Wine Reviews Tasting Notes and Education for the Non-Snob, by Vino Joe, a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW)

Last-Minute Wine Gifts

It's Christmas Eve and you still haven't bought a gift for someone you'll see today or tomorrow. Well that's a problem, isn't it? You can either try your luck at the mall or run into a wine shop and pick up a bottle. But what to get?

If you know what the person likes to drink, then it should be easy — assuming you can find that wine in the store. But what if you don't?

Here's an idea — buy a wine that the person likely wouldn't buy for himself or herself, but might enjoy. Re-read that last part of the sentence; you don't want to get a Napa Cab for someone you usually prefers to drink a light Pinot Grigio.

What you buy depends on what you want to spend — and whether you want the other person to know how much you spent. For example, if you buy a very well-known brand such as Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, your recipient will know that you spent about thirty bucks. Or if you buy a bottle of Opus One, the giftee knows you pulled out a Benjamin. Personally, I think buying a well-known brand is akin to leaving the price tag on a gift — but the choice is yours.

Instead, choose a wine variety or region that you know your recipient enjoys (i.e., Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chianti, Rioja, etc.) but get something a little off-the-wall, from a different region, and / or in a higher price range from what your friend normally would drink. For example, if your friend is a big fan of California Pinot Noir, get a bottle of French Pinot Noir. Or if he/she usually drinks a specific brand of Chianti Classico, choose one from a different winery in the same or higher price range. Gifting is all about getting something that the recipient normally wouldn't buy for himself / herself — and you may introduce the person to a new favorite wine.

But what if you have absolutely no idea what kind of wine your giftee drinks? Take the easy way out — buy a bottle of bubbly. If you are willing to spend the ducats, get “real” Champagne from France — there are wonderful non-vintage examples in the $25-30 range from respected houses such as Pommery, Moet et Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Nicolas Feuillatte, and others (one of my favorites is Heidsieck Monopole “Blue Top”, if you're buying for me). Nearly everyone who drinks wine appreciates a bottle of good Champagne — and even if they don't, they'll have something to bring with them to the New Year's bash next week.

Now if you have absolutely no idea what wine to get, and know for sure the person won't appreciate Champagne (I suppose it's possible?), then the next-best gift would be either a really fancy corkscrew — such as by Laguiole — or a set of high-quality lead crystal wine glasses (such as made by Riedel). With these high-ticket items, you generally will get what you pay for, and nearly every good wine shop will carry them. When it comes to the glasses, you might even consider getting one very expensive hand-blown glass — something like this Riedel Sommeliers Series Bordeaux Grand Cru. No doubt your wine geek will be thrilled with such a gift — how many people will spend upward of $75 for a wine glass? — and guard it safely in the china closet.

Last but not least, if you don't want to go to ANY store, I have one last-minute idea — a gift certificate to Restaurant.com. All you do is visit the site, buy the gift certificate, and print it out. Since most wine geeks are also “foodies”, treating him or her to a dinner at a fine restaurant is just as good, if not better, than a bottle of wine. Follow the link below for a crazy deal — THREE BUCKS for a $25 gift certificate. You read that right. Merry Christmas:

70% off sale at Restaurant.com. Purchase $25 Gift Certificates for only $3.00 with coupon code GIFTS!

Complete Wine Kits for the Wine Geek

These gifts were big hits with some wine geeks last year, so I'm presenting them again …

(click on images to learn more or buy)

7-item Wine Accessory Gift SetThis 7-item Accessory Gift Set ($55) has just about everything a wannabe snob could wish for, all encased in a fancy wood box. It includes a “patented” one-hand cork screw, thermometer, stainless steel stopper, foil cutter, wine ring, pourer, and bottle cap. Good for someone who often entertains wine drinkers and has one of those wine bar thingys in the home.

The MetroKane Houdini Wine and Stuff

($40)Metrokane Houdini Wine and Stuff Add-a-Wine Gift Set set's centerpiece item is the Houdini corkscrew, which is a variation on the Leverpull and Rabbit cork removers. It also has a foilcutter, drip-stop ring, wine sealer, identification tags, metal whacker, and extra spiral screw. All nice pieces for the wine geek in your life.

Give the Gift of Food

Not sure what to get for the foodie in your life? The easy answer is a gift certificate to a fancy restaurant, of course. But how do you know if the recipient will appreciate a specific restaurant of your choosing? There's an answer for that too — get a gift certificate from someone like Restaurant.com, where the giftee can redeem the gift at any of several thousand restaurants.

Now, I've got one better for you — a gift certificate worth $25 that costs YOU only $5. How's that for a bargain?

