December 01, 2004

Holiday wine giving

"What am I going to bring them?" you ask, standing in the middle of the wine store overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices. Sound familiar? It happens to me all the time at this time of year, when the holidays rev into high gear. To cut down on stress, I've devised a few tricks for buying wines that are always welcomed with a real smile.

1. Buy bubbles. I've met only one person in my lifetime who doesn't like bubbles, and he knows he's odd. He also graciously takes in bottles of bubbly, knowing he'll have company that will love them. Sparkling wine doesn't have to be expensive: Check out Italy's Prosecco and Spain's Cava for great deals under $20.

2. Buy sweet wines. People rarely buy dessert wines, so you can be sure you won't be adding to a deep pile of gifted Chardonnays. And sweet wines are nature's gift to humans, particularly harried hosts who haven't gotten around to making dessert. One small glass offers plenty enough deliciously honeyed flavor to end an evening on a sweet note.

3. Buy on sentiment. Have you ever shared a delicious bottle of wine with this person? Buy a bottle of that wine to bring back the memory. Has the host recently returned from a trip to Portugal or other wine-growing place, or does she have a love for all things Italian? Pick a bottle that will resonate with your host's experiences or loves, and she'll appreciate it for the thought you put into choosing it.

4. Dazzle with obscurity. Most people fear they'll pick a wine that the host has already had and doesn't like. The easiest way around this is to pick something they haven't had before. How? Ask your wine shop if they have any wines for which they are the exclusive seller; you might be able to get a special selection from a known winery that isn't widely available. Alternatively, spring for a Nemea from Greece; a Falanghina from Italy; a bottle from Slovenia, or some other lesser-known winemaking country. Chances are, the hosts won't have tasted these wines, and will not have any preconceived ideas of it. Chances are, they'll be pleasantly surprised when they try it.

5. Splurge. It's the easy way out, but if you have the money, this is one of those problems you can solve by throwing money at it. Name-droppers and wine lovers alike will appreciate a blue-chip bottle of California Cabernet or Bordeaux from France.

Regardless what wine you pick, don't be offended if the host doesn't open it up while you're there. The wine was a gift, after all, which means it's for the recipient to do with what she wishes. Besides, leaving the bottle there means the hosts will think of you long after you've gone home.

This article first appeared in the Denver Post.

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