Liquids: Holiday Wine Gifts

By divine design I am not the most patient man in the world. My friends and family would agree—especially my mom, who frequently exhorts me to “take a chill pill, will ya?” (I don’t like pills so I usually take a nip of Cognac when I’m feeling anxious.) I used to get especially agitated at this manic time of year, what with all the holiday buying madness on the streets, but I long ago figured out a solution to all of my holiday buying obligations: one-stop shopping—at the wine store.

I’ve figured out over the years that I’ve chosen a pretty good gig for myself, one that allows me to impress—and please—family, friends, and colleagues simply by turning them on to a wine that’s new or different. For the most part, I buy wine for everyone on my holiday list; to the teetotalers and expectant moms I give a fabulous sparkling cider from France that looks like a bottle of Champagne (read on). Think about it: Instead of running around to 15 different stores, or braving the throngs at the mall, I go to my favorite local wine shop, spend an hour or two perusing the shelves, and within one afternoon I have everyone on my list covered—even the mail carrier.

Great idea, eh? Of course it is, and it keeps me very, very calm. But if you’re wondering where I shop, the answer has two parts: first, that’s another column (stay tuned), and, second, it doesn’t matter for your purposes. You should go to any good wine shop (and while I have many conditions that define this, suffice it to say it should have good air conditioning, even at this time of year) and look up my recommendations. The beauty of my list—if I dare say so—is that it’s only a guide, and if you can’t find one of my mentions, a good wine shop will have a salesperson on the floor who should help you find something that’s similar in style, quality, and price. Speaking of which, the prices listed here are “suggested retail,” so if you live in a fancy neighborhood, that’s your problem. I’m also not going to get into vintages, which I don’t pay much attention to unless I’m spending a lot of money. Now, let’s shop aisle by aisle.

While Champagne is an obvious favorite category for me, I buy sparkling wines for people like my Nanna Rose, who loves sparkling wine but couldn’t care less about whether it was aged in a cave in France for five years. My picks: from Spain, Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut ($10) and Freixenet Brut Nature ($14). From Italy, Martini & Rossi Asti ($10), Mionetto Prosecco Brut Spumante ($11), and Italy’s answer to Champagne, Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta Brut NV ($32). From California, Chandon Brut Classic ($17), Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blancs ($24), and Domaine Carneros Brut Vintage($25). Two great Hanukkah choices from Israel are Carmel Blanc de Blancs ($12) and Yarden Brut ($20). And last, for my friends who don’t drink alcohol—and expectant moms who wish they could—there’s Duché de Longueville French Sparkling Cider ($5.95).

Call me a suck-up, but I’ve always bought my editors France’s real deal. That’s because even the word “Champagne” says quality—and that’s what I want them to think of when they read my copy. I really don’t care much for gift sets, but I like the two flutes included in the Laurent-Perrier Brut NV ($29.99); it’s also a great gift for my bachelor buddies who have bad glassware. Otherwise, I’d recommend Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rosé ($35), Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Yellow Label Brut NV ($49.99), Ruinart Champagne Brut NV ($48), Taittinger Brut la Française ($46), and Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé Brut ($210), Moët & Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon ($120), and DP’s just-released Oenothèque Vintage 1990 ($240). For my wife, Antonia, an Internet marketing manager, I make an exception and shop online for a gorgeous three-pack of Champagne Pommery POP ($36; exclusively through, painted with beautiful Matissesque patterns by French artist Olivier Lannaud.

Let’s tackle these one grape at a time.

Chardonnay. There are so many to choose from I don’t know where to begin. But any one of them—well, make that a case—would make my sister Gina perfectly happy. She prefers full-bodied whites with bold character, so I’d buy her, from France, Antonin Rodet Bourgogne ($12), Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils Chablis ($18), or Louis Jadot Meursault ($22) and Pouilly-Fuissé ($24). From California I’d recommend R. H. Phillips Toasted Head ($14), Wente Vineyards Riva Ranch ($17), Cuvaison Estate Selection ($34), Talbott Sleepy Hollow ($42), and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Beckstoffer Ranch ($40).

Sauvignon Blanc. My mom, like me, prefers more pronounced acidity, which makes any of these wines perfect with food. From California I spot three bargains: Dunnewood Vineyards Mendocino County ($7); Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull ($10), and Kenwood Vineyards Sonoma County ($11)—plus one that’s pricey but worth it: J. Lohr “Carol’s Vineyard” ($18). From France there’s Château de Sancerre “Sancerre” ($15) and Pascal Jolivet’s Sancerre ($20) and Pouilly-Fumé ($20).

I will continue to try to convince my friends who like “white zinfandel” (I won’t name names) that it takes only one sip to realize that there are many gorgeous pink wines available that are made with real style and finesse, offering plenty of fruit without the sweetness, such as Chimney Rock Rosé of Cabernet Franc ($21) and M. Chapoutier Tavel Beaurevoir ($29).

Pinot Noir. My best bud, Diego, is a diehard Pommard fan, so I buy that for him and other friends who appreciate the subtle power that this grape yields. From France, there’s Bouchard Père & Fils Beaune Clos de la Mousse ($40), Joseph Drouhin Aloxe-Corton ($35), and, for Diego, Louis Jadot Pommard ($34). From California I like Edmeades Anderson Valley ($20), Domaine Carneros ($27), and Domaine Chandon ($29).

Merlot. My sister Lisa likes her reds full-bodied, but more fruity than tannic, so I’d buy her a St. Supéry ($22), St. Francis Reserve “Behler Vineyard” ($45), or Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley ($57).

Zinfandel. Zin is one of those grapes that I give to turn people on to something juicy, spicy, and different. I spot three that I like immediately: Talus Lodi ($8), Ravenswood Vintners Blend ($10), and St. Francis “Old Vines” ($24).

Cabernet Sauvignon. Just as in the chardonnay aisle, there are a gazillion cabernets to choose from. My brother-in-law Gregg likes them rich and powerful, so I pick with him in mind, in several price levels, including Covey Run ($9), Grgich Hills Napa Valley ($45), and—for me—Cakebread Cellars Benchland Select ($101).

Others. I buy these to take to dinner parties and on the house-hopping circuit (from lightest to fullest in body): Feudo Monaci Primitivo ($9), Rapitalà Nuhar ($11), M. Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône “Belleruche” Rouge ($13.99), Bolla Amarone della Valpolicella ($45), and Pio Cesare Barolo ($79).