5@5 - Tips for choosing wine as a holiday gift
December 12th, 2011
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

You may be dreaming of a white Christmas, but a red or rosé Christmas will be just fine by us too. We're not picky, after all.

But if you do have a picky wine drinker on your gift list, Jeff Meisel, the wine director for Gilt Taste, is here to help guide your sleigh toward all your holiday imbibing needs.

Five Tips To Remember When Choosing Wine for a Holiday Gift: Jeff Meisel

1. Don't be intimidated!
"First, figure out how much you want to spend, and that'll help narrow down your choices and make this process a whole lot easier and a whole lot less daunting.  Think about who you're buying for - don't just buy something that can easily be found in a grocery store; make a thoughtful choice just as you would for any other gift.

And remember, don't buy based on the 'score' alone - it's OK to ask your restaurant sommelier or the wine shop clerk questions. They'll be happy to help you find exactly what you're looking for at the price point you want to spend."

2. Food-friendly and cocktail hour-friendly wines are always a great choice
"...Especially if you're headed to a holiday party and want to bring a great bottle for the host and all the guests to enjoy. But be aware of buying inexpensive wines with high alcohol - they can be quite big and overpowering with food.  Look for wines in the 13% alcohol by volume range to have more balance."

3. If you're looking for a gift for a wine novice, you can find some really incredible bottles that are under $30
"My favorites are Barbera and Dolcetto from Northern Italy, Rhone wines from Southern France, Malbec from Argentina, and from here in the U.S. you can find some amazing Rhone blends, Chardonnay, Pinot Noirs and occasionally a great Cabernet.

Try Sandhi Wines Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2010. And, if you're totally stuck, go for a great prosecco for around $15 like Fantinel Prosecco NV or even a domestic sparkling wine for under $30.  Bubbles always work! (And, the best part is, they also pair with everything.)"

4. For someone who's more wine savvy, grab a bottle that's around $40 or $50
"It's fun to experiment and drive off the beaten path into a wine region that's still a bit uncharted, like Slovenia, for example. They produce some wonderful wines, and I love the Movia Veliko Bianco 2006 – it's a gorgeous blend of Pinot Grigio, Ribolla and Sauvignon Blanc with notes of fresh peach, almond and mineral notes; it pairs perfectly with your holiday turkey or a garlic roasted chicken.

Washington's Columbia Valley is producing some incredible Cabs as well – try the Dunham Cabernet Sauvignon XIV 2008, a great wine for wintertime, with a concentrated berry nose with hints of anise and cocoa.

And of course, you can always grab Champagne or an alternative bubbly, but don’t just settle for one of the big Champagne houses.  Try a smaller producer like Alfred Gratien Brut Classique NV, which pairs well with seafood. Think ceviche, scallops seared in butter, a meaty lobster roll. It's also the perfect bubbly for a New Year's Eve toast (with caviar too, of course!)."

5. If you're looking to splurge, dive into the classics – both old world and new – and get a great bottle between $50 and $100
"New world 'classics' from Napa Valley, Willamette Valley and the Sonoma Coast are relatively easy to find, so make the search count and look for the smaller, up-and-coming producers that are making the best, like Napa's Howell at the Moon Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (it's full-bodied and deep in flavor, and you can cellar it for the next decade; if you want to drink it now, make sure to pair it with some steak!).

In the old world, I always turn to Piemonte for Barolo.  Try this Massolino Barolo Vigna Rionda Riserve 2004, from a stellar winery in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy - it's perfect on a cozy winter evening with a slow-cooked veal osso bucco (also a Northern Italian classic!).

And if you really want to impress, try an 'orange wine' - the Vodopivec Amphora 2006 is made from a Slovenian grape called Vitovska that produces a wine that's beautifully orange in color with notes of candied citrus, white spice and flowers.  In Champagne, you can get amazing quality in this price range like this Domaine Vouette et Sorbee Fidèle Extra Brut 2008, or bubblies from growers like Fleury, Vilmart or Pierre Peters, well known producers like Ruinart and Krug."

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Sip • Think • Wine

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Jmjgkg


    December 14, 2011 at 3:35 am |
  2. Andrew

    Your forget the most important issue and question. Who's the wine for? For 95% of the population who drink wine, a $5 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, 2-3 years old from Chile would be fantastic. For the rest you have to fine out what they like first. Even a sommelier has different preferences and may love a $15 bottle of Malbec over a $100 bottle nebiolo. Be careful!

    December 13, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  3. Karen Cease

    Or you can steer away from wine and buy them a great book like 'Bouquet', G.B. Stern's story of 2 couples 1926 romp through the wine regions of France. Reprinted in a luxury limited edition http://www.eatdrink.co

    December 13, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
  4. emma

    I like a fine 'Fat Bastard' Pinot Noir...and it is in grocery stores.

    December 13, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  5. A Gust of Sun Winery

    If you live in New York support a new local winery. A Gust of Sun Winery opened August 2011. We are a family run business. We have a nice selection of red and white wines. You can purchase wine over the phone or in the tasting room. We are located 15 min from Niagara Falls, 25 min from Buffalo, and 60 min from Rochester. Check us out on facebook or visit our website http://www.agustofsun.com. We are on the Niagara Wine Trail along with 15 other wineries. When you stop by the tasting room mention this post and receive a small gift.

    December 13, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  6. Mike

    Might try Castle Rock. Very good fine and extremely reasonable prices.

    December 13, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  7. Better than average

    Trader Joe's. Less than $5/bottle.

    December 13, 2011 at 11:50 am |
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