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"If God forbade drinking, would he have made wine so good?" 

Cardinal Richelu, Prime Minister of France, 1585 - 1642


Holiday Wine Gifts

 Winery Insight Featured Article - December 2003 by Timothy O. Rice


‘Tis the season to be jolly, so now is the time to think about wine’s place in the year-end celebrations.


The first problem I run into lies in the giving of gifts.  Many people I know like to drink wine, but really have not invested the interest and time it takes to become discriminating (i.e., they are not wine nuts).  They can taste the differences between styles and types of wine, but they do not walk around speaking of silky tannins or chewy feels after they put down their glass.  When you give them wine, they are unsure of how to respond: should they just smile and say thanks, or should they fall over in gratitude?  A few will know exactly what they are receiving (or will look it up as soon as you leave).  So what to do?


I resolve this with the KISS approach (Keep It Simple, Silly).  I have a few relatively inexpensive favorites, old reliables if you will, that I use for most people and occasions.  Almost every non-wine-nut I have met appreciates a Rosemount Shiraz (under $9 at my local store), but I have had even better luck with an Italian wine, Di Majo Norante’s Sangiovese, a favorite of Robert Parker, sometimes found for under $7.  Both are reds; when I need a white I think of Hogue’s Johannisberg Riesling Columbia Valley (usually about $9, from Washington).  Either people like them, or they are too polite to complain.


From time to time, the need arises to give a wine with more name appeal to someone, usually a knowledgeable wine aficionado.   Often this can be a business gift or an attempt to please a relative.  That can be tricky.  If you know them well, you may know enough to fill in a hole in their wine library or to please their particular palate.  But if you don’t really know enough for that, you have two choices: splashy and expensive, or good but obscure.  Both have pitfalls.


The problem with visiting your wine shop and buying a wine to impress is that wine is so personal, and that there are many wines that are too expensive for what they are.  Some wines would be excellent values at $20, but are outrageously overpriced at $50.  If you give one of these to someone knowledgeable, he may say thank you and be secretly thinking you were taken by the salesperson.  That will destroy the impression you are trying to make in many cases.


The problem with good but obscure is often availability.  We have visited the Finger Lakes more than once, and we have a few places there we appreciate for this.  One of them is Dr. Konstantin Frank.  They are one of the few wineries in America to produce an Rkatsiteli (pronounced ar-kat-si-TEL-lee).  It is unusual, so the recipient can’t tell you about the five better ones he has at home, and you get the benefit of introducing him to something new.  The only problem is that it is not available locally, and is often sold out, so you have to plan ahead for that one.


If you have a good wine store nearby, you can handle this another way.  Walk in, ask for the manager, and explain your problem to him.  Tell him what you need.  Explain that you want the wine to be unusual, not famous; that the idea is to stand out by being thoughtful, not to spend money.  Ask for suggestions, and listen carefully.  All the wine salespeople I have met always have a favorite value wine, and you might benefit by simply inquiring.


Note: If you are looking for help on planning the drinks for a big party or a quick and easy guide to selecting wines for holiday hors d’oeuvres, we suggest taking a look at Natalie McLean’s website,  In her Articles section, look for “Wines for Big Parties” and “Holiday Wine”.


 Last modified: August 07, 2007