‘Tis the holiday season and the parties are aplenty, which often means receiving an invitation and an obligatory token gift to the host. And, really, what’s a better gift than a nice bottle of wine? Being someone who likes wine but has the memory of a goldfish, I often end up selecting vino based on cool labels or funny sounding names. (I hear the groans and eye rolls from connoisseurs, and I get it, I shake my head at myself too.) That’s why I’ve enlisted the help of Alex and Priya from A Vine Romance to provide guidance in selecting the wine that’s just right.
Where does one start?
First questions to ask yourself are: What do I know about the person I’m buying for and what is my budget, i.e. how much does this person mean to me? Is it a friend-of-a-friend’s house party you’re buying for, a BFF or your future father-in-law? Totally different approach (and price tag obviously) for each relationship! For a decent host/hostess gift you would probably look at spending between $17 and $25, (you can find a great list of the Top 20 under $20 for December here.
What should I know about the host before entering the wine aisle?
Break it down—is this person an avid wine connoisseur like Alex or more of a casual drinker like Priya? It would be useful to know a bit about their unique tastes—do they prefer classic styles of wine or the fruitier, bolder wines of the New World? Remember, when gifting someone a wine you should buy them something they wouldn’t likely buy for themselves, so surprise them! If they’re a connoisseur, look for something more off the beaten track. Try looking for lesser-known varietals or countries of origin. We’ve tried some great-priced wines from Georgia, the Ukraine and Austria for example. Even Spain, a bastion of the Old World, is often under-appreciated and has great wines at all price points. For a connoisseur, it’s more about learning about wine than just drinking what they already know they like! On the other hand, for a casual drinker you don’t necessarily want to shock their palate but you do want to broaden their horizons a bit. Fan of Pinot Grigio? Try a nice French Vouvray! Love California Chardonnay? Get them a Chablis from Burgundy! If they like Ontario Riesling, try a German one instead! Buy a Sancerre for those who like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or an Amarone (Priya’s fave!) for lovers of big, bold, Californian reds.
My host’s a vegan, help! What options are there for those with dietary restrictions?
Thought you’d stump us with that one huh?! Luckily, Priya is vegan and we have North America’s first vegan-certified winery right here in Prince Edward County. Karlo Estates has a fabulous variety of wines including a red and, very rare, white port. Winemaker Richard Karlo, who recently lost his battle with cancer, was a master winemaker and innovator and we are huge fans of his wines. Plus they’re local! Here’s a tip—look at the back label of a wine. If it says ‘unfiltered’ and/or ‘unfined’, it means they haven’t filtered the wine and therefore have not used animal products in its production. In other words, it’s most likely a vegan-friendly wine.
If I bring one for the host as a gift, what should I bring to be imbibed imminently?
First of all, good on you for having the good manners to BYOB and also bring a bottle as a hostess gift! Now to answer your question on what to bring to drink imminently, bring what you like but be different and don’t buy the same old bottles you see at every party. Coming with an unknown bottle is a conversation starter and gives everyone there an opportunity to try something new. In a room full of people and palates it’s bound to be someone’s taste so there’s little risk involved!
Any other tips to share?
Just a few! Don’t let ‘ratings’ and ‘scores’ fool or dissuade you from buying wine. There are dozens of top reviewers reviewing any given wine and the “4 star” tag you see at the store is really just the opinion of one critic so don’t take it as the gospel truth. If you walk into the liquor store and feel overwhelmed, ask the product consultants for assistance. They are great resources to help you find wines outside the most popular brands. The only thing truly reliable in wine is who is making it. The producer is paramount. If you do a bit of research and find a winemaker you like, they will ultimately produce a great wine in every price point. Lastly, price does not equal quality as many wine regions have become overpriced simply due to their popularity. The Loire Valley of France, Barolo in Italy and the Rieslings of Germany and Austria continue to be some of the best wines for the buck. Happy shopping!
P.S. Brushing with a bit of baking soda once a week will help keep those red wine stains under control!
Happy sipping! Get out there and explore this holiday season!