Sunday, December 03, 2006

Gifts for the Wine Snob

Before I begin, and in the interest of full disclosure, I should state that I’m not real big on the whole Christmas…uh, no, “holiday” gift thing. For one thing, I don’t really enjoy giving gifts. I mean, you’ve got to try to figure out what someone wants, go through the insanity of the “holiday” shopping mobs, pay through the nose for the thing, and then watch the look of disappoint or disgust on their face when they open the crappy present that you spent so much time, energy and money getting. I generally don’t like getting presents for the same reason. “Oh, look! A 2-liter bottle of Carlo Rossi rosé! My favorite!”

I honestly prefer to skip the whole thing. I know. Bah humbug. But personally, I’ve never been convinced that the spirit of “the holidays” had much to do with commerce.

But apparently I’m not a typical American in that respect. So, succumbing to the demands of the season, let’s take a look at common “holiday” gift giving ideas for the wine snob in the family.

First of all – and let’s be clear about this – there is no end of gift ideas for wine snobs. Your serious wine snob is typically a person with both money and a hoarding fetish – in other words a perfect target for the likes of The Sharper Image. There are entire websites filled to the brim with wine-related gadgets and googahs, most of them perfectly worthless and hideously expensive.

Case in point: corkscrews. Corkscrews are living testimony that useless innovation isn’t limited to mousetraps. There are complex “rabbit” corkscrews that actually look a bit like abstract rabbit heads ($35-50). There are lever-action corkscrew stands that take up half your kitchen counter and look like very painful medieval torture devices ($100). There are even high-tech cork pumps that inject compressed air into the bottle to pop the cork out ($25-35). All of them do exactly the same thing: open wine bottles. I use a simple “waiter” style corkscrew ($5-15), and personally recommend them. Real wine snobs know that the lowly waiter-style corkscrew is the most prestigious.

Another common gift idea is wine glasses. There is great controversy in the wine world over whether the shape of the glass affects the taste of the wine. Riedel (rhymes with “needle”), the world’s premier wine glass manufacturer, makes 44 different glasses in their Sommelier line ($80 per glass), one to fit every variety from Alsace to zinfandel. This is overkill (ya think?). Studies have shown again and again that the shape of he glass has little effect on the taste of a wine. I personally use two basic sets of cheap glasses, a red wine set and a white wine set. Of course, they’re somewhat mixed sets because I keep breaking them.

Without a doubt the worst wine gadgets on the market are the plethora of “instant aging” doodads that are supposed to instantly turn your 2004 Two Buck Chuck into 1982 Chateau Latour. I actually bought one of these things in order to debunk it, but I haven’t tried it yet. The one I got comes in a nice wooden box. It’s essentially a ring that clips onto the bottle’s neck. As you pour, the “powerful magnets instantly break up the tannins. The result: a smoother more balanced wine that simulates the taste of aged wine.” Riiight.

So now that we’ve eliminated a bunch of useless gift ideas, what should you buy your favorite wine snob? You know, something that’s actually useful.

Wine chillers are nice (hint, hint). They’re thick wine buckets (usually stone or ceramic) that you store in the fridge or freezer. When you serve a chilled wine like Champagne, you set the bottle in the pre-chilled chiller, and it keeps the wine cold. Bonus: they actually work!

Decanters are essential for anyone who is serious about red wine. I plan to write an entire column on decanting wine, but for now take my word for it: get a decanter and decant your red wines for at least an hour before you drink them. That will do a thousand times more to make that Two Buck Chuck drinkable than any magnet. It’ll do wonders for that ’82 Latour as well. No kidding. I prefer decanters with a moderately wide base. The really wide ones are almost impossible to pour and tend to be heavy.

But let’s face it; the best gift of all for the wine snob is wine. I recommend the 2006 Carlo Rossi rosé.

Ah…but that’s the problem, isn’t it? What wine to get them? Well, that’s why God invented gift certificates. In Chico, I recommend getting gift certificates at either Vino 100 (next to Sports LTD) or Creekside Cellars (near Morning Thunder). Both have fine selections of wine as well as decanters, glasses and other wine knickknacks. In fact, I’m beginning to feel the spirit of “the holidays” coming over me. So if you want to get me a gift certificate, I’d be happy to accept.

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