“Do you have a bottle of wine I can take as a gift?” Marsha called out. She was off to a holiday event (not this year, but last) and needed something for the hostess.
A bottle of wine is a welcome and traditional gift to show thanks for an invitation. Easy to give and eagerly received, a thoughtfully chosen bottle works for all concerned. I had just such a bottle on hand for Marsha, ready for last minute needs.
All this came to mind when Marsha’s sister, Brenda, asked for some recommendations for wines to keep on hand, ready for giving. It’s a good thing to think about, now that there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. Getting ready makes that time seem closer.
To help out Brenda (and have a little wine-buying fantasy of my own) I put together some suggestions.
Chardonnay, the most popular wine in America, is always a good bet. Since it’s the most widely planted grape, there’s an overwhelming lineup of labels to choose from. Or course, price enters into the gift-giving calculus.
We were introduced to J. Lohr-Riverstone Monterey Chardonnay ($13 Stew Leonards) by Julie and Tony Broom. It’s the house wine at their Thimble Island Bed and Breakfast, a waterside inn in Stony Creek, CT. The award-winning wine is a high-value solid hit for California-style chard — crisp with some oak and tropical fruit — punching well above its weight. We keep a few on hand for weeknight dinners as well as gifts.
The Russian River Valley in Sonoma is a hot area for Chardonnay these days. Quality and prestige rise with these more exclusive wines. J Vineyards ($22 Total Wine) and Sonoma Cutrer ($23 TW) are good picks.
Washington can offer better value than Napa and Sonoma. Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Chardonnay ($11 TW) is a recent Wine Enthusiast Magazine Top 100 Pick. Choose their single vineyard Indian Wells Chard ($18 SL) for more oak barrel character.
Jerry Gleason, a knowledgeable wine consumer and author with retail experience, offered the following advice: “When people come in to give a hostess gift, they have a sense of the price they want to pay. But the real issue is the recipient’s wine knowledge and taste.”
“If the recipient has a limited knowledge, then a gift with a very recognizable brand name is best. Choose something very good, but less well known, if the recipient is a little more knowledgeable. Often at the same price, a less well-known product will deliver higher quality.”
Like Jerry, I like to go a little further afield to find interesting wines that may bring a fresh wine-drinking experience with the gift. I avoid wine that’s stacked by the case in the store.
If you’re giving to someone with a desire to try new things, try Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier ($12 SL). It’s a crisp, dry California white with loads of tropical fruit. It is so popular in our family, that my son served it at his wedding. Riesling, grown around the world, is another wine that can open new vistas. Look for Dr. Konstantin Frank or Herman Weimer from New York’s Finger Lakes. For an extra special bottle, seek out Eroica Riesling from Washington ($19 TW).
The Trimbach family in Alsace on the French side of the border with Germany has been making flavorful white wines for 16 generations. At Stew Leonards, Pinot Blanc ($14), Gewürztraminer (20), and Riesling (24) are all delicious.
Red wines are tougher. Pinot Noir is the go-to grape right now, but you need to spend more for a good example. My secret source of the moment is the Loring Wine Company. Sign up for their mailing list to get their excellent wines at a 30% discount with free shipping from California. Their Santa Barbara County cuvee, an 88 point wine in the Wine Enthusiast, is a steal at the sale price of $21.
This may be the time for another look at Merlot. Wildly popular before it was disparaged in the movie Sideways back in 2004, it is positioned for a comeback now. Any of these highly-rated wines from the Napa Valley are winners. Oberon (18 TW) sources its grapes from the legendary Oakville district. Sustainably farmed Napa estate vineyards are the foundation for Markham’s Merlot ($22 TW). Rutherford Ranch ($20 TW) sources fruit from around the valley to blend their notable cuvee. Napa Cabernet at this quality level would be priced two or three times higher.
You can also think outside the wine bottle. A few years ago friends brought a 375ml bottle of Basil Hayden bourbon instead of wine. It was the talk of the party, opened toward the end of the evening, and sipped by all of us eager for a taste.
I wouldn’t give any wine that I don’t drink myself. It’s always great to receive a bottle with the words, “We love this and think you will too.” When you buy wines for the house, pick up a few extras to have on hand for giving. You’ll be ready for the next social occasion.
Frank Whitman can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.c