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Something for Everyone (Who Likes Wine)

Holiday gifts for the wine lovers in your family

Robert Taylor
Posted: December 11, 2006

As if the pressures of entertaining guests and cooking for family weren't enough to keep you busy each December, the holiday season also means shopping--'tis the season for giving, but what to give isn't always obvious. The wine lover in the family can be particularly hard to shop for, so this year, Wine Spectator Online is providing this handy guide to gifts for every type of enophile in the family. Of course, the very fact that you're reading this probably means you're a wine lover yourself, so don't feel bad about sneaking a few of these into that extra stocking in the cellar this year.

For the Enthusiastic Newcomer to Wine

All of us were new to wine at some point, and it's no secret that the wine world can be an intimidating one. While some people view gifts that teach with skepticism, this one is a perfect example of how learning can be fun (and unlike a copy of Wine for Dummies, this won't imply that the recipient is, well, a dummy).

 
Figure out what you smell in your glass without raiding the kitchen.  
 
La Cantinetta ($1,800), www.agresti.com Agresti, the Italian company known for its handsome wooden jewelry boxes and humidors, has created a connoisseur chest for Le Nez du Vin. The handcrafted mahogany and briarwood box opens to reveal 24 vials, each containing an aroma commonly found in wine. Evenly divided between white and red wine scents, the vials are accompanied by two Le Nez du Vin books to help you identify and memorize each aroma. Also included are wine accessories such as a silver-plated funnel and tastevin, a magnetic wine collar to prevent drips and, of course, a corkscrew.

Though some connoisseurs may prefer to buy a case of wine for the price of this tabletop-sized chest (17 inches by 12 inches by 9.5 inches), you might think of Agresti's La Cantinetta as an investment in education.

Other Le Nez du Vin Wine Aroma kits ($40—$400) are available at www.winearomas.com.—Kristiana Kahakauwila

For the Competitive Know-It-All

Some people just don't like to be wrong, so they try to become experts on any topic that might come up. These types are particularly prevalent among wine lovers and foodies. And fortunately for you, no one knows everything when it comes to wine and food. These board games prove it.

Viti Vini ($20), www.vitivini.com While none of these wine-related games is going to replace Monopoly, they do offer a fun change of pace for the enologically inclined. The best new wine game we came across this year is Viti Vini. The directions and object are simple enough to grasp yet there is a small amount of strategy required, as well as some luck (beware the Wild Cards), plus, there's coins involved, and everyone likes playing with money. Most importantly, the game has its facts straight and every turn allows the player to choose a difficulty level for the questions, making it accessible for novices and experts alike.

Eat My Trivia ($30), www.eatmytrivia.com Another good game for learning about food and wine is Eat My Trivia, a straightforward and somewhat simple variation of Trivial Pursuit. The trivia cards are full of fun facts, although the wine questions are somewhat weak—many of the answers to wine questions are simplified to the point of being incomplete. The cards can be fun though, and would do well just sitting out at a party, waiting to catch the eye of a would-be foodie.

Bouquet: The Wine Game ($45), www.wineentertainment.com The most complex wine-related board game available this season is Bouquet: The Wine Game. This is the game for the connoisseur who thinks he knows everything. Virtually everyone is on equal footing with this game: The questions are multiple choice, but many of them are so obscure that it comes down to a coin flip. If watching a know-it-all get increasingly frustrated by losing to a lucky novice is your idea of fun, Bouquet is the game for you.

For the Perfectionist

 
  May your serving temperature never be questioned again.
 
Perfectionists can be difficult. What fault will they find with your gift this year? There's no telling what it will be, but you can almost guarantee that they'll find one. Forget searching for something they won't fault and give them something they can use to find fault with the other things in their daily lives.

Taylor Connoisseur Wine Thermometer ($20), www.williams-sonoma.com For more than 150 years, Taylor Precision Products (no relation to the author) has been making thermometers. And if their altimeters are good enough for fighter jets, their Connoisseur Wine Thermometer should suffice for your vino. The thermometer features a digital display, and the neck is fitted with a bottle stopper, so the gauge can be left in the bottle as it chills, allowing the temperature to be constantly monitored. The thermometer's sleeve even has a handy guide to serving temperatures for various varietals.

For the Enophile on the Go

From outdoors enthusiasts to soccer moms, some people are always going somewhere. And for the busy body who loves wine, that usually means lugging bottles around in a backpack or plain old plastic bag, or hoping they'll find something to their liking when they arrive at their destination. Neither method is recommended.

 
Carry your wine about town in style.  
 
BuiltNY Three-Bottle Wine Tote ($30), www.builtny.com Wine totes are nothing new, but BuiltNY offers a long line of the convenient carrying cases in attractive colors and designs, the likes of which you may not have ever seen before—the design-focused accessory company makes totes for everything from a single bottle of wine to a six-pack of beer to a clever lunch tote, with separate compartments for sandwich and beverage. The most impressive of the lot, from a wine lover's perspective, is a stylish three-bottle tote that can accommodate bottles as large as magnums. The neoprene bag (made from the same material as wet suits) has three separate compartments that keep the bottles from clinking together while you're in transit, and the neoprene also offers some insulating properties. Of course, it's always wise to weigh the pros and cons of such a convenience, and with three magnums in tow, that weight clocks in at close to 20 pounds, so always remember to stretch before attempting any heavy toting.