The catch (there's always a catch) is that you MUST use the link below and use it between now and December 13th. It's a limited-time offer for WineWeekly visitors, so take advantage while you can. In addition, anything you buy at Restaurant.com through that link will be 50% off. Too good to be true? Maybe, but it seemed too good for me not to share. Enjoy!

50% off sale for 3 days only, December 10th-13th! Use code STOCKING at check out.

Wine Gift: A Bangle For Your Bottle

It's that time of year again … time to find gifts for the wine geek in your life (or for yourself!). Let's start out with some interesting wine gifts for wine service. In our first installment, I offer you two different devices to monitor the temperature of wine bottles. (By the way, you can click on the link or picture to buy the item directly from Amazon … and help pay the server bills for this website in the process — so you'll be giving two gifts at once!)

Wine Clip Thermomenter
$15 or less

More than half of the wine bottles you pick up have a “recommended serving temperature” stated on the back label. But does anyone notice? Does anyone care? Even if you did, how would you go about finding out the exact temperature of the wine in your bottle? I suppose you could try sticking a meat thermometer into the bottle, but that would require uncorking, and few of those read below 100 degrees anyway. The cheapo trick is to stick an aquarium thermometer on the side, but that isn't so “cool”.

Enter the Wine Clip Thermometer, which does look cool (or “qool”, as my friend Tish would say), and works quite well. You simply clasp the thing around the middle of the bottle and it gives you a digital readout of the temperature.

Wine MaestroBonjour products ($20 and under)

If the bangle isn't high-tech enough for your wine geek gadget guy/girl, then maybe the Wine Maestro is. I haven't tested it out myself, but it sure looks formidable.

And if you want to get really insane, go infra-red. (over $40)

VinTemp Infrared Wine Thermometer
This handy little pen-like device comes with its own carrying case and has real James Bond appeal. Plus, it's better than the other devices, because the infrared light is able to detect the temperature of the wine INSIDE the bottle, WITHOUT removing the cork. And for some people, that's really important. I have visions of geeks walking around wine tastings pointing their infrared pens and informing vendors that their bottles are too cold / too warm. Lovely. (BTW, I have this myself and love it.)

Oh, and to go one further, you can get the VinTemp thermometer built into a corkscrew. Now THAT is efficiency — one device to both check the temperature and open the bottle when it reaches the optimum chill. It's not cheap — about $60 — but remember, holiday gift-giving is about a.) buying things that the recipient likely wouldn't buy for herself / himself; b) giving something unique; and c) giving something close to the recipient's heart. And if your giftee is passionate about wine, then this item is a no-brainer.

Keep checking back over the next few weeks, as I'll be posting more interesting and unusual gifts that will be especially appreciated by the wine geek in your life.

Wine Gift Ideas

Out of your turkey coma yet? Before you go fighting for a parking space at the local mall, why not do your shopping from the comfort of your home, while enjoying a cold turkey sandwich and a glass of wine?

Nearly everyone is into wine these days, so you can start your online shopping right here in the WineWeekly Store. I just added a “wine storage” section, which includes an ultra-cool (pardon the pun) digital wine cooler. This is a must-have for the wine geek in your life, and/or for the wine lover who “has everything”. It's a two-bottle wine cooler / warmer that gets each bottle to the exact recommended temperature for consumption — white wines, red wines, sparkling, and rose.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be adding more interesting gifts for the wine geek in your life, so check back periodically. (And if YOU see something neat, let me know.) Now, go browse the store!

Last-Minute Father’s Day Gifts

OK, you have four days left to get something for Father's Day. If you don't have the time to stop at the mall between now and Sunday, you still have 2 days to order something online That said, get moving now.

Follow these links for wine-themed Father's Day gifts:

Wine Ties
What else for Father's Day, than a tie?

High-end Corkscrews
Dad won't pay more than ten bucks for a corkscrew, right? Spoil him with one of these.

Riedel Wine Glasses

Again, if your dad won't shell out the dough for real lead crystal, it's up to you.

Wine Decanters
Aren't you tired of seeing dad use that old Inglenook carafe as a decanter? Get him something exquisite!

And the previous post gave you the idea of a Restaurant Gift Certificate. Can I make this any easier for you? Now go buy something for your dad!

FYI: A tiny portion of the sales goes toward keeping WineWeekly.com's server fees paid. Most of what is left over after those are paid, will go to charity.

Dinner for Dad

Still trying to figure out a gift for dad for Father's Day? How about dinner? Every dad likes to eat, and eat well, right?

