If you're looking for a no-brainer holiday gift for any adult in your life, give wine.
All you need to do is find out if the giftee drinks wine and decide how much you want to spend.
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Ÿ Suggested retail and availability: $10.99 at wine and spirits shops and specialty grocers (distributed by Eno a Mano, Melrose Park)
The southwest France region of Cahors has produced its deeply pigmented wine since Roman times, from the region's indigenous grape, Cot, now known throughout the wine-drinking world by another name: Malbec. The great-value Pigmentum Rouge sports the ripe blackberry fruit and plump tannin that makes Agentine Malbec a modern-day sensation, but adds an earthy complexity. Enjoy this wine coq au vin (chicken stew), churrascaria (grilled meats and poultry) and other hearty fare from worlds Old and New.
Finally, walk into your favorite wine shop and ask your trusted merchant for a bottle of Pinot Noir or Malbec. Malbec is the new Merlot but even plusher on the palate. Pinot Noir starred in the Oscar-nominated movie, "Sideways". Both are wildly popular and widely available with excellent examples from $10 to $30 a bottle and up, often way up! Ask your merchant to assemble his/her favorites in the appropriate number of bottles and prices. Then, go do other shopping and when you return, your wine will be ready, maybe even wrapped.
True, Malbec or Pinot Noir may not fit your recipient's tastes perfectly. But your trusted merchant will pick out a wine you can be proud of and odds are good that these are styles your wine-loving friend already wants to explore.
You say, you haven't developed a great relationship with a wine merchant? Then, side with safety over exploration.
You'll need a little more recon. What's the recipient's favorite wine style, (such as dry white or fruity red.) If these details are elusive, what about a favorite food? If basic taste preferences are a mystery, choose a theme -- such as upcoming travels or favorite pet.
Finally, walk into a wine shop and ask the merchant for appropriate recommendations in your price range.
You say, you want to go it alone? At least, let me give you tips of what to avoid:
Wine over $25 per bottle, unless both you and the giftee are certified cork dorks. Wine under $5 in all cases. Sparkling wine, unless on New Year's Eve. Rose, including White Zinfandel. An Italian wine for a visiting Italian, a French wine for a visiting Frenchman, etc. The bottle you brought back from that cute little winery you visited in Podunk, Utah.
Host/hostess gifts have their own etiquette. A wrapped bottle tells the host "this is just for you." An unwrapped bottle means "this is for now or later." In any case, it's best to leave your extra-special bottle at home; you shouldn't assume your wine will be opened that evening or -- the flip side -- that there will be any left for you by the time it's poured around.
I discourage the urge to give wine gadgets, wine jewelry, wine T-shirts, wine tasting albums, wine wind chimes and generally anything regarding wine that isn't wine. I do, however, encourage subscriptions to wine journals, such as the Wine Spectator (for broad market appeal) or The Wine Advocate (for serious geeks only.)
For me, there's no faux pas in re-gifting. Wine is all about sharing and if my gift brings a larger group of folks together, all the better. But there's karma to wine-giving: I only give a bottle that I'd be happy with if it came full circle back to me.