Belts are tightening around the world, but that shouldn't stop you from brightening the holiday season for that special wine lover in your life. We've compiled some of the best wine gifts we've come across this year, with an emphasis on value. Most of the gift ideas listed here are priced at less than $20, promising that both your present's recipient and your accountant will have something to smile about.
GoVino ($3 each; govinowine.com) Sometimes it seems as if "new and improved" wineglasses hit the shelves on a weekly basis. But the new GoVino "go anywhere" wineglass does indeed bring something new to the table.
First of all, it's not a glass at all—it's made of thermoplastic polymer resin. For those not wearing a lab coat, that's plastic that does not impart any aromas and reflects a liquid's—in this case, wine's—color and aromatics in much the same way as crystal.
The shatterproof, flexible GoVino stemless wine vessel provides an alternative to drinking from waxy paper, flimsy plastic or environmentally unsound Styrofoam cups anywhere that delicate crystal stemware is not an option—think barbecues, picnics and pool parties. GoVino's glasses are also reusable, dishwasher safe and 100 percent recyclable.
OXO stopper/pourer ($10; oxo.com) Olive oil is always on hand in the kitchen these days, which is a good development. Stoppering the stuff is less happy.
Jamming a cork in does not work—the little stopper with the spout lets in air and even fruit flies sometimes—and plain old screw caps don't prevent the drips that can make the bottle slick. I've seen many a bottle of oil perched on folded, stained paper towels; my mother-in-law dresses hers in a tennis sock.
OXO has come up with a simple oil stopper that really works. Plug it into the bottle and when you're ready to pour, just flick a lever to open the spout. When you're done, close it. That's all there is to it. Not to mention, all of this can be accomplished with one hand.
WineSkin ($11 for 5; ftscontent.com) Transporting wine during your travels can be tricky. There is luggage that's designed specifically for holding bottles, but considering the limits and fees on checked baggage nowadays, you might not want to dedicate one of your pieces to wine bottles. You can stuff loose bottles between clothes in your suitcase; however, if one of those bottles leaks or breaks from crude handling on the tarmac you have a problem.
The best solution we've found is WineSkin. It's a one-use bag made of bubble wrap and tough plastic, to offer some protection against a real beat-down. More importantly, there are two strong adhesive seals at one end. Just slide the bottle in, seal the bag, wrap it in a sweater and you're good to go. Similar products from other companies use resealable, Ziploc-like closures that can't always be trusted to stay shut. With WineSkin, if the bottle does break, the liquid will stay in.
AirDry Wineglass Dryer ($15; broadwaypanhandler.com) Many people have pretty primitive methods for drying even their finest stemware. Glasses are propped up on other objects, flipped over on kitchen towels and generally not treated with much respect. Wine racks are designed for the specific task of drying glasses, but they are often too big or too rickety.
The AirDry drying rack offers some new innovations. The weighted bottom is skid-proof, and there are rubberized hooks for the glasses. It feels sturdy, and it coddles its wards. When it's time to put the rack away, the trunk can be snapped in half and the top half stowed inside the base, reducing its height by a third. That's not rocket science, just smart.
Pulltex Pullparrot Corkscrew ($15.50; merlotandmocha.com) Any sommelier will tell you that a good corkscrew is a wine-drinker's best friend. And a good waiter's key doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg: Witness the newly patented mechanical ingenuity of Pullparrot's retractable hinge corkscrew. The modified double-lever system and the Teflon-coated spiral combine to open bottles with surgical precision.
The Note label remover ($64; hinckleycellars.com) Anyone who has tried to save their wine labels recently can tell you that, more often than not, soaking to soften the glue and carefully scraping at the paper only results in a sticky wad. Don't blame yourself though—the adhesive has gotten stronger in recent years.
Elizabeth Hinckley Foregger, a budding wine lover, made it her business to solve this problem. She has come up with the Note, a deceptively simple and well-designed tool for separating paper from glass. You'll still need to soak the label in hot water for 15 seconds to a minute (Old World glues generally need less time). After that, blot the bottle dry and put it in the stainless-steel frame, lining up the label with the blade. Press down lightly to open the flexible metal and get the blade at the right angle, then turn the bottle evenly and steadily to free the label. Occasionally the label will crinkle or roll; just stop, straighten it out, and keep going. The rounded handle is good for smoothing labels onto pages.
The Note is not foolproof, but it works remarkably well. Something about how simple the device is and how it requires a sure touch makes practice addictive. The Note is sold with a leather blade cover and a box, or as part of a gift set along with a leather-bound notebook ($98).
Peugeot thermal balancing wine bucket ($70; broadwaypanhandler.com) You'd think it would be possible to chill a bottle and keep it cool away from the refrigerator without the mess of the old bucket set-up. Why can't it be simpler?
Now it is. No more mopping off the dripping wet bottle every time you pour a drink, or accidentally dumping ice all over the kitchen counter. The Peugeot thermal balancing wine bucket is a clean and modern-looking bucket that has a hard plastic sleeve to hold the bottle and inserts that go between the sleeve and the outer shell. All you have to do is chill the inserts in the freezer, pop them in, and put the wine in.