Well check this out: Restaurant.com is offering 50% off all dining certificates between now and Father's Day — plus, you will get a free $15 Lobster Gram gift certificate with EVERY Restaurant.com purchase. Unlike most promotions, you get to combine these two if you want. So in other words, you can work it out so both you AND your dad get a gift — pretty cool, eh?

Follow either of these links to take advantage of the offers:

Dad’s Day Sale. All Dining Certificates are an extra 50% off! Use code DAD at checkout. Expires 6-17-2007.

FREE $15 Lobster Gram gift certificate with EVERY Restaurant.com purchase. Promo code will appear on the confirmation page. Exp. 6-30-07.

Follow those links and see if there is a gift certificate available to an appropriate restaurant for your dad, grand-dad, or father-in-law. Meantime, I'll be scouring for more offers and deals for Father's Day.

Power Tasting: Arcanum 1-2-3

Arcanum 1 wine labelLooking for an impressive, big-ticket bottle of wine that is cooler than the well-knowns? [Read more...]

Wine Gift: Heidsieck Champagne

Heidsieck Blue Top Champagne bottleHeidsieck & Co Monopole Blue Top Premiers Crus

When you're stumped — and pressed for time— about what to get as a gift for the wine lover in your life, the best idea is a bottle of Champagne. Champagne is the epitome of celebration, the exclamation point of a joyous occasion — and therefore a perfect gift.

However, don't just go out and get any Champagne — get something different, special, rare, memorable. Any fool can walk in and buy a bottle of Dom Perignon … so go out of your way to choose something lesser-known yet highly regarded. A bottle you can't find just anywhere. A bottle with a story. A bottle like Heidsieck & Co. Blue Top.

This Champagne has nothing to do with Charles Heidsieck, nor Piper-Heidsieck — Heidsieck & Monopole is a completely separate, individual Champagne house, and in fact, has been around since 1785. There's your story: it's not what you think it is … but it could be better. Oh, want another bit of trivia to add to the story? Just this year, a bottle of 1907 Heidsieck Monopole was sold for $4200 at the Hart Davis Hart Auction in Chicago. You got that right — forty-two-hundred, for one bottle — the most paid in 2006 for one 750ml bottle of bubbly.

There's another way to keep this Champagne separated in your mind from the others: its appearance. This “Blue Top” sparkler comes in a striking and distinctive, Corvette-yellow bottle with — you guessed it — a blue top.

But why go to the trouble of finding this particular bottle? Aren't there plenty of other Champagnes and sparkling wines to choose from, also with good stories? Well, there are. And many are very good. Some are better. But not all are distinctively packaged, and thus you may find yourself staring at a full shelf of lookalike bottles with unpronounceable French names, wondering which one was the bottle recommended by your favorite wine magazine or blogger. Sure, you can't judge a wine by its bottle any more than a book by its cover, but there's something to be said for shopping efficiency during the holiday season, and in this case, the screaming yellow bottle contains an appropriately worthwhile wine inside.

This is a dry style of Champagne, so if your gift recipient is into the sweeter sparklers, stay away. Otherwise, dive right in. You will be excited with anticipation the moment the wine is poured into the glass, as it will become charged with an abundance of aggressive, tiny bubbles that develop an immediate, full foam (or mousse, as the French call it). Take a moment to stick your nose in the glass, and you will be rewarded with a clean, citrusy, slightly toasted aroma that also has a hint of mineral. In the mouth, you get very similar flavors as were on the nose, along with a touch of honey and pear, all tightly wound by a stiffly acidic wrapper. It has excellent structure, yet remains elegant and has the perception of being lighter than it really is.

If you always drink sparkling wines alone, you might not understand the acidity — until you start popping hors d'oeuvres in your mouth. The Blue Top is wonderful for the table top, as it pairs perfectly with a variety of appetizers, can match with most fish and white meats, and will temper the heat of a hot and spicy dish. Champagne is not enjoyed with food often enough, and this bottle is as good an excuse as any to break that trend.

I originally discovered this sparkler at a Champagne tasting a few months ago, and found it to be the best of a very competitive bunch — to me it was more enjoyable than several better known, much more expensive Champagnes against which I tasted head-to-head (including two of James Bonds' favorites). Tasting it again, alone, and with food, it's still impressive and becoming one of my favorite sparklers.

It may be hard to find, but is well worth the search. Consider it your little secret, and as a gift for the holidays. The recipient will not be disappointed.

Find this wine at a local retailer through Wine-Searcher or Vinquire

Wine Gift: Electric Bottle Opener