Sommelier Picks for Holiday Wine Gifts
It can seem like the holiday season is full of potential wine-related pitfalls: what's the correct bottle to give to your boss? Which bottle would be nice for a dinner hostess gift, and what can you buy for a party? We polled a few of the country's top sommeliers for advice.
Wine to bring your dinner party host:
December is high entertaining season, and you don't want to show up empty handed. But how do you go about choosing a bottle?
Carla Rzeszewski, Wine Director of The Spotted Pig, The Breslin, and The John Dory Oyster Bar, NYC: If you are attending a dinner or a party with a good contingent of wine geeks, bring a wine that they can drool over. Something limited, something out of season (i.e. an age-worthy rose in the colder months), or simply a beautiful wine from a fantastic, culty producer (maybe the Paulo Bea 'Arboreus'). If you are headed to a gathering where you are not sure of the host's tastes, stay clean and classic: everybody loves Champagne, and it screams celebration.
Steven Grubbs, Wine Director at Empire State South in Atlanta and Five and Ten in Athens, GA: It's a pretty strong move to show up to a party with a chilled bottle of grower Champagne. Nine times out of ten it'll get popped right then and everyone's mood will increase. A bottle of room-temp white might get lost in the shuffle of the fridge. And if you bring some smarty-pants red there's a good chance you'll emit a lot of weird energy at the table trying to get everyone to notice it. But to be the Immediate-Champagne guy/gal is to be clad in shining armor.
Master Sommelier Laura Maniec, Corkbuzz, NYC: Any Rioja Gran Reserva but especially Bodegas Muga, Prado Enea 2004. You get to give a great wine with age and complexity without breaking the bank.
Paul Einbund, Beverage Director at Frances, San Francisco: Bring Champagne, because it's special. There truly is something different about opening sparkling wines, and especially true Champagne, from the region in France that has been known for hundreds of years to make the world's best sparkling wines. Champagne also ages really well so you don't need to worry about drinking it right away.
Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, Owner and Wine Director of Frasca, Boulder CO: Bring a bottle of Grower Champagne—something that they would not see at Duty Free. I recommend Vilmart.
Shelley Lindgren, Wine Director/Owner of A16 and SPQR: Sparkling wine is always a wonderful gift to bring your host because it's festive and can be used to make a toast, clink glasses in celebration and a great palette cleanser for a pre-meal aperitvo.
Best wine to give your boss:
If you're expected to give your boss a holiday gift, a bottle of wine can be a good choice. But that's a lot of pressure—what should you buy?
Carla Rzeszewski: If you simply want to steer clear of embarrassment by assuming too much, I'd bring a great bottle of well-aged, traditional Barbaresco, or a delicate-but-powerful white Burgundy (a little age, maybe 10 years for the Barbaresco and 5 for the Burgundy, will help bring the best characteristics of the wine to the fore.) They both have a sexy, well-recognized region attached to the wine, and hell, both wines are equally delicious.
Steven Grubbs: This is one of the few times that I recommend going for big names. Don't sell yourself out completely, because this honcho could very well be into things like Barolo and Burgundy, and if so, they'll think you have silly cubicle tastes...and in the cubicle you shall consequently remain. Think of established names making respectable wines that aren't too readily available. Look for a classic importer, like Kermit Lynch. But don't try to show off your esoteric sense. This is not your chance to educate your boss on the virtues of Teroldego. Bosses don't care about Teroldego.
Laura Maniec: The new Corkbuzz Wine Club! Each quarter we'll ship 6 master sommelier-selected wines and include tasting notes, access to wine videos, and tags on the bottles which tell you when to drink the wine. Green means go, yellow means slows down and red is for cellaring.
Paul Einbund: Maybe something exotic? Like a bottle of Bandol. The best wines of Bandol in the South of France are soft, rich, and herbal wines—age worthy, and not too expensive. If your boss knows wines, he/she will know these and be impressed, if he/she doesnt, he will be impressed that you know them.
Bobby Stuckey: Pick something thoughtful and a touch classic for your boss. Maybe a bottle of Barolo from Piedmonte? I recommend Elio Grasso Barolo 1997.
