The perennial dilemma: Your brother-in-law Steve and your boss Susan are wine aficionados, each has a cellar—or at least a wine fridge. She only drinks Napa Cabs, and he’s all about White Burgundy. You’d rather stick needles in your eye than try to buy them wine for the holidays. Well, cowboy up. It’s time to take on the challenge.
This is where your local wine shop comes into play. If you’ve always shopped for vino at the grocery or big box stores, check out a small, independent shop. While some can be intimidating, most are not. They are well-staffed with kind, smart wine people that can help you make a great choice for the Steve and Susan in your life.*
First tip: Know your budget. Tell your wine professional how much you want to spend, either per bottle or all together. They should stay within your budget. Since it’s the holidays, you may be inclined to spend a little more for a “special” bottle. To me, $25 and over is a generous amount to spend on a gift bottle. Sometimes that’s appropriate, and you should go for it if it's in your budget. With that said, there are a host of wines between 12 and 15 bucks that, once you take the price tag off, are real winners.
Second tip: Ask for a wine that has similar characteristics, but introduces a new twist. For example, try a wine made from the same varietal—type of grape—that comes from somewhere else. Or, try a different varietal with a similar vibe. Susan may love some Spanish reds, many of which spend time in American oak barrels like the big Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons she loves. Steve should definitely try a wine made from the Spanish grape Albariño. They can be rich and full bodied. Just the thing for many Chardonnay lovers.
Third tip: You don’t have to try to impress with a big name. Ask your wine pro to suggest a small production, artisanal wine that will please your recipient’s palate. Those are usually some of the best values, and you are more likely to give a wine they’ve not had. These can be just as costly as the big labels, but can be of even higher quality.
Fourth tip: If giving them a bottle of wine still fills you with fear, angst, and sends a cold chill running down your spine, get them a gift certificate. Steve or Susan can have a blast selecting their own bottle.
Two Favorites under $20:
- Unió Perlat Anyada 2009, Montsant. $12.99: This fantastic red blend of Garnacha and Manzuela (also known as Carignan). It’s rich, dark and spicy. It’s aged in American oak and has some lovely vanilla notes.
- La Cana Albariño 2010, Rias Baixas. $17.99: Beautiful, golden white wine with round, mouth-filling texture. Has notes of citrus and pear, will please 99 percent of Chardonnay drinkers. Delicious.
*Full disclosure: I work with a bunch of kind and smart wine people in an independent wine store.