Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Gifts for Wine Geeks: Impossible or Easy?

So, you need to buy a present for a wine geek. Do you feel intimidated? Overwhelmed? That's okay. Take a deep breath...now another...and come with me for a quick tour to see why you are not alone.
I will have ideas and potential solutions for you at the end.

A Wine Spectator link recently featured Wine Gifts for All Occasions and it got me thinking about how useless these articles are. A lock for unfinished bottles of wine (I think the recipient might rather have a new roommate or a good divorce lawyer instead). How about a $300 saber for opening sparkling wine the hard/impressive/dangerous way? Never mind that this technique is incredibly difficult and sort of pointless, the saber is $300. A $700 bucket from Riedel specifically designed for icing down sparkling wine? At least "it's awfully heavy." Musical glasses that make a major scale (if you overpour the wine) sound like fun at least - just fill them with water. A $60 glass, essentially a slightly altered flute, might impress but unless you're bringing four or six of them it will look weird. Wine ties! Enough said. I must admit I like the idea of the silicone glasses, even if they are stemless. However, I am wary of making the wine taste of plastic or rubber despite the claim of "Food-Grade-Silicone." Plus, they're made in China, so add lead to my list of concerns.
No good answers there. I then searched "best wine gifts" on Yahoo! and Google.
First Yahoo!, more than half of the first website link features cocktail items not wine. The next answered specific questions, helpful but not widely applicable. Then wine.com came up and they always want me to tell them which state I'm shipping to...and I remembered why Google is the best search engine.
First link is to Wine Enthusiast and they're hyping "2013's Hottest Gifts." There's a "Deco Electric Blue Corkscrew with Digital Thermometer." It looks cool but I have yet to meet someone who cares enough about wine to need to know the temperature but not enough about it to use a proper corkscrew. There are no reviews but my experience with this type of corkscrew is that it often pierces all the way through the cork leaving pieces floating in the wine. They also feature a wine saver carafe for keeping wine fresh longer. Seems smart enough but without testing it myself, I'm not sold. Reviews seem solid, so perhaps there's a solution for some of you. There are hundreds of other ideas on their website but you could be there forever looking for the best gadget.
The second link on my Google search is the Wine Spectator gift guide at the beginning of this post. Then Gift Giving 101 from 2012 and Wine Enthusiast editors...20% of those recommendations link straight to Wine Enthusiast. The there's wine.com again with its prying question to even enter the site. A little further exploration of Google results brought me this gem - a bicycle wine rack. Would that bottle ever survive on the streets of New Orleans? Perhaps the search engine isn't the problem.
You get the idea. At least you should. But maybe you already got this part, the frustration, the dizzying array of books, gadgets, glassware, etc. We're all on the same page now though, so here's my advice.
Avoid books, especially the big, heavy ones filled with maps unless you have heard your intended recipient wish one would appear. These books are fantastic but a lot of wine drinkers, even geeks, do not care about this style of information. Books that read more like a story or fancy picture versions about an area he or she loves might work wonders but you need to know their interests. And hope they don't already have a copy.
Gadgets are a challenge. Most geeks will already have what they need. The newest gadget, a fancy corkscrew or most other trinkets I see in wine shops and online would go unused in my house. If you know your intended recipient well enough, go for it, but read the rest of this first.
Avoid glassware unless you know for sure which style and brand they use. More of what I already have would be a great gift since some of those nice glasses break if you look at them the wrong way. Oddball glasses or even a full set of a style he or she will never use does you no good.
The bottom line for me is that if you are buying for a wine geek, buy wine. If you know someone who spends every weekend grilling and barbecuing would you try to bring them a new tool or book about smoking meat? Wouldn't you bring them some wood for smoking and maybe some special kind of protein to cook? Yes, you might have to pay attention to glean information about what that might be but I can guarantee it will be more appreciated than something that goes into a drawer or onto a shelf never to be used.
Pay attention to what they drink. Do you know where your recipient shops? Go and ask the employees for help. They'll be thrilled. You don't have to spend an arm and a leg to get a wine he or she might not know but might enjoy based on other wine they love.
If you have no idea where they shop, go to a nice wine store and tell them what you know about the giftee's wine tastes. Any competent shop will be able to place a bottle or two in your hands that will do the trick. Real geeks love trying new wines...hey, that should be a T-shirt.
Seriously though, gift giving takes a little bit of effort. It may be too late for this year but observing what he or she drinks will make buying easy. You don't need an exact producer, variety and vintage picked out. A little information goes a long way when you take it to an expert for advice. Even if you end up giving wine already in their cellar, that's not a bad thing. Two, three or even 13 bottles of the same wine are useful, unlike a third Deco Electric Blue Corkscrew or a second (or maybe even a first) wine bottle holder...I don't even want to discuss these Christmas wine sweaters for bottles.
Still rolling your eyes? Still overwhelmed? Still not believing? Try this. I have never met a wine geek that doesn't love food too. Take them out to a restaurant. Or offer to cook them a meal. Maybe even at their house. Then maybe your recipient will pick the wine(s). You both win!