Monday, December 15, 2008

Xmas 2008: Give Wine Not Wine Gadgets

By Julianna Hayes

For Christmas last year, I received a pair of fuzzy red socks, a cheese plate, reindeer patterned flannel pyjamas, and hand towels with a Noel motif.

I never got around to hanging the calendar and tucked the pjs and socks away unworn. The cheese plate sits in a cabinet unused and I ditched the towels on sight.

Some say I’m difficult to shop for. But as an obsessed oenophile, I think the ideal gift is obvious. You can’t go wrong with a bottle of wine.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Many people are panicked at the idea of having to choose a wine for someone they perceive as an “enthusiast.” They don’t feel they have the knowledge to make the right selection to suit the more sophisticated palate of the receiver.

So if they do embrace a wine theme for their gift-giving, more often than not it consists of a collection of gadgets, most of which only serve to clutter up a junk drawer. For instance, in addition to the aforementioned goodies, I also received floral-shaped foam wine glass charms, grape-shaped oven mitts and an antique-style corkscrew.

Unless the wine geek on your list enjoys re-gifting, don’t waste your money.

Which brings me back to wine itself – it’s the preferred option for aficionados. Here’s four good reasons why:

- As serious wine enthusiasts, we are also serious wine consumers, thus we go through a lot of bottles.

- Even if we aren’t agog with the wine you’ve selected, I can assure you it won’t go to waste. Someone we know will enjoy it – either a visitor or host of a party we attend.

- We always need wine for cooking. A halfway decent bottle will fit the bill in most cases.

- We can always dump the wine into a holiday punch, make mulled wine or sangria.

As the giver, the gift of wine is a no brainer. You’re probably going to the liquor store/wine shop anyway to stock up on festive refreshment, so picking up a few bottles for your wine weenie recipients eliminates a stop in what is likely already a hectic holiday schedule. Plus, presentation is inexpensive and a snap. Just drop the bottle into a dollar-store wine bag – which will likely be recycled by the receiver, so it’s eco-friendly too.

Plus shopping for wine for someone else will compel you to think about your own vinous purchases – so many of us tend to go back to the same bottles time and time again. In your hunt, you might be inspired to try something new yourself.

Having said that, don’t get caught up in trying to find the perfect wine for your connoisseur. And for heaven’s sake, don’t worry about spending too much and whether the wine got 90 points from Wine Spectator Magazine. It’s a myth that enthusiasts only drink award-winning, pricey wines. Like most people, we can’t afford to tuck into a $100, $50 or even $25 bottles every Friday night. I, for one, have plenty of favourites in the $15 to $20 range.

It’s certainly swell if you want to splurge on a fabulous bottle of Bordeaux or rare vintage Port. But many wine weenies would be just as happy with an affordable quaffable wine. Collectors, in particular, likely have plenty of cellar dwellers and don’t really need to add to their stash of untouchable-until-2015 wines. What they want are wines they can drink now – without the guilt that they’ve opened a vintage long before its prime.

When choosing a wine – whether it’s for a serious connoisseur or a fledgling enthusiast – first set a budget and then look for recommendations on wines in your price range. Many stores have what are referred to as “shelf talkers” which are hand-written by qualified staff. They’ll often include tasting notes and critical scores. VQA shops, private retailers with solid wine programs and Signature Liquor Stores often have knowledgeable personnel who can provide one-on-one consultation.

If you know what type of wine the person you’re shopping for enjoys, then look for something different in the same style or varietal. For example, if the individual typically drinks French Burgundy or British Columbia Pinot Gris, then consider similar wines from alternate regions. In the case of the Burgundy, look for a New World Pinot Noir from California or B.C. Choose an Alsatian Pinot Gris or Italian Pinot Grigio in place of the local Pinot Gris. Write a note to accompany the bottle explaining your selection.

If the above task seems too daunting, how about looking for something fun, like bottles with crazy names, unusual shapes or striking colours? Even if the wine itself isn’t up to snuff, you’ll guarantee the recipient a conversation starter.

How about a fruit wine? Many people dismiss this option and don’t take this category seriously, but many locally-produced fruit wines, such as those from Elephant Island or Raven Ridge Cidery, are a real treat.

One of your best bets is sparking wine. I can’t think of any enthusiast who doesn’t like bubble and there are plenty of very good wines of this style for under $30. And nothing is more festive.

Here are 10 hot wines for gifting:

Tinhorn Creek 2005 Oldfield’s Collection Merlot $28

Recently awarded 90 points by Wine Access magazine – denoting a wine of excellent quality. Features jammy black fruit, earthy flavours, some menthol. Robust on the palate with a long finish.

