Wine makes an excellent holiday gift for just about anyone on your list. From your trusty dog walker, friendly neighbourhood sanitation worker, to your roommate, to your kid’s teacher, it’s rare that a bottle of vino goes unappreciated. It can be as modest or extravagant as you like — within limits — and, if you like wine, shopping (online, for instance) for a good bottle can be almost as much fun as receiving one.
That being said, there is a lot of pressure around making the right choice. Like any gift, a bottle of wine sends a message. If you’re not careful, that message could be the wrong one. Below, we’ll cover the most important points to consider while buying and giving wine, so that your present is guaranteed to be well-received.
First things first, make sure the person you are buying for drinks. If they’re a recovering addict, or their faith prohibits consuming alcohol, giving them a bottle of your favourite Pinot Noir will not go over well. Make sure you’re well-acquainted enough with the individual in question before buying them booze.
Even if they don’t normally drink wine, you should be able to find one that they like. But if alcohol is a no-go, it’s time to find an alternative.
How can you avoid looking cheap without maxing out your credit card? The simple answer: Stick to something between twenty and thirty dollars.
Past the twenty dollar mark, you’re more or less certain to be buying a wine with distinct character and qualities; under twenty dollars, and you risk straying into bargain basement, slightly-better-than-table varieties which, by their label — and the fact that the liquor store’s aisles are packed with them — are easily recognizable as such.
Over thirty dollars, and you’re getting extravagant. Most gift wines pricier than this are not making a statement with their quality as with the amount you’re willing to spend.
It’s okay to adjust your selection according to what the person you’re buying for usually prefers. If their go-to is a half gallon of white zinfandel, they might not have the palate or interest level needed to appreciate a bottle from your favourite biodynamic, farm gate producer. In that case, it’s safe to flirt with the twenty dollar line.
In this case, consider getting a wine that comes in a heavier bottle. Certain brands intentionally ship their product in heavier bottles; it gives a sense of luxury, indulgence and quality, even if the contents aren’t always something to write home about.
This is totally acceptable. Your goal is to make the recipient feel appreciated, and if they’re not particularly interested in the profile or provenance of the wine you’re giving them, a heavy, fancy bottle might be the way to do this.
But if you know you’re buying a gift for an oenophile, it’s time to pull out the big guns. Use their tastes as an excuse to buy an interesting, more obscure and/or dearer bottle.
There are many occasions when you will be invited to a meal and feel inclined to bring a bottle of wine as a gift. It’s a great idea, but if you’re not careful, you run the risk of being disappointed.
You might put a ton of time and effort into selecting the perfect bottle to delight your host and fellow guests, only to see it left to the side, unopened, for the duration of the night. Either your host has already chosen their own wine pairing, or they’ve misinterpreted your gesture to mean the wine is just for them, not to be shared.
If you’ve done your research ahead of time, found out what was to be served, and chosen a wine to complement it, make sure your intentions are clear: “Here, I thought this would go well with dinner tonight.” If you’ve purchased a bottle with no relation to dinner whatsoever, with the aim that your guest will enjoy it later, go with, “Here, I brought you something for your collection.”
One more thing: If you intend for your gift to be consumed on-site and it’s a white or sparkling wine, make sure it is chilled ahead of time. Don’t assume your host has space in their fridge or freezer for another bottle — or the patience to wait for it to cool.
Handing over a bare bottle can come across as crude or poorly-thought-out. You’re giving a gift, after all; it should be wrapped.
Wine gift bags are great because they’re reusable. Still, if you’re buying twenty bottles for twenty different people this year, the collected cost of gift bags could add up.
Here’s the perfect solution: When you buy the wine, get a paper bag for it. Then add an inexpensive ribbon or bow, and maybe a little card or label. It’s a casual, understated way to give someone the gift of a bottle. And it’s totally appropriate. After all, the quality of the wine, not of the wrapping, should show how much you care.
Just a quick note: You can up your present game by accompanying your wine with a bit of food. Some really good paté, cured meats or cheese will turn your gift of a drink into the gift of a luxurious snack. It's also a great chance to show off your pairing skills. Alternatively, print out a tastng note or points score or critic review of your wine and add that to the gift bag.
We can talk about dinner party etiquette, presentation, price and pairing, but the question at the heart of this issue is, “Which wine should I buy?”
There is no easy answer. Your choice will depend on your own tastes, the tastes of your guests, what’s available where you live, and how much you’re willing to spend (within the tasteful limits set above, of course).
However, in cases of severe doubt, there are some loose guidelines to which you can turn.
If you’re going to a dinner party and aim to bring a bottle people can enjoy on-site, talk to your host ahead of time and find out what they’ll be serving. If they won’t give you a straight answer, or if you don’t know them super well, go with a safe bet.
A safe bet would be either a dry, unoaked white or a juicy, medium-bodied red. These are good middle-of-the-road options that pair acceptably well with a wide variety of foods, but can also be enjoyed on their own.
Or go the sparkling route. Everybody — from beer-drinkers to the most hardcore oenophile — loves a glass of bubbly. In a dinner party setting, the inclination will be to open the bottle before eating, so pairing is not an issue. As a gift for someone whose tastes you don’t know, or who doesn’t often drink wine, sparkling wine is a special treat. Just the act of popping the bottle becomes a ritual, and during a time of year when everyone is getting together and celebrating the people they care about, it’s great punctuation to any gathering.
Most important, make sure you take pleasure in giving wine as a gift. If you enjoy wine — and why else would you be reading this? — then buying it as a gift is an awesome excuse to learn more, try new varieties, and shop around. And, once people know you like giving wine as a present, and that you put an effort into making the right choices, they’re sure to begin repaying the kindness. After all, the only thing more enjoyable than giving someone a great bottle is receiving one.