Many of you have asked the same question: How do I know I've found a good wine merchant? The answer is simpler than you think.
First, a good wine merchant will always listen. If you say you want a
$10 bottle of smooth, red wine, a good merchant will offer you a
handful of alternatives around that price point. At the same time, the
salesperson should be able to describe the attributes of the wines
Second, alternatives should be offered. If you walk into a store and
ask for a $15 bottle of Cabernet and the only thing the salesperson
shows is the Kendall-Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon
one of three things is happening. First, the clerk hasn't a clue about
the various wines available in the price range; second, the store's
selection is more limited than your average grocer; or third, the store
is getting a volume incentive from a distributor for selling those
Simply try a number of different stores before you settle on any one.
Find someone who has a love of wine and, equally important, is willing
to share his knowledge. Second, find a store with a deep selection in
various price ranges. You want a wine merchant that is just as
comfortable selling $15 bottles as $90 bottles. Third, find a store
where you like to shop. Better personal relationships will always lead
to better deals.
The Shopping List
So, you have decided to give a bottle of wine as a gift this holiday season. Here's a list of tips I have found valuable.
First, be unique. While there is nothing wrong with Kendall-Jackson
Cabernet or Chardonnay, you don't know how many people have the same
idea. Use your wine merchant to find a wine that isn't on the end of an
aisle that everyone is likely to buy on impulse. There are a plethora
of wine options in every price range and a good merchant will point you
to selections that will be uniquely yours.
Second, buy a bottle for yourself. That may sound
self-indulgent (and it is) but you can justify the "splurge" for a
couple of reasons. Having it for yourself lets you know what you are
giving. I go even a step further and drink it before delivering my
gift. That way, I know if it's bad and I can describe the wine to the
recipient. If you don't like it, don't give it as a present -- return
it and try again.
That leads to the third suggestion -- make the gift personal. Don't
just hand your friend a bottle of wine, hand your friend a personalized
gift. Find a nice wine gift bag (the cloth bags are always a hit) and
put a nice personalized note with the bottle with a description of what
you think of the wine. "We enjoy this wine with a bold pasta dish once
a month," or something along those lines. If you know a little bit
about your recipient's wine tastes, give the note an even more personal
touch, playing to that person's wine desires.
There are two other questions I get quite often: First, is one bottle
enough? Of course -- you are the gift giver and I have never, ever
thought that someone who gave me a single bottle of wine was cheap,
regardless of the wine. Moreover, a nice presentation can make the gift
The second question I often get is: "I took a bottle of wine as
a housewarming gift to a holiday party and the host simply set it aside
after looking at it. Does that mean it wasn't good enough?" You're
being paranoid, of course not. I rarely accept a housewarming gift and
immediately open it. In fact, I usually will look at the bottle, try to
make a comment or two if I know the label, say thank you and then put
it in a rack in our dining room or kitchen. And, I always make a point
to indicate how much we will enjoy the bottle at a later date.
Enough of the tips and rules, you say. Let's get to the wines. Here are three that I will likely be gifting this year:
On the white side
, the 2002 Matanzas Creek Chardonnay
is a very nice wine at about $20 a bottle. The nice thing about
Matanzas Creek is that the name is mainstream enough so as not to
intimidate but unique enough to be considered special. The folks at
this Sonoma winery craft solid wines and this vintage Chardonnay is no
exception. A hint of oak, but not overly so, with a nice citrus-like
bouquet highlights the wine. The wine is complex enough to be enjoyed
by "big" Chardonnay drinkers but is subtle enough not to offend
mainstream pallets. Good wine merchants should have plenty in stock.
On the red side, I'll suggest an upscale selection, the 2001 Merryvale Profile. This meritage,
or blend -- which can be picked up at most high-end wine shops for
about $70 -- is a mix of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 5%
Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. A very smooth yet complex red,
Merryvale has won numerous awards for this very unique blend. Not
inexpensive but everything from the label to the last drop from the
bottle will please the most discriminating wine drinker. If you want to
move down the price scale a bit with Merryvale, try the 2001 Starmont Cabernet, which has been well received by wine critics.
Finally, there are a number of nice sparkling wines that make great
gifts. In the $30-$40 range I would pick a nice, nonvintage French
offered from Moet
Champagne always makes a nice gift for celebrations and provides a gift
that will likely fill that New Year's need as the recipient thinks of
you as they ring in the New Year.
I'll take one last look at holiday options in mid-December. Until then, happy shopping.