When buying holiday presents for friends and families who enjoy fine wine and spirits, there are two questions to consider: What do they drink on an everyday basis, and how experimental are they when it comes to matters of taste?
If a person drinks single-malt Scotch day in and out, the best bet is to buy him or her single-malt Scotch—just something much better than the daily consumption. For someone who drinks around a lot, then look for something that is just on the market, that is trendy and that they might have heard about but haven’t tried.
And unless your favorite drinker is 20-something and just getting started, don’t waste your time and money on bar gadgets. I have drawers full of cork pullers, wine thermometers, cork retrievers, funnels, strainers, shakers, decanters and coasters, most of which I don’t use or even remember who gave them to me. Buy me something to drink and I’ll think of you every time I pour!
Next, decide your price range and shop around early for suggestions and ideas from your favorite wine and spirits merchants.
There will be lots of pre-packaged combos of bottles and gimmicks, but it’s generally better to buy the bottle(s) and do your own wrapping.
Here are some starter ideas:
American whiskeys are very hot, which is cool. Small-batch and single-barrel bourbons are popping up everywhere, and James Bifferato of Wine and Spirit Co. of Greenville recommends the smooth and fruity Jefferson’s Reserve, which comes in at just under $60 a bottle.
Grower Champagnes (so-called because they come from a single producer) are fun, good and reasonably priced—plus it’s nice to be given a bottle you may not recognize. Linda Collier at Collier’s of Centreville always has some in stock. “Being a small-business person myself,” she says, “I very much relate to the small, family-owned houses that put their heart and soul into what they do.” Here are three to consider: Vilmart Grand Cellier Brut ($60), Vilmart Cuvée Rubis “for those who love rosé” ($80), and Pierre Peters 100% Chardonnay ($55).
Cordials and brandies are like buying smart-phone apps—trendy, something different, and there are dozens to choose from. Frank Pagliaro of Frank’s Union Wine has a great selection, including the Chicago-made Koval organic cordials. Choose from chrysanthemum, ginger, orange blossom, coffee and jasmine ($30 each) or buy a selection. Hibiscus and root beer liqueurs are also still popular.
For the white spirits, vodkas (flavored or not) and tequilas are still big. Edd Barba of Kreston’s says you can’t go wrong with Milagro tequila—about $30.
There are always fine wines from classic vintages and Total Wine has a good selection. Vintages 2005 and 2009 are good for Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhone, go to 2006 for Brunello and Barolo and 2007 for northern California Cabernets.