Now that the holiday shopping season has kicked off, it's time to think about what present the wine lover on your gift list would love to unwrap.
The easy way out would be to go to your favorite wine shop and pick out a bottle based on price or brand name alone. Nobody's going to get mad at being gifted a bottle from, say, Chateau Montelena or a fine French bubbly. But with just a little bit of extra thought and homework, there's an opportunity to get a bottle that will not only be cherished but also won't break the bank.
For those who want to keep it local, consider wines from the Fair Play area of the Sierra foothills, including Perry Creek and Skinner Vineyards. Rhône varietals are the speciality of these high-altitude vineyards, showing a balance and elegance that is not often found around the greater Sacramento area.
Here's what to say to the pinot lover on your list:
"I hope you enjoy this bottle of grenache from Skinner. The winemaker used to work at Marcassin in Sonoma County you know, the bottle you spent $250 for and he's got a pinot-style touch with a lot of his reds."
Not bad for just $26, right?
For other wine shopping advice, we turned to longtime local wine consultant and educator Donal Smith. He recommends Italian wines for gift giving for their wide stylistic varieties and food-friendliness. For those who like a lighter wine, a prosecco or pinot grigio from the north of Italy will surely be appreciated. Fans of fuller-bodied wines will certainly love a Barolo.
Back in the States, Smith says, you can't go wrong with Oregon pinot noir, which often results in a lighter Burgundian style compared with its California counterparts. Look for such producers as Kudos, which specializes in low-cost yet thoroughly enjoyable pinots, plus Argyle and Sharecropper.
"You can find some really incredible examples of pinot noir in Oregon," Smith said. "It's more elegant and less heavily oaked than you'll find in California, and I like giving it as gifts because it shows you've done your homework."
Another fine option for wine-related gift giving: Treat them to one of Smith's wine-appreciation classes. They're held over the course of three weeks, cost $89 and include hors d'oeuvres and all handouts. Check Smith's website for upcoming classes at www.donalsmithwines.com.