food and beverage underground

Holiday Gifts For The Wine Lover

by Kevin Packer
(Salt Lake City, Utah)

I think that wine often tells us about our lives. How often have you had an amazing wine without it being ensconced in a wonderful story? My guess would be not very often. Like the time I first enjoyed an Italian wine I was at dinner with several frienda in an Italian restaurant in Los Angeles. We were on vacation and my two friends from Utah and I were visiting a good friend there. He took us to a wonderful restaurant called Farfalle in the Los Feliz area. It’s exposed brick walls, dark wood tables and candle lit ambiance will forever be embedded in my memory. It might have been the first time that people expected me to know about wine given my profession and on this occassion I was asked to pick the wine. I chose a safe cabernet sauvignon (I don’t remember the choice now). However the server returned to inform me they were out of that wine at the moment. As he handed the wine menu back he suggested I might try the Bolla valpolicella as it was similar to the wine I had chosen both in flavor and in price. I hesitated only slightly because the young man seemed to know what he was talking about. The table loved the wine very much I learned to venture away from my “safe” choices. Every time I open up a bottle of this Valpolicella it brings me back to that very wonderful dinner with my old friends. These days I love to try Italian and French wines. I also very often experiment and make it a point to get others to try my “finds”. I owe that server much more than the excessive tip I gave him.


Gift Giving For the Holidays
Now don’t get on a tangent and tell me how bad that wine is! It’s a decent wine and I put it on my lists when I join new restaurant teams but it’s by no means a great wine. It’s a wine I might keep around the house for everyday use however. But the point is the STORY not the wine. My father and I both enjoy red wines and I try to keep it around for special occasions and for family dinner. Mother enjoys a rare glass of white wine. My parents are not bubbly drinkers. I bought several bottles of champagne and sparkling wine for their 65th wedding anniversary and never opened one. My point here is to give appropriate gifts at this time of year. I rarely drink vodka anymore but about 12 years ago that was my alcohol of choice. My freezer holds 3 bottles of the clear liquid that I received two years ago for birthday and Christmas gifts. Get my point? If you are giving wine or alcohol as a gift do a little research and find out what the intended actually enjoys. It’s okay to stretch someone's’ knowledge but there is a jumping off point. If they usually drink Popov, upgrade them to Absolut or Grey Goose. If they drink white zinfandel then start them on the road to reds with a bottle of their favorite AND and bottle of a sweet syrah or petite syrah.

Here are some suggestions in different price ranges for wine:

Pinot Grigio
Pinot Grigios are great wines for food. They are gaining popularity along with Pinot Noir (See red wines below). The pinot grape comes from the Veneto area of Italy and came across the pond many, many years ago. Although my favorites are Italian the Californians and Washingtonians are really making some nice ones. Flavors of the grape, which is also called Pinot Gris (meaning Grey Pine cone probably because of shape of the clusters and the color of the skin) in some areas, can range from melon to pear while some even offer a subtle tropical or citrus fruit, often there is honey and a smokiness though this wine probably never sees wood or oak during processing. The color should be a pale, straw yellow with a little golden hue. Very much a characteristic of this wine is the texture as it has very silky and smoothness to it that leaves a long finish.
Here are some good pics:
King Estate Pinot Grigio, Oregon. $16.00
Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, Italy $24.00
Trimbach Reserver Pinot Gris, France $24.99

Chardonnay
LIke Cabernet, this grape c an grow just about anywhere and adapts to different soils very well. It’s native home is Burgundy, France but California now reigns as capital of this wine. The climate determines very much how the wine will result. In cooler climates such as New Zealand and France the wine is bright and lively. In warmer climates like California and Australia it takes on a heavier body and rich tropical flavors. Also, because California vintners often use oak barrel aging, it is warm, buttery and creamy. These days, however, the trend is “un-oaked” and stainless steel barrel aging to bring out the bright and flavorful fruit flavors.
Veremonte Chardonnay Reserva, Chile $ 9.99
Geyser Peak Russian River, Chardonnay, Russian River $19.99
Grgich Hills Chardonnay, Napa $38.99
Joseph Drouhin Puligny-Montrachet, Burgundy France $50.00