Peller Estates 2006 Private Reserve Pinot Noir $18
One of this winery’s four gold medal winners from the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival, this is a stunning wine at an affordable price. Lovely cherry, chocolate characteristics with some earthy herbaceous notes. Silky texture. A best buy and widely available.

CedarCreek 2006 Merlot $20
This quaffable value wine is a real crowd pleaser, yet will appeal to even the most discerning palate. Concentrated red fruit characteristics, nice weight and silky tannins. Fill’er up!

Road 13 2007 Old Vines Chenin Blanc $19
Honestly, this winery could get away with adding another five bucks on this price and it would be well worth it – but we’re not complaining. Aromas of smashed lime jujubes, green apple, mineral, and tropical fruit notes in the bouquet and loads of racy acidity on the palate. Yum

Ganton & Larson Prospect Winery 2006 Shiraz $16
Few B.C. Shirazes/Syrahs come in under $20, so when you see one of this quality at this prices, grab it. Earthy tobacco notes, vanilla bean, black cherry and menthol. Smooth and easy to drink.

Quinta Ferreira 2006 Syrah $22
A truly stunning wine with aromas of violets, blueberries, jammy blackberries, vanilla and a distinct pepperyness. Quite savoury but with loads of ripe fruit. A bold effort worth double the price

Van Westen 2007 Viognier $25
One of the up and coming varietals in the valley and this one is a beauty with peach, floral notes, ginger spice, lemon, butter characteristics. Lots going for it.

Arrowleaf 2007 Snow Tropics Vidal $16
You don’t often see this variety in this drier style (it’s a 02), so an aficionado will certainly appreciate it. Quite perfumey and nutty with distinct stone fruit and floral notes, some citrus on the finish.

La Frenz 2007 Viognier $20
If you can locate a bottle of this stunner, the wine enthusiast on your list will be forever grateful. Selected Best White Wine in Show at the Northwest Wine Summit, among other accolades, this wine features super ripe character of dried apricot, peach and tropical fruits, plus some floral notes. It literally coats your palate and makes your mouth water. And can we talk about the price?

If you have your heart set on a non-wine wine gift, then think practical and choose something you know will be put to good use. Here are some ideas:

Wine Skins
In response to the banishing of wines in airplane cabins, the industry came up with these bags made of strong plastic and lined with bubble wrap and dual adhesive closures, sealing and cushioning individual bottles of wines so they can be safely tucked in your luggage. Perfect for the traveling oenophile on your list. $4 at the B.C. Wine Museum

If you have a wine collector on your list, this little gadget makes organization a snap. You use it to simply scan the barcode on a bottle of wine for automatic identification of the name, varietal, winery, country, region, type, and price. The information can then be downloaded to your Mac or PC for electronic storage. Saves inputting all the information by hand.

White Wine Decanter
Most serious enthusiasts have a decanter for their red wines, but what about their whites? There’s a cool one available for $80 at the B.C Wine Museum, and I mean “cool” literally. The decanter sits on a glass reservoir that holds ice so the wine stays cold. So there’s no reason for your whites not to be just as pretty on the table.

Gift Basket
If you want to give wine, but want to dress it up a little more, then a wine gift basket is a logical, practical, yet beautiful option. A BC wine and artisan food basket from Discover Wines celebrates local foods and wines. For $80, staff will tuck bottles of Arrowleaf 2006 Merlot and Gehringer Brothers 2007 Pinot Auxerrois in with olive oil and cracked pepper Gone Crackers, Sea Change Ice Wine glazed smoked salmon, Aunty Penny's vegetarian antipasto, Bernard Callebaut dark chocolate, Okanagan Lavender jelly and Langford Petals Layered Fieldberry shortbread. Other selections and prices are available.

Most enthusiasts I know appreciate a good wine-related book, particularly a buyer’s guide. Unfortunately, many of the internationally-produced ones from the likes of Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke contain bottles that can’t be found on our soil. Which is why I love the ones written by Canadian writers, particularly those from B.C., such as The Province wine critics Kenji Hodgson and James Nevison. Had A Glass: Top 100 Wines for 2009 under $20 appeals to the local and frugal consumer. This is their third edition.

And if you’re looking for a stocking stuffer, my own pocketbook, Okanagan Wine: A Guide to Valley Wines, contains tasting notes on 80-plus local wines, and retails for $10.


Jared said...

Great idea..! I too got a beautiful wine gift basket from

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