Although a plain, brown bag might suffice for some winos, others want their Holiday/Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa/Whatever-Else gift in a plush velvet bag. I’m pretty sure I own every kitschy, wine-related knickknack that has emerged from China’s belching factories, and the velvet bags are often the best part. But there are some items that wine enthusiasts actually want or even need — and they don’t have to be expensive. This guide might ease the pain of today’s ailing economy.
Wines. Less adventurous: Calina Chardonnay Reserva, Chile ($9); more adventurous: St. Francis 2005 Red Sonoma ($12); very adventurous: Almira Los Dos Grenache/Syrah ($10).
Wine charms. Despite their cutesy cheesiness, they’re useful when you have a dozen matching wine glasses (ditto for martini glasses). $10 for a set of four on most specialty wine websites. If you’re creative, you can design your own using wares found at crafts stores. (Some cool ones)
Vacu Vin Rapid Ice Wine Chiller. This handy frozen girdle fits around a wine bottle and chills it within 20 minutes. $10 at Amazon.com or at upscale kitchen stores. Also useful to keep sparkling wine bottles cold.
Wines. Less adventurous: Catena 2007 Chardonnay Mendoza ($18); more adventurous: Blackstone Sonoma Reserve 2005 Rubric ($20); really adventurous: Clos de Siete 2007 Red Wine Mendoza ($18).
Vacu Vin Wine Bottle Stoppers. Everyone should own this tool. On those rare days when finishing a bottle isn’t an option, fit the rubber, corklike stopper into the top, then use the hand pump to suck out the offending oxygen. About $12 at most kitchen stores and on Amazon.com.
Books on wine. For the wine newbie, an informative, down-to-earth book by Marnie Old called Wine Secrets ($14 at Amazon.com) or the perennial bible by Kevin Zraly, Windows on the World Complete Wine Course ($15 on Amazon.com; for the geeks in your life, there’s the enlightening To Cork or Not to Cork, by George Taber ($12 on Amazon.com) — it chronicles the pros and cons of cork versus screwtop, or First Big Crush by Eric Arnold ($16 on Amazon.com), an entertaining diary of his experience during harvest in New Zealand.
Wine aroma kit. For true geeks learning to train their noses to distinguish wine aromas (professionals often use it for exercise). Companies charge more than $100 for what you can build for less than $20. Fill film canisters or small glass bottles half-full of each of the following: crushed coffee beans, cinnamon sticks, cherry cola, cloves, raspberry jam, tobacco leaves (cigar is best), black cherry jam, green pepper, dirt, grapefruit rinds, lemon or lime rinds, dried mushrooms and leather. The premise is to smell the wine, then smell the essences and find similarities. Very cool for parties and has that shabby chic homemade feel. People love that.
Mo’ Money ($25-plus)
Wines. How about a mixed half or whole case? Review a few of my archived columns and buy six to 12 bottles. No need for wrapping the cardboard box; put a bow on top and smile. OR, if you’re looking to blow a wad and impress someone, Bern’s Fine Wines and Spirits still has 2005 Opus One in stock.
A decent wine opener. Another necessary item: a Screwpull wine opener and foil cutter. No complicated levers, no hassle. Retails for $25 on Amazon.com but you might be able to find it cheaper locally.
Good wine glasses. I buy Spiegelau crystal since they’re cheaper than Riedel and I can’t tell the difference. But Riedel has a unique line of stemless glasses called “O.” Riedel O Wine Tumbler Cabernet/Merlot on Amazon