Sometimes I get fanmail. This one, containing a reader's query about giving wine as a gift, came in at 12:59 am this morning marked urgent...
A question for you, and I may as well ask now, so as to give you plenty of time to ruminate. Well, actually you have until Thursday afternoon. I'm staying with my cousins in Long Island, and it'll be like two weeks I've been here before I finally move out on Friday (Hurrah! I found an apartment in Soho!) so I was thinking I need a really nice bottle of wine or something. I was even thinking Champagne, but maybe that would seem cheesy... no? Thoughts? All in all, they're not picky, really... something nice enough to say "Sorry that turned into two weeks, but thanks." Suggestions?Dear NIALL,
Not Itinerant Anymore along the Long-Island Line
Thanks for writing. I hope you don't mind me reproducing the question you pose in a forum like this. What do I give? It's an often anxiety-inducing question that we all ask ourselves at one point in time. So thanks for letting me put it out there.
Of course, choosing the wine you give as a gift depends on the recipient. Sure the thought counts, but it doesn't count for much if you haven't thought about the person's preferences. Red or white, light or heavily extracted expressions, drinking with meals or as escape? These are all questions to try an answer before you buy.
NIALL, you are lucky that some of these key questions have already been answered for you. You've been an observant houseguest and noting your cousins' preferences should not be undervalued. On top of that, it always helps to take a bit of the pressure off when your wine is a gift for a couple or a group of people. This means you are aiming to please a collective palate, and in so doing, your wine can act more as a fun suggestion that a hard-and-fast prescription. I'd say you've got lots of leeway here and you should not be daunted by the task at hand.
Since your first thought was Champagne, let's not ignore that and take a look. Hmmm... I've had but one or two bottles of real Champagne in my entire life. Lanson's Black Label stood out in my mind last Eastertime -- that's especially because I bought the bloody thing, hoping to settle my uneasiness with the high cost of Champagne when other sparklings seem just as good. Yup, Champagne is expensive stuff, but it does come complete with a grand sense of ceremony and this Lanson was indeed elegant.
But you could buy a dozen boxes of wine and for the same price get only a fraction of that volume in actual bubbly. Also, I might ask, are you really anticipating that much of a celebration once they see you walk out the front door with your bags in tow? Other than that, Champagne is worth looking into, and I would direct you to Becks & Posh, the site hosting today's Wine Blogging Wednesday which just happens to be on the topic of Champagne. They'll have an informative roundup posted, hopefully before tomorrow afternoon.
Their site is great and, my, Champagne is a worthy topic isn't it? But let's face facts. You wrote to me. So enough beating around this bush, I'm going to give you an answer. You suspected Champagne might be a cheesy gift but I'm going to suggest to you something even cheesier: A three-pack of wine wrapped up in a bow. Yes, I know, one white bottle, one red bottle and one rosé bottle screams cliché (and total lack of discernment). But like I said before you are offering something to please the entire family. Why not pick three $15 wines. They don't have to be red, white and pink (in fact, with fall around the corner you might want to rule out the rosé entirely).
Here are two reds and a white I advise you give to your generous and kind cousins:
- PWG Vintners USA imports Wynn's Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Pick up the 2001 vintage of this full-bodied Australian Cabernet. It shouldn't be at all hard to find in Soho, but maybe check with the importer if you get stuck. Guaranteed enjoyment for your host family's barbecues or tv time either this year or for the years to come. Approachable, impossible to be perceived as haughty or snobbish, and a very pretty label too, which really cannot be undervalued when selecting a gift bottle.
- Frederick Wildman and Sons Ltd of New York City carries a fun twist on Cabernet Sauvignon. It's the Tenuta Rapitalà "Nuhar" Nero d'Avola & Cabernet Sauvignon. Nero d'Avola is a Sicilian grape, and blended here with Cabernet, it might convince your cousins to start thinking outside of "the box" which is always a good thing. You're not being pushy, just offering a friendly alternative to the straight-ahead Aussie bottle mentioned above. Great with anything from Italian cuisine to steaks. I had the 2003 (and will be uploading my review of it soon) but if that year is hard to locate, go for the 2004 or check the importer web site for help.
- For a white, I'm not going to suggest anything in particular accept to say that Manhattan wine shops typically have an outstanding selection of Italian whites. That to me would be impressive. Perhaps ask your wine seller for an outstanding Falanghina or well-made Tocai. Those are two types of varietals that I enjoy drinking when in the big city. Or why not write down the grape written on the side of the cellar cask they've got parked in the fridge and seek out a special bottle of that?