#351 -November 30, 2017
Chanukah & the Art of Gift-Giving
Long before sanctifying Rosh Chodesh Kislev with the serious wines of RCC (check out the Jewish Week’s recent article on RCC), my desk was cluttered with multiple lists outlining in great detail and colorful ink (not to mention varying degrees of legible penmanship) the different gifts my four children expected to receive over the coming Chag of Chanukah (based on the sheer number of options, they must have learned about many more than the eight days I was aware of). While my children have been kind enough to properly advise me in this regard, gift-giving is rarely so easy.
While a tough skill to achieve, anyone who has managed to procure the perfect gift for a loved one can attest that the resulting happiness and appreciation easily makes up for the elevated stress levels the exercise may have caused. The difficulty can be extreme when gifting individuals with the level of discerning taste many oenophiles are blessed with and occurs far more often than you would imagine. Whether on a near-weekly basis when picking a wine to bring to your Shabbat host, the monthly selection required for your local Rosh Chodesh Club or those special bottles choosing to celebrates life’s important milestones, finding the right bottle of wine can be difficult. While obviously not an issue for readers of this newsletter, hordes of casual wine-buyers are making ill-informed decisions on a near-weekly basis (evidenced in no small part by the rivers of Blue Bottled Abomination flowing out of wine retail shops).
With Chanukah coming up fast, I wanted to discuss a few different types of wine-related gifts that your favorite oenophile will undoubtedly enjoy, including a few of my personal favorites (it’s not cheating if you buy a few of these for yourself). Keeping with the non-commercial aspect of this newsletter, the various links are provided for convenience purposes only, no benefit inures to me in any way whatsoever if you click on them.
The easiest way to guarantee success in this regard is to choose one of my recommended wines and never, under any circumstance, buy the bottle that shall not be named. Even if your hosts enjoy this particular beverage, your paternalism is important to save them from themselves. However, as we are talking about gifting oenophiles, the best bottle will be something different that they may not yet have tired, either because they aren’t easily available or the sticker price makes it unlikely they will indulge on their own. Large format bottles make nice gifts as well – impressive looking, stately and very practical for larger meals, they can also be a lively conversation piece (the reduced wine-to-air ratio also increases the wine’s potential longevity). For special occasions, gifting a bottle from a vintage year special to them can make for an especially memorable gift (becoming far more feasible as the kosher wine world provides more options with long-term ageability).
Despite our sage’s advice to focus on what’s in the flask as opposed to its adornment, a stylish bag goes a long way in enhancing your gift’s attractiveness. A nice added touch (especially when dealing with a more esoteric bottle) is to provide some information about the wine including a tasting note with a drinking window and decanting time (feel free to plagiarize from my newsletter).
Remember that the wine is a gift for your host, not yourself, so don’t be disappointed if your bottle makes its way directly to the wine cellar as opposed to the table (and avoid offering to open the wine upon arrival). If this possibility is too painful to bear, take advantage of other gifting options, many of which are described below. That said, as a host, the gracious thing to do is to open the bottle, especially if significant time and expense was obviously investing in choosing the specific bottle.
If you are looking to provide more of an experience or longer-lasting gift, a wine club membership can be a terrific present. The Leket Wine Club is unfortunately a thing of the past, but there are many kosher wine clubs out there. Membership in a wine club is one of the best ways to introduce the recipient to new and interesting wines while ensuring they are also drinking on a regular basis. Selecting the right wine club can be tricky as some proprietors take advantage of the regular cash-flow to offload less desirable wines on participants.
If you prefer not to bring wine, high-end wine accoutrements can be a most welcome addition to any oenophile’s home. While hitting it out of the park can be more difficult when dealing with the hi-tech and sometime-gimmicky gadgets discussed further on, most wine-lovers will never have enough top quality basic items like glassware, decanters and corkscrews and a carefully chosen one can really enhance your host’s wine-drinking experience.
Despite real appreciation for his marketing genius, I don’t subscribe to Riedel’s view that every type of wine is enhanced by a different glass. That said, better glasses can have a tremendous impact on your enjoyment of the wine and are well worth the extra effort. My two favorite options are the Schott-Zwiesel Cabernet Glass and for special occasions, the Zalto Denk’Art Universal glass, easily the most sensual glass I have ever used. While expensive, I found them online in Europe for less than half their US price.
Despite the abundance of fancy corkscrews and the popularity of the well-known Rabbit, the best corkscrew is the simplest one, known as a waiter’s corkscrew. Easy to use, it never malfunctions and remains one of the most efficient pieces of hardware ever invented. My personal favorite is made by Le Creuset and is available for $29 on Amazon but any basic model is great, as long as it has a double-hinged level. Any wine connoisseur worth his salt is going to need an Ah-So corkscrew for those older bottles with corks that have reached the end of the line and I personally use and recommend this version. Despite its enduring popularity, never, ever gift that embarrassing piece of engineering called the double lever corkscrew – the world’s worst corkscrew.
