By David White
Time is running out to finish up your Christmas shopping.
For those looking to impress a wine enthusiast, these final days are daunting. Malls and department stores offer little that would please an oenophile, and the staff at Best Buy doesn't know a thing about wine. The internet, of course, can be overwhelming!
Relax. Wine lovers are easy to please, regardless of your budget. Here are my top picks.
First, consider a wine club. Whether you're shopping for a complete novice or the next Iron Sommelier, everyone appreciates trying new wines.
TastingRoom.com is worth checking out, as it literally brings the tasting room to your living room. Launched three years ago by a tech entrepreneur, the company transfers wine into miniature bottles, allowing consumers to sample a host of wines without having to purchase an entire bottle. Wine club memberships start at $30 per shipment.
If you're shopping for someone who enjoys wines from Napa Valley, consider the "Bordello Wine Club" from Vintner's Collective, a multi-winery tasting room in downtown Napa. While the club is expensive -- the average shipment runs $165 -- the collective is home to some of Napa's most celebrated, small-production winemakers. If you're shopping for a fan of Oregon Pinot Noir, there's a similar collective in the Willamette Valley called Carlton Winemakers Studio.
For novice wine drinkers, newspaper wine clubs are fun. These have proliferated in recent years, and the New York Times' selections tend to get the highest marks. That said, many local retailers have their own clubs that offer a better value.
Books also make good gifts.
If you're shopping for a budding oenophile, pick up a copy of Kevin Zraly's "Windows on the World Complete Wine Course." For good reason, it's been in print for nearly 30 years.
If you're shopping for a wine enthusiast who already has a stocked bookcase, pick her up a copy of "Wine Grapes," the just-released guide to 1,368 grape varieties by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and Josť Vouillamoz. The book is hefty -- it clocks in at more than seven pounds -- and has a price tag to match, retailing for $175. But it's a reference book that every wine geek is desperate to own.
A more affordable choice is "How to Love Wine," by New York Times chief wine critic Eric Asimov. Part memoir and part manifesto, the book thoroughly combats the poison of wine snobbery through an honest and personal evaluation of America's wine culture. It was my favorite book this year.
Actual wine also works. To make an impression, you'll want something that's recognizable but isn't easily found at the supermarket.
Champagne is always memorable, and in recent years, wine enthusiasts have gone gaga over "Grower Champagne," or wines made by the farmers who grow the grapes. Just as we understand why an apple grown in Virginia tastes different from an apple grown in Massachusetts, we understand why a Sonoma Chardonnay tastes different from one produced in Napa. Champagne is no different. And Grower Champagne conveys that sense of place. Egly-Ouriet, Pierre Peters, and Vilmart are three top Growers. Their wines are pricey but delicious.
Of course, if you go this route, don't hesitate to ask the knowledgeable staffer at your local wine shop for advice. She might steer you toward something else that's equally impressive, like a well-known Bordeaux or Super Tuscan.
Stemware and decanters also make for great gifts. Look for brands like Riedel, Spiegelau, and Schott Zwiesel.
Whatever you do, don't waste money.
I've never seen the point of a wine stopper,and no wine enthusiast wants a kitschy, hand-painted wine glass. The latest gadgets, too, are typically a waste -- cordless rechargeable wine bottle openers always seem more difficult to use than traditional waiter's tools.
David White, a wine writer, is the founder and editor of Terroirist.com. His columns are housed at Palate Press: The Online Wine Magazine (PalatePress.com).