Shelley Lindgren: It's nice to give your boss a bottle of red wine that can be saved and is unique. I think it's cool to do some research and find an interesting wine such as Bressan, Schioppettino from Friuli, Italy. Whenever I pour that wine for guests, they immediately are drawn to it. Also, thinking outside the box from the norm might be able to save a few dollars without skimping on quality.
Best wine gifts on a budget:
All that holiday shopping can make a person, well, broke. So what wine gifts are good on a budget? Which bottles can you bring without spending much—but also without embarrassing yourself?
Carla Rzeszewski: A decanter! Or perhaps a little trio of wine tools: a decanter, an Ah-So, and a good Champagne stopper. All have a use, all are a bit geeky, and all are something many people don't often buy for themselves.
Steven Grubbs: This is actually the time to gift something weird. Impress with your verve and not your cash flow. Find some grape you know they've never heard of, learn as much as you can about it, and pass all of that along. Obviously, you'll need to skip the grocery store and head to your favorite little nerdy wine shop. Ask those dudes. They can make it happen. Tell them you to introduce you to a new grape for under 15 bucks. Then, commence Googling.
Laura Maniec: A magnum of 2009 Pepiere Muscadet Sevre et Maine Les Gras Moutons Cuvee Eden. Nothing is better than a magnum of wine for less than 35 bucks. This is from one of the best producers in the Loire and goes with everything from sushi to canapés and is a great party wine.
Paul Einbund: How about liter bottles of Austrian Gruner Veltliner with a crown cap? These wines are incredibly high quality, but fun and playful with the same kind of seal as a beer bottle. If the recipient doesnt know wine they might laugh when they see the crown cap, but when they taste the wine they will discover a crisp, citrusy, herbal mouthful of flavors perfect with any meal or...hot tub.
Bobby Stuckey: A bottle of Prosecco Ie Trevisol. This is festive and will get consumed during the holidays.
Shelley Lindgren: I always say that having a little knowledge can save you money. For a great value red that is perfect for the holidays, I have been obsessing about Cesanese from Lazio. It has supple red fruit, black pepper, and baking spices. Cabernet Franc such as a Chinon from the Loire valley in France would also be a great gift this time of year.
Best non-bottle gift for wine lovers?
Want to give your favorite oenophile something that will last a little longer than a bottle? Here are some somm-approved options.
Carla Rzeszewski: Books. Books. Books! Maybe a book on Greek wines along with a Greek cookbook. Or perhaps an in-depth wine book on an old world region (say, Italy) along with a history book focusing on that area. The story of the region will inform the understanding of the wine, from the cuisine to the people to the climate or even the local laws.
Steven Grubbs: There is a lot of useless paraphernalia out there for wine people. I always receive my share at Christmas, and 99% of it never escapes the packaging. One useful item is the the Corkcicle Wine Chiller, an ugly but effective product that you keep frozen and then stick into a bottle you need to chill quickly. But really, if I knew someone didn't have them, I would give Hugh Johnson's World Atlas of Wine or Jancis Robinson's Oxford Companion to Wine, the grand gift of knowledge from the two best wine books around. Whatever you do, don't contribute to the proliferation of aerator products. They take a living, dynamic thing and make it uniform and dull. Aerators are for impatient, gutless people. Put it in a decanter. If it was meant to come around, it eventually will.
Laura Maniec: Eric Asimov's new book, How to Love Wine. I think it tells the story of wine and why it is so fascinating and breaks down some of the misconceptions of wine.
Paul Einbund: Get a good friend a really special wine opener like the Carl Mertens Camero, or blow your wad and get a Code 38, the best wine openers made! Seriously, when you open wine with a good opener its a different story, no more getting stuck or breaking the bottle top. The right tool for the right job is what they say? Though the Code 38 is probably overkill...unless your friend is me!!!
Shelley Lindgren: Wine glasses—everyday ones or special ones. Wine glasses break and there is always a need for more. These days, practically every cookware and department store sells a nice range of glasses.