Since I already own just about every wine gadget, I can imagine what a pain in the ass I am to shop for. Some gadgets I use regularly, like Vacu Vin stoppers, but some just pile up on the counter, like the gaggle of extremely cute yet useless wine charms my craftier friends bear as gifts.
The best gifts, however, are the thoughtful ones; even if inexpensive, they'll show that you took the time to be creative. To come off as someone who thinks, here are my gift suggestions for the wine lovers on your list, whether they are newbies or connoisseurs:
Plastic ice cubes: These odd items have been around for years, yellowing in kitchen drawers. Here's a new use: quickly chill down whites and roses without watering them down. Prices from $2.95 to $14.95 per dozen, and you'll find the best selection online by Googling "plastic ice cubes."
Wine journal: For jotting down preferences and prices, record what your foggy mind might not. It's a great idea for those wanting to figure out their taste trends. It should be small enough to fit in a purse, pocket or Palm case. Cheap, too. I buy mine at a drug store for $2.99.
Gift certificates to wine tastings: Tastings are all the rage and everyone should taste a variety outside their comfort zone. Wine shops, restaurants and other groups regularly hold tastings -- ask about advance purchases. Check www.localwineevents.com or local newspaper listings for tastings. Cost is $10-$20 per tasting.
For the neophyte, a wine starter kit: Fill a re-gifted holiday bag with: Screwpull wine opener ($25), Vacu Vin Wine Saver ($9), Vacu Vin Rapid Ice Wine Chiller ($9 for two), two good Spiegelau or Riedel red wine glasses ($20), and an inexpensive bottle of wine ($10). If you're feelin' the love, add a foil cutter, which efficiently slices the bottle's seal for $8 more. Find these online or at wine and kitchen specialty stores
Wine aroma kit: This is for true geeks learning to train their nose to distinguish wine aromas (professionals often use it for training). Companies charge over $100 for what you can build for less than $20. Fill film canisters or small glass bottles half-full of each of the following: coffee beans, cinnamon, cloves, raspberry jam, tobacco leaves, black cherry jam, dirt, grapefruit and lemon rinds, dried mushrooms, and leather. The idea is to smell the wine, then smell the essences to see if they are similar.
Mixed case of sparkling wine: a slightly more expensive gift that I'd covet. Assemble 12 sparkling wines, not just French Champagne but also from all around the world, and put a big bow around it: Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco or Spumante, German Sekt, and Australian and American sparkling wines.
When choosing wines to take to holiday gatherings, look no farther than the California wines in your local wine store. Before now, elusive, affordable, excellent wines emerged from countries outside the United States, but Americans are finally figuring out how to do cheap. The glut of grapes is helping, as are fearlessly creative winemakers and less-expensive winemaking techniques. Maybe wineries just aren't as concerned with the fancy appellations anymore, listing the generic "California" instead. What consumers gain from this gumption is good wine for a reasonable price.
Tin Roof 2002 Syrah-Cabernet California. $10. From the folks at Murphy Goode comes a fantastic second label, value-priced wine. A dark fruit bomb goes off with blackberry, cherry and blueberry. A touch of black pepper finishes it off.
Bonterra 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast. $13. Fruit forward, uncomplicated and full of red raspberries. Easy to cozy up with.
Cline 2001 Syrah California. $9. Full-bodied and slaps you with black pepper, tobacco and dark cherry. Then it gives you a deep massage. Not a wine for the faint of heart.
Chumeia Vineyards 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon California. $12. A cool wine that matures in the glass. From black cherry and plum to maple syrup and roses. Try it with food and watch it have some fun.
Wente 2003 Riesling Arroyo Seco Monterey. $10. Elegant, slightly sweet honey soothes a tart lime and red apple experience. Thick with flavor and pleasure.
Wente 2002 Chardonnay San Francisco Bay Livermore Valley. $12 Honeysuckle, oak, butter and lemon mix together like a hot toddy. Well-balanced acidity great with or without food.
Camelot 2001 Merlot California. $7. A simple, sultry, oaky, cherry-driven Merlot with some kick to it. So cheap, I wanna hug it.
Tamas Estates 2003 Pinot Grigio Monterey County. $12. This winery in Livermore Valley California is coming up with some cool Italian gems. Its Pinot Grigio is soft and supple with bright, zesty lime on the tongue. Refreshing acidic finish makes it perfect for sipping on a warm day.
Three Thieves 2003 Zinfandel California. $11 (one liter). One of the first wineries to test the premium jug-wine waters, these guys are having fun. Blackberry jammy, smoky, spicy and quite drinkable.
Taylor Eason is the wine columnist for Creative Loafing in Atlanta.