Pinot Noir
Pinto Noir grapes are grown around the world, mostly in the cooler regions, but the grape is chiefly associated with the Burgundy region of France. It is considered to produce some of the finest wines in the world but it is also very difficult to cultivate and then turn into wine thus giving wine drinkers a little more love of this product. Because it is lighter in style this wine is enjoying a trend of more restrained, less alcoholic wines. Robert Parker said in Parker's Wine Buying Guide: "When it's great, Pinot noir produces the most complex, hedonistic, and remarkably thrilling red wine in the world..."
Villa Marie Private Bin Pinot Noir, New Zealand $20.00
Rodney Strong Russian River Pinot Noir, California $22.00
Archery Summit Premier Cuvee Pinot Noir $55.00
Belle Glos Taylor Lane Pinot Noir, Sonoma, $55.00
Louis Jadot Chambertin Clos de Beze, Burgundy, France $199.00


Cabernet Sauvignon
Many refer to this varietal as the “King” of red grapes. It’s an easily grown grape and thus flourishes all over the globe yet has the ability to keep it’s character in all this diversity. This small grape is big on content, color and tannin which makes it a “big” wine full of flavor and nuance. This is a grape that fluctuates widely in flavor because of the whims of the climate but mostly because of the winemakers. They can influence this grape to range from subtle to robust depending on the harvest time and to what grapes they blend it with. Very few Cab Sauvs are 100% of this grape. They are commonly blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and , sometimes Malbec.
Greg Norman Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, California $18.00
Benziger Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma $19.99
Clos Du Val Cabernt Sauvignon, Napa $29.99
Pine Ridge Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa $55.00
Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz $125.00

Malbec
In Bordeaux, France this was once a common grape and used to soften more robust wines, Malbec has increased its status in Argentina and Chile these days. Argentineans have adopted Malbec as their national grape in fact. I love the soft velvet feel on my tongue and the many layers of the grape. Educate someone by bringing this wine to your Holiday Dinner invitation.
Punto Final Malbec Classico, Argentina $ 12.99
Terra Rosa Malbec, Chili $14.99


Gifts for the Wine Enthusiast in Your Life
Glassware ranges in size and shape from tiny and tall to short and stout and all the way to tall and stout. I agree with the Wine writers for the Wall Street Journal. Give glasses that are large, sturdy and cheap! Everyone that has ever owned a Riedel crystal set lives in fear of breaking one of these $20.00+ glasses. You won’t even want to remove them from the box! So I say find a glass that suits any type of wine and buy two sets of 4 and then drop a note in the box that says something like “I hope you enjoy these glasses, use them with love and I’ll buy you another set next year!” A few rules however:

* Make sure the glass is at least 13 oz but preferably over 16 oz and up to about 22 oz. Not to fill it that much but you need room to swirl

* The glass should have a sturdy stem

* The “bowl” of the glass should slope slightly inward at the top to keep the bouquet in. Avoid apple shaped glasses

* Champagne flutes are to keep the bubbles from dissipating too quickly. The bowl type of champagne glass (said to be fashioned after Marie Antoinette's breasts!) are nostalgic and magical but hard to find

* Don’t get caught up in all the different glasses for each kind of wine. If your gift recipient is that much of a wine connoisseur then they already own glasses and you will probably only embarrass yourself trying to purchase stemware for them.

* Stay aways from colors, etching and painted types unless you are buying for your Grandmother


Macy’s sells Lenox Crystal “Tuscany Classic” set of 4 for $54.00 and it often goes on sale for $39.99. This is an impressive set and won’t break the bank or hearts if they are broken.
Target offers a Luigi Bormioli set of 4 for $24.99. It’s an all purpose but large enough and nice enough to set at the best dinner tables. Dillards is offering the Wine Enthusiast Fusion glass set of 4. It is quoted as “the most break-resistant glass in the world” and each glass is 20 oz. This is the glass for me! It’s suggested retail is $49.99 for the set of four. And for champagne flutes Dillards also gets my vote for the Lenox Tuscany Classic set of 4, 6.5 oz glasses for $29.99 on sales for Christmas.


I hope you have a wonderful Holiday Season and the best New Year ever!

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