I received a lot of fantastic durable goods when I got married last month, including a toaster oven, a cookie jar, and a wife. I also scored some great stuff that was gone in a flash but will be remembered forever, highlighted by beer money, a 100-pack of Slim Jims, and a dose of that fancy Spanish ham that's worth more than most of my bicycles and friendships.
I cherish each of those lovely and thoughtful surprises, but my favorite gifts tend to be of the type that fall into the middle of the longevity spectrum, neither as fleeting as a triple-digit stash of mechanically separated meat treats nor as permanent as a ceramic jar that practically demands I develop an ill-advised cookie habit. I need to reiterate that everything I got on my wedding day was perfect, starting with the beautiful wife with an employer-provided health care plan and followed closely by the toaster oven with nine buttons and a slide-out crumb tray. But if we allow that some gifts are more perfect than others, I find that the most perfect are often those that stick around for a couple months and then relinquish their storage space.
There are tons of gift options that fit into this semi-permanent category: magazine subscriptions, jerky-of-the-month club memberships, fancy olive oils, brand-name laundry detergents, etc. These are all great choices, but when I want someone to know that I care about them and also want a couple months' worth of credit for doing so, I usually find myself gravitating toward the liquor store. I'm thankful that most of my friends do, too, which is why our post-wedding liquor cabinet is now happily bipolar, with bottles of high-end rum, tequila, and bourbon temporarily shacking up with the usual bottom shelf booze. As long as you're dealing with a drinker, you really can't go wrong with a liquor present. (And nondrinkers probably have tons of time for laundry and magazines, so in that case see above.)
But while I love giving and getting alcoholic gifts, I am deeply suspicious of any drink that seems to have been conceived of specifically for gifting purposes. In fact, this bias isn't restricted to alcohol: Things that aren't intended to be consumed by their purchaser have a shaky track record. If the person who buys it isn't the person who uses it, there's a disconnect that makes it harder to be an informed consumer. That's why Hickory Farms yuletide meats and cheeses are so disappointing, why flowers ordered online or by phone are so overpriced, and why there are so many stupid golf-and-barbecue memoirs released right before Fathers' Day.
This is why I was skeptical about the big box of Wines That Rock that came in the mail a few weeks ago. WTR partners with Mendocino Wine Company—producers of the credible Parducci and Paul Dolan labels, among others—to market Rolling Stones Forty Licks Merlot, Woodstock Chardonnay, Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon Cabernet Sauvignon, and red blends named for The Police's Synchronicity album and the Grateful Dead. Such a straightforward bid to become America's go-to gift for classic-rocking brothers in law certainly doesn't condemn the wine to failure, but it could be a worrisome hint as to the vintner's priorities.
But to be fair, isn't a lot of alcohol sold using subtler versions of the same strategy? How can I or anyone else who's ever bought a bottle of wine because it had a penguin or a pun on the label turn his nose up at a bottle featuring iconic album cover art? Hell, I bought Schlitz for 10 happy years simply because the word was fun to say and the can was fun to look at, and I regret that I ever brought that world crashing down with a blind-tasting that turned me into a reluctant Pabst man. If something makes you happy, how much does it matter why it makes you happy?
I approached my sampling of the 2010 vintage with the mindset that Wines That Rock could make an excellent gift for the right person as long as the wines floating around inside the branding hold up to modest scrutiny, and they do. Sure, you can do better for the $15.99 suggested retail price, but the wine game being what it is, you can also do worse.
I particularly liked the Woodstock Chardonnay, which is very fruit-forward and only lightly oaked. The absence of malolactic fermentation combines with the gentle touch of wood to allow the rich pear and tropical flavors to shine. Among the reds, I preferred the Rolling Stones Forty Licks Merlot. Is this because of the black cherry, apricot, and vanilla flavors, or because the Stones are my favorite of the bands represented? See, that's the point. If you like this concept, you will like these wines, which makes Wines That Rock a winning addition to the gift-alcohol market.
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