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With help, wine is an easy gift to buy

With help, wine is an easy gift to buy

The holiday shopping rush is officially underway. Some find this endeavor a dreaded experience; others take joy in counting down the days while checking off the list. For those who have a wine lover on their recipient list, it might be the easiest of gifts to buy. 

There’s no need to push through the long lines at big chain stores, or crazily attempt to find the last of its kind or stress about the color or size, or, worst of all, wonder if they’ll even like it.

The most important tip is to look to a reputable wine retailer for advice and direction. With help, wine is an easy gift to buy. 

Know the range you want to spend. Wine has the advantage that higher prices don’t always equal better quality. There are many “value” bottles that cost about $15, bottles any wine-loving recipient will enjoy.

A knowledgeable wine retailer will be able to direct you to a bottle worth giving, and keep you on budget.

THE VALUE

  • 2014 Simi Chardonnay, California (about $14 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2014 Alexander Valley Chardonnay, California (about $16 retail)

I always enjoy the story of the wine or the uniqueness of the label (who is the winemaker, what is the history of the label, family, etc.). It adds a nice touch when you are able to tell a quick story of the wine’s history or a personal reason it’s your favorite. Most wineries have websites you can research for history. For a special touch, enclose a handwritten note about the wine.

THE VALUE

  • 2014 Force of Nature Red Blend, California (about $15 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2013 Tooth and Nail “The Stand,” California (about $29 retail)

When in doubt on the wine style for the recipient, it’s best to stick with familiar grape varietals. If you are buying for people you know well, you most likely know the style of wines they enjoy. But for those you know casually, it’s a good idea to opt for crowd-pleasers like chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot or pinot noir.

THE VALUE

  • 2014 Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $22 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2013 Arista Pinot Noir RRV, California (about $50 retail)
Bordeaux entails left/right decision

Bordeaux entails left/right decision

I recently overheard an interesting conversation between a wine retailer and customer. The customer was looking for a nice bottle of wine to give as a gift. The two talked about regions and price, and the shopper said with confidence that he was searching for a Bordeaux wine.

(I admit I eavesdrop a lot in retail stores because I love to hear the questions consumers ask.) The next question was from the retailer: “Were you thinking right bank or left?” With this wine-speak question, of course, I had to sneak a quick peek and continue listening. And as would have been expected it was a term the customer was not familiar with concerning Bordeaux wines.

The term “left bank” versus “right bank” is an easy lesson in the sometimes difficult-to-understand language of French wines. It refers to the geography of the region. The main river in Bordeaux, the Gironde, passes through the core of Bordeaux’s most prestigious vineyards. There are two smaller rivers, the Dordogne and Garonne, that merge to form the Gironde. If you’re looking at a map, the left bank is south (or left) of the Garonne and the right bank is north (or right) of the Dordogne. (The area in the middle, the Entre Deux Mers, is mostly forest with only a handful of vineyards.)

Red wines make up almost 90 percent of wine produced in Bordeaux. Most red Bordeaux is blended from cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, cabernet franc and petit verdot, but each grape thrives in different growing areas.

Most white Bordeaux is made of sauvignon blanc, semillon and muscadelle.

The left bank boasts regions such as Margaux and Pauillac. Cabernet sauvignon dominates this area because the vine demands well-drained, gravelly soils. Unlike some grapes, cabernet sauvignon does not grow well with its roots lying in soggy soil.

The right bank includes the regions Pomerol and St. Emilion, and is home to world-renowned wineries such as Petrus and Cheval Blanc. The soil of the right bank has more clay, leading to less drainage. In this soil, merlot and cabernet franc take the lead, and cabernet sauvignon plays a very small role. Merlot wines tend to be more fruit-forward and they mature earlier than many of the wines dominated by cabernet.

THE VALUE

  • 2013 Chateau Pilet Bordeaux Blanc, right bank/Entre Deux Mers, France (about $13 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2012 Chateau Mongravey, left bank, France (about $50 retail)
Roses, candy fine, but consider wine for Valentine’s Day

Roses, candy fine, but consider wine for Valentine’s Day

Each year on Feb. 14 people around the world celebrate Valentine’s Day.

In the United States this celebration typically is toasted with candy, flowers, jewelry and other gifts. Each year my husband’s romantic gesture is to give me a thought-out, well-planned bottle of wine. After many years together he knows I don’t eat candy, he gives me flowers throughout the year and I have enough jewelry. But I never have enough wine. I am sure he has already selected my gift with days to spare, but for the rest of you still seeking the perfect gift, I hope these ideas help.

There are many bottles sitting on retail shelves or patiently waiting to be noticed on wine lists. Make the choice personal by selecting a vintage port or Champagne based on special dates, ranging from the year a person was born, life-changing events (anniversary, birth of a child) or even the year you met your valentine. If you are dining out, check the wine list before you go and call ahead to confirm the bottle you want is in stock.

If your budget or time doesn’t allow for a night out, simply putting thought into the gift can make it just as sentimental. For example, a bottle from a vineyard you visited together, or one you want to visit together, or something from a winery with a romantic history. Obviously, the ultimate gift idea would be a bottle of wine with a note promising a romantic getaway to the winery or the region.

THE VALUE

  • 2013 Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile (about $14 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2012 Stasis Pinot Noir, California (about $45 retail)

For some lovebirds the best gifts are something sweet and something that sparkles. Many times you may have the chocolates and flowers in place but just need another personal touch. A sweet, sparkling wine is a great addition.

THE VALUE

  • NV Stella Rosa Black, Italy (about $15 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • NV Scharffenberger Cellars Sparkling Rose, California (about $25 retail)

There is just something about rose wines that make them an ideal fit for romance. I prefer the dry styles of rose because they fall somewhere between white and red wines. The aromas are almost always fresh, enticing strawberry and cherry, and the flavors are crisp and refreshing, with a light, zesty acidity. Unlike your valentine, rose wines are not looking for a long-term relationship — it’s best to drink them within 3 months of purchase.

THE VALUE

  • NV ROSA Rose, Argentina (about $18 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2013 Chateau de Montifaud Pineau Rose, France (about $ 35 retail)