Wine can make a good gift for a newly married couple as a housewarming gift, the hostess of a dinner party, or your boss. However, if you don’t know much about wine, picking one out can be pretty daunting. It’s important to think about the person and the occasion, as well as how you’ll present the wine.
Picking Out a Bottle
1. Go mid-range to high end. It’s tempting to buy a cheap wine to give as a gift, particularly if you don’t know much about wines. However, cheap wine will taste cheap. That’s not to say that you can’t get a decent wine for a reasonable price. You just don’t want to pick the cheapest wine, especially if you’ve never tasted it yourself.
- Also, consider who you’re buying the wine for. Buying a very cheap bottle of wine for your boss won’t endear you to them. Similarly, you may not want to buy the cheapest bottle you can find for a close friend (unless you have a habit of drinking cheap wine together). In addition, if you’re known as someone who appreciates wine, buying a cheap bottle for someone else can come off as you underestimating their taste or simply not appreciating them as much. Also, how much you spend can depend on the wine. For instance, you can get a very tasty Cotes du Rhône (pronounce it “Coats Do Roan”) for about $15. However, with a Burgundy, you’ll need to spend more to get a better wine, usually upwards of $50. Another relatively cheap option is a Cabernet Sauvignon, as even cheap versions of this wine are fairly decent. For Pinot noir, go for at least a $20 bottle, as anything less won’t be very good.
2. Consider the season. If you don’t know where to start, picking wines by the season is a good bet. You don’t necessarily want the same wines in the summer that you do in the winter. In the summer, you want something lighter, for instance, than you do in winter.
- White wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Riesling are good summer choices. Rose and Merlot are also a good bet. These wines are a bit lighter. For fall, you want fuller bodied whites, such as oaked Chardonnay or Viognier. You still want a somewhat lighter red wine, so stick with Pinot noir, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, or a sparkling variety. During the winter, you can go with heavier wines since you’ll have heavier dishes. Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux blend, Syrah, Zinfandel, and Malbec are fine in the reds. For whites, choose oaked Chardonnay. You can also go for a sparkly wine. In the spring, you want lighter, fruitier wines, such as Chenin Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Unoaked Chardonnay, or Rose. You can also choose Riesling, Moscato, or Pinot noir.
Certified Sommelier Samuel Bogue is a sommelier based in San Francisco, California. He is the Wine Director of the renouned Ne Timeas Restaurant Group and a wine consultant for other top restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area. He gained his Sommelier certification in 2013, and since then has been recognized as a Zagat “30 Under 30” award winner and a Star Chefs Rising Star.
3. Ask questions. If you’re not a wine connoisseur yourself, gazing at a liquor store’s collection of wines can be quite daunting, as you may be faced with hundreds of different bottles of wines. If you’re a bit lost, don’t be afraid to ask the person in charge of wines for advice. Many will work within your price range to help you find a good, drinkable wine, especially if you can specify a few parameters, such as whether you want a sweet or dry wine.
4. Don’t be afraid to pick something unusual. If you know your wines, a unique wine is a good choice because you can introduce your friend or friends to something new. However, don’t pick something so obscure that they won’t be able to find it again. You don’t want to whet their appetite for a wine they can’t buy.
5. Know the person’s tastes. If you’re buying wine as a gift, it’s best to know what the person likes to drink. Most wine drinkers have particular tastes, whether they like a dry white wine or a fun and fruity sparkling rose. Consider what you’ve seen the person drink in the past, and then go for something the same or similar.
- If you’re not sure what the person drinks, consider their general tastes. If they have a sweet tooth, they might prefer a sweeter wine, while if they like to avoid sugar for the most part, they may prefer something drier. If you’re still not sure, ask someone at the store to recommend a reasonably priced popular wine.
6. Pick a pretty label or bottle. Of course, you don’t want to pick a wine solely on what the label looks like. However, when you’re giving a wine, the packaging matters. A pretty, well-designed label will be more appreciated than a subdued, boring label, especially since many people will associate the latter with cheaper wine.
7. Consider a wine subscription. If you’re looking for a substantial gift for someone, think about buying the person a subscription to a wine delivery service. Usually, you pay one price (or a monthly price) for the service to deliver wine for a specified period of time.
- Some just send a curated selection, while others base the delivery on the person’s preferences. Some also include food with the subscription that pairs with the wine. Check to make sure wine can be delivered in the state where the person resides, as some states don’t allow alcohol to be shipped to people’s homes.
Buying Wine for Parties and Dinners
1. Consider a magnum for a party. A magnum is a double bottle of wine or champagne. One reason it works well for a party is it’s fairly impressive to look at. Plus, because it’s double the size, it will last much longer than a single bottle of wine. Your host will appreciate your thoughtfulness.
- When choosing a wine for a party, sparkling is usually a good option. If you insist on bringing a standard bottle of wine to a party, give it to the hosts before the party, and let them decide whether they want to serve it at the party or not.
2. Buy standard bottles for dinner. On the other hand, when you’ve been invited for dinner to a small gathering, such as a dinner for about four people, a regular bottle is appropriate. A regular bottle will provide enough wine for each person at the dinner, which is why it’s appropriate.
- Ask the hosts ahead of time what they will be serving. Then you can get a wine that matches the dinner, such as a white wine for fish. If you’re not sure what goes with what type of food, ask at the store.
3. Go more expensive for special occasions. When it comes to weddings or other big special occasions, such as birthdays or Christmas dinner, plan to spend a bit more on the bottle. Weddings especially call for a more expensive bottle. If you don’t want to spend that much, skip the wine. You’ll be safer buying something off their registry.
4. Make sure it’s appropriate. That is, you don’t want to buy wine if the host doesn’t drink wine. For instance, maybe the host enjoys alcohol, but they don’t like wine. Another situation you may run into is the host may not drink at all, due to personal choice, health reasons, or religious reasons. If you’re not sure, ask.
Presenting the Wine
1. Make the wine the package. That is, a wine doesn’t necessarily need to be wrapped or put in a bag or box. If the bottle is pretty enough, adding a bow or ribbon is pretty much all you need to do. Besides, most wine packaging doesn’t actually hide the fact that you’re giving a bottle of wine, which defeats the purpose.
- In addition, putting wine in boxes can heat them, which can be a problem for more expensive wines. It’s much better to try to keep the wine cool. If it’s a particularly expensive wine that should be kept in a cellar, consider holding it in a cooler until you give it to your friend.
2. Think about adding an accessory. If you want the gift to be extra special, include a gift that goes with the wine. You could pick a funky and fun corkscrew or carafe, for instance. You could also choose a wine thermometer, so the person can serve the wine at the proper temperature. Other options include fancy or unique wine glasses or a wall rack.
3. Wait for a good time. If you and your friend are both wine connoisseurs, pick a moment when you can tell the person a little about the wine. Of course, you don’t want to bore someone who’s not interested in all the details about the wine, but if you know the person will be interested, wait until they aren’t busy doing something else.