Last-minute gifts for wine lovers
Like a Britney Spears outfit, the holiday season usually takes me by surprise. Summertime takes its leave, and the next thing I know, jingle bells and eggnog lattes suddenly appear. Then a last-minute hunt ensues, a scurry to find that special something for friends and family to celebrate the winter season and ring in the new year.
Here, then, is a gift list for kindred spirits — that is, last-minute, wine-loving shoppers — with top picks for your loved ones.
- For the fashionista: Let’s start with the perfect stocking stuffer: a wine foil cutter ($6.95). It’s an essential tool, and the most graceful and efficient way to remove wine caps for elegant presentation. If you’re heading to a holiday party, add flair to the bottle of wine you bring with a candy-cane striped scarf ($5.95; not a necessity, but neither was the one I recently bought for my dog); both capture the joyful spirit of the season. Town & Country subscribers may want to check out the country-chic contoured bottle guard in “Red Dog Canvas” — Russell Outdoors meets Ralph Lauren.
- For the bookworm: Always educational, and often an escape to beautiful places, wine literature is an ideal gift for any wine lover. My favorite books also feature a cast of idiosyncratic and impassioned characters. The classic Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer's Tour of France, by Kermit Lynch, is a witty and engaging must-read for the Francophile in your life ($18). Bargain-hunters will fall for the globe-trotting Canadian wine-writing star Natalie MacLean in her recently released and effervescent Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines, a heartfelt retelling of discovering affordable treasures in unexpected places ($24). Voodoo Vintners: Oregon's Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers, by Pacific Northwest wine columnist Katherine Cole, will entrance serious wine geeks and sustainability gurus alike ($18.95).
- For the scholar: The Wine Lover’s Calendar, by the renowned author and wine educator Karen McNeil, provides hundreds of wine recommendations, tips, advice, history, and more. Meanwhile, WSET Wine and Spirit Education Trust courses are offered in more than 50 countries around the world. Prices vary by class; gift certificates are available. (If you live in the Pacific Northwest, check out the affiliate Wine and Spirit Archive, with instruction in both Portland and Seattle.) The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa offers Foundation of Wine Courses with prestigious instructors and state-of-the-art facilities. And the recently opened Corkbuzz Wine Studio, a wine-centric restaurant in New York City, launches its first classes in January, with a focus on education (Pairing with Sauces) and a touch of whimsy (Take-Out Pairings).
- For the wine collector and cook: Woo with verjus. Last Christmas, I brought the host and chef — a serious wine collector — a bottle of biodynamic Montinore Estate verjus, and it was his first. French for “green juice,” verjus (pronounced vair-JHOO) is the tart, fresh juice of unripe and unfermented grapes. The traditional French non-alcoholic beverage is often a secret ingredient slipped into sauces and salad dressings, and can be used for deglazing and poaching, or splashing into cocktails and garnishing desserts.
This year, my gift for the same host is a bottle of vin de noix, a traditional French aperitif made by steeping unripe walnut fruits in a blend of red wine and brandy. It just so happens that the bottle I’m packing, from Kookoolan Farms in Yamhill, Oregon, was made with red wine from, yep, Montinore Estate. (Gotta love Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.)
- For those with wanderlust: Plan ahead and surprise your sweetheart with a spring or summer escape — my favorite category on the list (hint, hint). For a transcendent venture, check out Alchemy Tours Sonoma Yoga and Wine Retreat, with gourmet vegetarian cuisine and redwood cabins. If back-to-nature is more your style, head to Cave B Inn and Spa in the Columbia Valley wine region of Washington state: you’ll stay in Douglas-fir yurts and be treated to star gazing, bird watching, and vinotherapy treatments (such as a chardonnay sugar exfoliation). And any pinotphile will delight at the prospect of a weekend reveling in the most beguiling pinots paired with the finest Pacific Northwest dishes at the 26th Annual International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Oregon (see photo).
- For the artist: A simple marvel for the table: the Italian Wine Carafe + Two Wine Glasses, made in Portland, Oregon, by Esque Design ($313). The eco-conscientious will appreciate that the recycled-glass stock is processed in an electric furnace that’s powered by wind energy.
- For the philanthropist: The female-owned and -operated O Wine Company contributes 100 percent of its net profits to fund higher-education scholarships for low-income, high-potential young women. (Try the Chardonnay made with fruit from Horse Heaven Hills in Washington.) Planet Oregon Pinot Noir, a project from the esteemed winemaker Tony Soter, pledges $1 for every bottle sold in Oregon to the Oregon Environmental Council. And the boutique Sonoma producer Iron Horse partnered with National Geographic to create the 2006 Ocean Reserve, a limited-edition, vintage sparkling wine. The winery is contributing $4 for every bottle purchased to establish protected marine areas and reduce overfishing around the world.
- For the Champagne lover: Give a year-long celebration with a Champagne-of-the-month club. The venerable K&L Champagne Club delivers six shipments per year, each combining one bottle from an artisanal grower-producer and one bottle from a grand-marque producer. And Grower Champagne devotees will revere the Scott Paul Champagne Club, with twice-a-year, six-bottle shipments of only Grower Champagnes. Every shipment will spotlight a unifying theme — for example, an exploration of vintage versus nonvintage Champagne, or a focus on one appellation within Champagne.