Our constant need for instant gratification provides another great gifting opportunity – decanters. When opening a bottle before it has reached peak perfection, a few hours in a decanter can do wonders for the wine’s development and many are stunning pieces of art that would enhance any home. Riedel really shines in this area, with some truly gorgeous options that also tend to be on the pricey side. My personal favorite is made by Ravenscroft – sleek and elegant, it also gets the job done without straining my wallet or causing severe anguish when the inevitable breakage occurs but there are plenty of other good options. Aerators are also helpful in this regard, with the Vinaturi being my personal favorite (the included filter comes in handy when an Ah-So isn’t used and corks crumble into the wine ). Aerating decanters are also popular. One item to avoid are the new-fangled devices that purport to artificially age the wine for you.
An even greater invention than sliced bread, the Coravin has changed the way wine is consumed in a pretty dramatic way. Applying his physics, engineering and nuclear power knowledge and medical device practical experience to the far greater good of wine drinking, Greg Lambrecht invented a device that allows you a sip or glass of wine without opening the bottle or harming the integrity of the bottle’s preservation ability. This is done by inserting a long needle through the cork and as wine flows out the vacuum is immediately filled by argon – an inert gas. Highly recommended for anyone with nice bottles who doesn’t want to be forced to consume the entire bottle in one sitting. Available directly from Coravin’s website, in many options – I recommend the Model Two. Rumor has it that they are working on a device for Champagne bottles but until they do, Le Crueset makes a fabulous device that ensures your bubbly can stay fresh and lively in the fridge for at least 48 more hours (it really works). Avoid vacuum sealers – in addition to removing the oxygen from partially drunk wine bottles, they also suck the aromatics out of the bottle.
Enhancing the enjoyment of wine is easily among the greatest gifts you can bestow upon a fellow wine lover. As I often repeat, the best way to learn more about wine is to taste different wines side by side. A personalized “wine flight” kit is a great gift that will encourage this practice. When tasting multiple wines at the same time, a common frustration is losing track of which wine is in which glass. Avoid this issue by adding these great wine glass markers to the package. I subscribed to Gary Vaynerchuk’s method of palate education but for those preferring not to lick rocks and eat dirt, the Le Nuz du Vin is an amazing (and pricey) tool and will make a terrific gift.
After actual tasting, the best way to provide anyone with wine education is through books. Among the thousands of different options, I have found a few to stand out over the years. Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine is the bible on all things wine related and a must in every home. Other great sources of information include Karen McNeil’s Wine Bible, Wine Route of Israel, the World Atlas of Wine and the Food Lover’s Guide to Wine. For the true vinogeek, the Art and Science of Wine or Taste Red by John Goode are great reads. Slightly more approachable reading includes Mark Oldman’s guides (Outsmarting Wine is my favorite), Wine Folly or even Wine for Dummies. Among the hundreds of other books I’d recommend are Matt Kramer on Wine, Zraly’s Wine Course, the Curious World of Wine and Inventing Wine. For lighter (more novel-like) reading, giftees will enjoy the recently released Cork Dork (a lovely read through the world of Sommeliers that mentions Tzora on pg. 283), The Billionaire’s Vinegar (the Thomas Jefferson bottles), the Judgement of Paris (about the 1976 tasting that changed the world of wine forever) and Ruth Reichl’s History in a Glass.
Gifting a wine fridge may be one of the nicest things you can do for someone. Not only does it ensure their precious bottles will be safely protected from the elements, allowing it to be enjoyed as intended by the winemaker it will also incentivize them to buy (and drink) more wine – voila – two gifts in one. If you want to go big, nothing says love like the undisputed crème de la crème of wine refrigerators – EuroCave. Of course, there are plenty of perfectly acceptable cheaper options in all sizes. Regardless, always buy a bigger one that you plan as they fill up quickly.
Furniture and Wine Art
For the truly obsessed who prefer to cover their home with as much wine-related objects as possible, the Wine Enthusiast has a whole slew of cool furniture options or you could invest in a Champagne side table made from real cork. For those who enjoy displaying empty bottles of special importance, I’d recommend these simple shelving units, but more expensive/fancier options, including from Stact (now gracing the tasting room at Covenant Winery) are available and could make a nice gift. Of course, bottles intended for short-term consumption can be stored on these as well as long as direct sunlight and excessive heat and/or temperature fluctuations are avoided. Other gifts include items emblazoned with great wine quotes (e.g. coasters, framed prints, wall art, welcome mats or any other household item for that matter).
For any true oenophile regardless of their other passions, a trip abroad will mean scouring wine shops for wines not available back home. Bubble wrap and t-shirts can usually do the trip but why not send your precious cargo home first class? Another lovely gift idea is a great wine picnic basket, which will definitely get extended use. Another cute gift is a Cork USB memory stick – the perfect thing to whip out next time someone says to “put a cork in it”. A cool way to display a bottle of wine is with these rope & chain stands. Cuff links are always appreciated and you can get ones made from Burgundy vines or a more conventional choice. For those truly in need of wine and a variation on the well-known gag, this device converts the bottle into a glass and should only be gifted along with an invitation to join AA. And since life isn’t complete without at least a little bit of the force…
Do you have any favorite wine-related gift ideas? If so, I’d love to hear about them!