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Holiday Gifts for Wine Lovers
By Michael Apstein
Dec 3, 2019
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The obvious choice for gifts for your wine loving friends this holiday season is a bottle—or two—of wine.  Sadly, too many are intimidated to give wine to a so-called wine expert.  We’ve all heard the excuses: I don’t know anything about wine; I don’t want to embarrass myself by giving an ordinary wine; I don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a prestigious one.  Well, I have lots of non-wine suggestions that would make perfect gifts that I’ll get to in a minute.  But first, let me remind you:  You can safely give a bottle of wine.  Just give something that you’ve enjoyed and, if possible, is a little off the beaten track.  If you’ve liked it, then it’s a safe bet that your wine-loving friend will at least find it interesting.  After all, you’re friends for a reason.  But if that argument doesn’t convince you, here are other options.

There are a handful of books that every wine lover would love to have.

As a Harvard-trained molecular biologist and gastroenterologist, Ian D’Agata writes about wine with the same scholarly approach as he did when he was doing scientific research and practicing medicine.  His latest book, Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs, is a fabulous sequel to his first one, Native Wine Grapes of Italy (both, University of California Press, each $50).  Both now represent THE authoritative texts on Italian wine and should be on the shelves of anyone with even a passing interest in Italian wine. Despite his scientific background, which might make some think that the writing will be dense, it is not.  His prose is a pleasure to read.  He is wonderfully opinionated in both books, listing his favorite producers, benchmark wines and the best cru.  I cannot recommend these two books highly enough.

Hugh Johnson & Janis Robinson (are there two more luminous wine writers in the world?) have just released the 8th edition of their venerable The World Atlas of Wine (Mitchell Beazley/Octopus Publishing Group, $65).  Even if you have a previous edition of this Atlas, you need this one.  Here’s a summary of some of what’s new:  Maps for Israel and British Columbia, two important wine producing areas; expanded maps for Chile, Marlborough and China; a soil map of Beaujolais that shows how the crus differ. The writing, as in past editions, is refreshingly succinct but conveys a wealth of information.  In only about 50 words they described Morgon and Brouilly accurately: “Morgon, the birthplace of natural wine (see p. 35) is the second-largest cru associated with its famous, volcanic Côte du Py, whose wines are particularly strong, warm and spicy.  Les Charmes, Les Grands Cras, Corcellette, and Château Gaillard vineyards give lighter and rounder wines.  South of Morgon, the big cru of Brouilly is unpredictable.”

While The World Atlas of Wine and D’Agata’s books will certainly appeal to wine geeks, I recommend two books enthusiastically for those starting to learn about wine.  Both are so well-written and clear that even those who know a fair amount about wine will learn something from them.

Wine for Dummies ($25, Wiley Publishing, 7th edition) is the book to buy if you have a friend or a child interested in learning about wine.  In an easy to follow, but not patronizing tone, Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan, MW demystify the seemingly complicated morass of wine.  (Full disclosure: the authors are friends and colleagues here at WRO, but even if I didn’t like them, I’d be forced to recommend their book very highly because it’s just so useful.)

The other so-called introductory book is Windows on the World Complete Wine Course by Kevin Zraly (Sterling Publishing, $28), who is a superb teacher, both in person and with the written word.  Again, although those relatively new to wine will learn an enormous amount quickly because of the format and Zraly’s style, even those more knowledgeable about wine will enjoy this book.

With much wine writing moving to the web, there are two particularly good sites I can recommend. Decanter Premium (Decanter.com) give you access to thousands of their tasting notes and articles otherwise unavailable.  ($100 for a yearly subscription.)

Every Burgundy lover should subscribe to Jasper Morris’s Inside Burgundy.com (95£ a year).  Morris, an MW since 1985, was for many years the principal Burgundy buyer for the famed British merchant, Berry Brothers and Rudd.  He has forgotten more about Burgundy than most people know.  His recommendations and insight are essential for navigating the mine fields of Burgundy.

Though I’ve written about the Champagne stopper previously, it bears repeating, especially at this time of the year.  It makes a fabulous gift.  The Champagne stopper, which costs about ten bucks, will transform the way you think of Champagne.  No longer is Champagne a “special occasion” beverage.  With a Champagne stopper it can be a nightly pleasure.  The stopper looks like an oversized bottle cap with short wings that clamp under the rim of any bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine.  It allows you to have a glass of Champagne and stopper the bottle, maintaining the fizz, for another day.  Easy to use—both attaching and removing it from the bottle is a cinch—it keeps the Champagne or sparkling wine fresh and bubbly for up to five days.  Don’t forget that if, by chance, the fizz is gone on day five, the still wine that remains is still fresh and ideal for deglazing a pan in place of white wine.

It allows you to spread the cost of, for example, a bottle of Pol Roger NV Brut, which is widely available for about $40, over five nights, with a large, 5-ounce, glass a night.  Alternatively, you and your spouse or significant other can each enjoy a reasonable 4-ounce pour over three nights.  And, if you chose a less expensive sparkling wine, such as the fruity and lively Roederer Estate Brut from Anderson Valley or crisp and edgy Simonnet-Febvre Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé, each which can easily be found at about $20 a bottle, you can halve those expenses and still “celebrate” on a nightly basis. 

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Comments, questions or other gift suggestions?  E-mail me at Michael.apstein1@gmail.com

December 4, 2019