John JuergensGifts of Wine

There is something very appealing about the idea of giving wine as a gift; it has inherent elegance and mystique. But there also is something intimidating about it for many people. If you want to give a gift of wine, there are two basic problems to overcome. First, you need to have some idea of the kind of wine the intended recipient likes, and second, you need to be able to find those kinds of wines. One of the goals in this process is to try to come up with something a little different, and possibly a little more expensive, than what the person might usually drink.

It is best to approach this challenge systematically by answering a few basic questions:

  • How much money do you want to spend?
  • Does the person prefer red or white wine or both?
  • Do they have a preference for American or imported wines? If imported, from which countries?
  • Do they prefer wines that are dry or a bit on the sweeter side?

If you can answer these basic questions, you should have no problem finding a wine you can afford that the person will enjoy. How you go about getting the answers to the last three questions might require some ingenuity on your part without exposing your intentions.

With regard to price, most people who drink wine on an occasional or even regular basis tend to stay in the modest price range, that is, about $12 and below. There are many pleasant wines of good value in this price range, but for formal gift giving I would suggest moving up into at least the $12 to $15 price range for a single bottle, and the $20 to $40 range for a two-bottle gift, which, by the way, is far more impressive. If you go the two-bottle route, you can select different price levels for each wine to balance out the total price, and you can mix red and white wines for variety. For example, you can combine a higher price red wine with a white wine in the lower price tier.

Sweetness can be a major selection factor for white wines, but I really can't recommend any sweet red wines in our market. If you want to give something with a touch of sweetness to it, look for Chenin Blanc, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer wines.

If you want to give a very unusual wine gift you might consider a combination of a champagne and a dessert wine, such as a port or a muscat canelli. These wines would make nice "bookends" for an elegant holiday meal. Dinner guests could be welcomed with a glass of bubbly to set the mood and sated with a soft, rich finale. There is a wide range of sparkling wines available (which will be the subject of a future article), and we now have a fairly nice selection of good quality port wines at reasonable prices in Oxford, including Whiskers Blake, Benjamin, and Chateau Reynella Tawny Ports from Australia, and Beringer California Port. There also are several traditional ports available from Portugal, but these can get a bit pricey.

A note about Merlot. If Chardonnay was the darling wine of the 1980s, Merlot is the pinup of the 1990s. This wine grew so fast in popularity that there weren't nearly enough grapes on the vine to meet the demand. Unfortunately, a lot of inferior quality Merlot fruit and wine continue to pour into this country from abroad to fill the void. I don't recommend giving Merlot that costs under $12 since you can't be certain about its quality unless you have tasted it.

Once you have selected your wines put some thought into the wrapping or "presentation," just as you would any other gift. For single bottles it's okay to role it up in fancy paper and then do something interesting with the top and a flamboyant bow. This is a fairly quick and inexpensive way to go if you don't mind being obvious about what you are giving. You can also get some nice bags made for this purpose that come in gold and silver plastic, or more elaborate printed paper bags with handles and draw strings. Some of our local wine shops have these and you can get other kinds at bookstores around town.

For two-bottle gifts and for more upscale packaging of a single bottle you can move into baskets and boxes. Places like Oxford Floral, Bird in the Bush, the Weather Vane, and other gift and floral shops can give you some great packaging ideas and materials. If you want to get really fancy, you can toss in some food items such as cheese, nuts, fruit, and crackers.

Several of our local wine shops are trying very hard to expand their selections and to bring in new wines. Although it's not possible to list all the combinations of wines here, if you shop around armed with the information I suggested above, it will make the search a lot easier for you and the store staff since it will narrow considerably your range of options.

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