Wine makes a great gift during the winter holidays, or for birthdays and special occasions year round. It has the advantage of being easily getable yet also encompassing a lot of diversity to satisfy the eclectic tastes of both the gift giver and recipient. But it's not as easy to give a good gift as it is to find just any bottle; too run of the mill and you come off as unthoughtful, but too exotic takes you into risky territory. These five tips will help.
1) Focus on mid-range price bottles, unless you've a really good reason to do otherwise. There's a lot of great wine in the $15 - $30 range. I like this price point for holiday gift giving because it (1) fits in most gift budgets, and is especially well suited for gift exchanges, (2) shows that you didn't just go for the cheapest option, (3) doesn't put any pressure on the recipient to reciprocate with something too extravagant.
2) Stay away from the most common grape varietals such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. If you're buying a gift for someone who you know loves this stuff, perhaps one of these will be a good call. The sweet spot, though, is going with someone common enough to broadly likable, but interesting enough to show you put some thought into it. Malbec and a true red Zinfandel work well in the reds, while I think Albariño makes a great gift-giving white.
3) Consider unique regions with which you and your recipient can identify. If you've recently taken a trip to a winemaking area of the world, consider a bottle from that region (even if you're buying it at home) with a note saying how something you did or saw while away reminded you of the recipient, so you thought you'd share. If your recipient loves wine with food, consider a Pinot Noir from Oregon with a comment about you these tend to be heartier food-paring Pinots. A modicum of forethought can take your gift from being a ho-hum bottle of wine to being rather unique. Ask your wine merchant for help.
4) Don't be intimidated by a recipient who knows more about wine than you do. Wine is a great gift for people who love wine, but it can be challenging to feel confident about a gift given to someone who knows so much about it. Most wine aficionados will appreciate a bottle given in good spirit, especially when you've taken some of my other tips here into account. If they aren't appreciative, why are you getting them anything at all?
5) Consult our recent reviews on Wine:Thirty Flight, and go out in search of something that strikes you. We picked our Top 5 December wines with the holidays in mind, and our Thanksgiving wine recommendations remain completely valid through the winter. We've also recently introduced you to wine from Spain and wine from the Balkans. You have plenty of material to work with here, and (we think) all of these wines fit the "interesting" bill!
At the end of the day, giving wine is like giving any other gift. The name of the game is to be thoughtful, be fun, or be both. If you play your cards right, your gift recipient may even crack the bottle open before the two of you part ways. The best gifts are ones you get to experience together. Cheers!
Extra: Seek out a proper wine shop, especially if you're picking a wine for someone who knows more about wine than you do. This one was left in comments by our friends from Luxe Adventurer Traveler, and very worth of inclusion. "You can talk with the shop keeper and they can help you select a bottle of wine." Good call.