Gifts of wine – both bottles and gadgets – are usually gratefully received, although buying them can be a nerve-wracking process. Here are some ideas to help get you started.
For the host: an invitation to someone’s home is always an honour, so buy them something that can be enjoyed at a later date (even if “later” is as soon as they close the door on that last, lingering guest).
My go-to gift here is a bottle of champagne, especially quirky grower champagnes that are not available in just any old wine shop. One that’s always a conversation piece is Aubry’s Le Nombre d’Or Campaniae Veteres Vites, which is made from the “lost grapes” of Champagne – petit meslier, arbanne and pinot blanc, as well as chardonnay. It is a rare find, not terribly expensive, and to sip this champagne is to have a taste of something that might not be there in the future, as once these vines reach the end of their natural life, they cannot be replanted because the only grapes allowed now in Champagne are chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.
For friends from an older generation: a bottle of Bordeaux is always welcome. Go for a second wine, to get more bang for your buck. Always safe – and very Asian – is the second wine of Cos d’Estournel, La Goulee, with its exotic, Asian-influenced label featuring an elephant and a pagoda.
For gadgeteer friends: a wine opener – but not just any wine opener. Sleekly designed, the Doma comes in a variety of colours, is battery operated and opens bottles automatically. Press the down button and the spire of the opener goes into the bottle and gently lifts the cork upwards. Press the up button and the cork comes off the opener. Inexpensive and easy to find, it’s handy when entertaining a lot of guests, and so much better looking than the two-armed opener most people have in their kitchen drawer.
The ultimate wine opener, however, is the latest version of Coravin. Invented by Greg Lambrecht, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate who also designs medical devices, the big advantage with this system is that the cork never leaves the bottle. The handheld gadget uses a thin, surgical-grade needle inserted through the bottle’s foil and cork, the wine pushed out through the needle with argon gas. The wine trickles into the glass and, once the desired amount has been poured, the lever is released to stop the flow. This works well for all wines (except champagne) but is especially advantageous for aged vintages that have sediment that would otherwise require decanting.
And instead of leaving Santa a glass of milk and a plate of cookies, try a glass of wine and some nice, ripe cheese.
Nellie Ming Lee is a food stylist and part-time sommelier studying with the Court of Master Sommeliers