Oh, the Holidays… for so many it’s a season of peace on Earth and good will towards man… and a never-ending hellscape of gift giving, receiving, shopping and endless attempts of trying to remember whether your boss likes red or white (false, turns out he only drinks gin). This isn’t even taking into your realization that it’s not longer “enough” for your child to take cookies to her preschool teacher, that’s apparently soooo 1998. Oh, and your neighbor who got your mail for you that long weekend you were away at a wedding? Apparently she’s expecting a little Christmas Cheer as well.
The good news is that for every gift giving crisis, there is a solution (and yeah, chemically speaking, alcohol is a solution- and no, I won’t apologize for the pun). Every holiday season I make sure to spend at least a week in a store selling wine, beer and spirits to the huddled masses- it helps me to keep a finger on the pulse of the consumer and the typical problems they are facing- and this has helped me to create my list of questions I have been frequently asked and honest suggestions to solve them.
Q: I need a gift for my (insert acquaintance-level here)- I don’t know if they drink red or white. What should I buy them?
A: How much are you willing to spend? For a neighbor, a colleague, a Secret Santa, etc- I’d keep it $12-18 dollars- just enough to know you thought about them, but clearly you’re not about to drop a ton on someone who you don’t even know well enough to really know what they like to drink. I’d stick to major varietals- the harsh reality is that even if they don’t like Chardonnay, they probably interact regularly with people who do that it won’t go to waste. If you swing really far, buying a NZ Sauvignon Blanc, there’s a good chance the person not only doesn’t really care for Sauv Blanc, but a super grassy New Zealand style is possibly a bridge way too far. I say stick to Cabernet (I like Sextant, Cruz Alta from Chile), Chardonnay (Angeline, Muirwood, or if you can find a great White Burgundy in your price range you’re all set); or anything Sparkling (I’m going to suggest a nice Cremant from France- all the elegance of Champagne but at a fraction of the price).
Remember, this is genuinely a time when it’s the thought that counts- having been thoughtful enough to think of getting them a gift at all is what really matters here.
Q: I want to buy wine for my (friend/daughter-in-law/friend/boss) and I don’t really know what they like to drink… but I know they like history/shoes/frogs/Spain…
A: Oh wow. This is probably one of the questions I legit get at least 12 times/day. I have a few thoughts: 1) Ok, Susan loves Frogs… so why are you buying her wine? Why not a great book about frogs, or maybe a gift certificate to a local aquarium? Trust me, I’m never one to talk you out of giving the wonder, beautiful, transcendent gifts of wine- but it’s not always the answer. So if you really don’t have anything better to go off, than a love of frogs or history, maybe rethink it? 2) HOWEVER, if you’re determined- maybe you know that they absolutely adore wine and amphibious species, well, then maybe we’re cooking with gas.
So first step- think about the wine they love first- a love of frogs doesn’t mean buy Frog’s Leap Chardonnay if they only drink red. If they happen to love frogs and red wine, focus first on the red wine, let the love of frogs be secondary- trust me on this one. However, maybe find a wine that’s a price you can afford with a cute bottle stopper with a frog on top, or maybe you can find a gift bag with frogs on it- you’re so thoughtful and amazing for remembering not just one love but two!
Q: What should I buy for my boss for Christmas?
A: If you don’t know what he drinks, but know that he does drink-show you can find a superior product, but don’t be afraid for him to know you can find a bargain. Skip the Bordeaux, the Napa Cab, the $50 Champagne (you definitely don’t want him to think that he pays you too comfortably/well). But, don’t compromise on quality- this is where to show that you’re a forward thinker, creative, maybe out-of-the-box. Spain is an amazing place to look- I especially recommend something elegant and Bordeaux-like, maybe a Priorat? A Russian River Valley Pinot Noir or Chardonnay are also incredible best buys that just might indicate to him you have an eye on highest results, without losing sight of the bottom line. If that doesn’t scream promotion, I don’t know what will.
Q: I’m going to a party and want something crowd-pleasing, but I want the hostess to know it wasn’t a cheap gas station pick- what should I take?
A: When in doubt, go sparkling. For $8-16 you can buy out of this world Cava and Proseccos, even maybe some domestic or New World sparklings (Gruet from New Mexico comes to mind). Sparkling goes with everything- so if you don’t know what the food situation is going to be, if you don’t know what the crowd wants to drink- who doesn’t love to sip on a good bubbly while chatting it up with total strangers? If it’s a nicer party, instead of that $30 Napa Cab or maybe a Chablis you were thinking of, you can get an outstanding Cremant from anywhere in France that isn’t Champagne (again, my buddy Louis Bouillot is the best go to I can think of) or maybe you can find a good bargain on Argyle or Schramsberg domestic… even possibly true champagnes like Chateau Montaudon. These are bottles that will be completely drained within 30 minutes of your arrival, almost guaranteed (if the hostess doesn’t squirrel them away somewhere for personal consumption when she no longer has to share- I’d be lying if I said I had never done that before).
So there we are- some of my most frequently answered questions from this holiday season. Unfortunately, after ten hour days spent on my feet, climbing up and down ladders, hauling cases of wine on my shoulders and interacting with the lovely people of Florida- I’m exhausted. (And yes, I know it’s only 8:22 pm, but seriously, you try it, see how late you stay up). So I’m going to go and finish one more glass of my delightful Grao Vasco red wine from Portugal and curl up with a good book… of wine study materials because I still have three days of this madness to go and today I completely blanked on how to talk about Barbera and Dolcetto… so it’s back to the books, I suppose true greatness never stops, eh?