BuiltNY Drip Collar ($13 per pair), www.builtny.com As for protecting those fancy neoprene totes, not to mention picnic blankets, expensive tablecloths and keepsake labels, BuiltNY also makes a neoprene drip collar that fits around the neck of a wine bottle and absorbs any stray drips that haven't quite made it from bottle to glass. If you knock over your bottle of Chardonnay, this little gadget isn't going to help, but if you haven't quite mastered that nifty twirl of the bottle as you finish off a pour that all those hip sommeliers seem to have, a drip collar is the next best thing. Dripper be ware, however—the neoprene does absorb the orphaned droplets, and could potentially get a bit … funky after a few months' use. Fortunately, its creators at BuiltNY considered this along the design process and offer a novel solution: machine wash, cold.

For the Man (or Woman) Who Has Everything

When I last visited my parents, I spotted Dad on the fairway with what looked like Desert Storm Army surplus equipment. It was his new laser-equipped range finder, because, you know, golf is war. One more thing I didn't know existed that Dad already had. Here's something the Man Who Has Everything almost surely won't have yet … especially if he doesn't live near any major fault lines.

 
QuakeGuardian secures wine bottles through major temblors.  
 
QuakeGuardian Rings ($15 for six), www.quakeguardian.com Like fine wine, QuakeGuardian was born of its terroir--Marin County, Calif., known for its seismic activity. When resident Ed Schmidt began building a wine cellar in his basement, he realized that he needed a simple, effective way to protect his bottles in case an earthquake hit.

So he invented QuakeGuardian, which looks like a novice magic trick. A metal ring, available in black or gold, is looped around the neck of each wine bottle. Connected to each ring is a steel securing pin, which can be pushed into any standard wood rack with a pair of pliers. Even when the racking is rocking, the rings prevents the bottles from falling to the floor and breaking.

To test QuakeGuardian, Schmidt called on Anco Engineers in Colorado, which used its seismic test lab to simulate a magnitude 8 earthquake. In a series of four 30-second tests, according to Schmidt, the QuakeGuardian held strong, and none of the bottles were cracked or broken.—Kristiana Kahakauwila

For the Gadget Guy

 
  The new LM-400 from Screwpull makes wine service easier than ever.
 
We all know a gadget guy. He's the one that was always building elaborate Rube-Goldberg devices while everyone else was outside playing kick the can. And he still appreciates a cool gadget, even if it doesn't do anything your simple waiter's key can't.

Screwpull LM-400 ($150), www.williams-sonoma.com Most people already own a corkscrew of some kind. And let's face it--the corkscrew has evolved into hundreds of different forms over hundreds of years, but the physics of the matter have never really changed: Insert worm, apply force. Of course, someone is always building a better mousetrap, and the newest innovation to appear comes from Screwpull, a branch of Le Creuset, the enameled cast-iron manufacturer. The latest model rolling off the line is the LM-400, a variation of Screwpull's classic lever model, that features a more upright design. The lever action is even smoother than it was in the classic model, though the LM-400 is considerably heavier. All things considered, it's a pretty fun and easy way to open a bottle that will no doubt spark some conversations when entertaining.

 
Wine at the push of a button.  
 
Zevro Indispensable Wine Bottle Opener ($30), www.amazon.com We've all come to know and love the romance and ritual of opening a bottle of wine. Cutting the foil, the turn of the worm, levering out the cork just so, hearing that satisfying pop … if only it weren't easier said than done. For those who prefer to forgo the aforementioned ritual, Zevro introduces the Indispensable Wine Bottle Opener. With the push of a button, a needle inserted through the cork of a wine bottle increases the air pressure inside the bottle with a small blast of carbon dioxide gas, causing the cork to slide up the needle and out of the bottle. A simple pumping action releases the cork without ever revealing the needle inside the device. The gadget does not work well with synthetic corks, but most natural corks pop out effortlessly. We do not recommend using it with twist-offs. For those with difficulty opening a bottle with the traditional corkscrew, the Zevro Wine Bottle Opener is a fast and simple alternative.

For the Reader

 
  This new book makes a fine addition to any wine lover's library.
 
If you know someone whose nose is in a book as often as in a wineglass (or if you are that someone yourself), there's nothing like a good wine read to make the most of both passions. Just be careful not to spill any Pinot on the pages.

Keys to the Cellar: Strategies and Secrets of Wine Collecting, by Peter D. Meltzer (John Wiley & Sons, 258 pages, $29.95) Most wine lovers keep a few bottles around for some special occasion in the future. Yet when you begin to buy wines strategically and store them carefully, you become a true collector. In Keys to the Cellar, Peter D. Meltzer, who has written about wine collecting and auctions for Wine Spectator since 1981, offers expert guidance that can help you become a better collector.

Meltzer outlines four cellar prototypes that correspond to styles of collecting: balanced, instant gratification, teaching and investment. Acknowledging that most collectors must reconcile ambition with budget, he recommends key wines for each type at an array of price points. Meltzer uses the Wine Spectator Auction Index to demonstrate the potential—and the potential pitfalls—of investing in wine. He rounds out his instruction with information on the nuts and bolts of cellar design and construction.

Profiles of seasoned collectors and their cellars provide inspiration and hard-earned advice. They testify to the fact that even the most elaborate wine collections are inspired by the simple pleasures of sharing a good bottle with friends. —Jennifer Fiedler

For Everyone

One last suggestion for anyone still left on your list: A subscription to Wine Spectator, the gift that keeps on giving--16 times a year!

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