Wine is probably not a good idea for a gift any time during the year.
But every holiday season retail shops get bombarded with well-meaning customers wanting recommendations on wine as a gift. If you insist on buying wine as a gift in the future, there will be a few recommendations at the bottom of this column.
Instead of the fermented grape juice, buy your friend or family member a great wine-related gift. There is one choice any wine drinker will appreciate and could use whether they know it or not. Almost any wine at any price point will benefit from decanting.
Decanters come at every imaginable price point. You can find a decanter at your local home store for around $20 or even less. You can shop the traditional wine glassware companies and pay more. You can buy a Riedel decanter at all price points all the way up to more than $1,000. The top end are hand blown in the original Austrian factory.
Wine is decanted to add oxygen and allow the wine to “open up” after all of that time in the bottle. This is particularly true for young wines — inexpensive or pricey.
Purchase a decanter with a large bowl. Those work best. Decanting wine can also lead to lots of questions about sediment. Some sort of strainer is often necessary when decanting or serving the wine from the decanter, especially for older wines. That stuff won’t harm you but it’s going to be bitter. Many aerators come with some sort of filter to take care of that problem.
A young, lighter-style wine will really benefit from 30 minutes to an hourlong decant. A big red wine, like cabernet, up to two hours. Some wine, like an Italian sangrantino, may require several hours.
A great lesson in learning more about wine can coincide with the decanting process. First, open a bottle of wine and pour a taste. Make mental notes of what the wine was like. Then pour a small taste again an hour later. The wine will be different and probably better tasting, less astringent and with more pronounced fruit.
Older wines often require less of a decant and more attention to sediment. The taste test is important to learn what works best for your palate.
Now, if you insist a bottle of wine is a nicer gift than glassware, go ahead and buy a bottle or two. If you know your friend or family member really likes wine but you have no idea what to buy, play it safe. Pinot noir at the $20 and up price point makes an excellent gift. If they drink white wine try finding an un-oaked chardonnay. There are many good labels of un-oaked chardonnay around $15.
If you’re willing to splurge buy pinot at the $40 to $50 range for great wine. But French chablis for the white drinkers at about the same cost.
Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about wine for about 20 Midwestern newspapers. Check out his blog at howardhewitt.net.