduced circumstances, I’d pick up a bottle of Ribera del Duero, a tempranillo-based wine from northern Spain. Starting at about $30, you can find some elegant, concentrated, and age-worthy wines that wouldn’t be too much of a come-down for someone who’s become accustomed to cult California Cabernets or Bordeaux first-growths. Sure, they’re not quite as exuberant as Napa or as aristocratic as Pauillac, but in these more restrained times, that’s a good thing. Some favorite producers include Hacienda del Monasterio, Pesquera, and Emilo Moro.
6. When all else fails, Champagne.