Choose a Merchant You Trust
Casual wine drinkers may feel intimidated by all the varieties of wine and regions where they grow. They may only know that they prefer white over red. It’s a wine-glass-half-full situation; take this opportunity to shop around for a knowledgeable merchant as well as a bottle. “If you have a good wine merchant, that person should be able to guide you well with a few pertinent questions,” says Peter Landolt, wine director of Viscount Wines and Liquor in Wappingers Falls.
“The Hudson Valley has many wonderful small and even large stores with great customer service that can aid you in what you want,” says Ken Maguire of In Good Taste in New Paltz.
Know the Person You’re Shopping For
The most common mistake when purchasing wine for someone else is not knowing enough about that person. “Sometimes you don’t know them well enough,” says Maguire. “It could be your boss, a coworker, or a family member you haven’t seen in a while, so sometimes you buy something you might like.”
Michael Albin from Hudson Wine Merchants in Hudson helps personalize the wine. “It’s just about being thoughtful in the end because maybe the point about the person isn’t that they like red wine in general, but that their personality is very adventurous and maybe you want to get them something really different that they’ve never had because that’s what’s exciting to them,” Albin says. “Think about why you’re getting it and how it relates to your relationship with them.”
Connoisseurs may wish to push full-flavored bold wines onto friends who are new to the spirit, but Landolt explains the process taste buds go through. “Most people’s palates evolve in a very very predictable way,” says Landolt. “Most people start with slightly sweet, low acidity wines and as time goes by their palate adapts to greater and greater flavor intensity, and dryer and dryer, and somewhat higher levels of acidity. It really is a predictable and inevitable evolution, and one should not rush it.”
Maguire suggests Pinot Noir or an Australian Shiraz to gently move white-wine drinkers into red. “If you’re trying to get people involved, buy something that is softer,” advised Maguire. “Not hard tannins, not something very spicy.”
Yancey Migliore of Whitecliff Vineyard in Gardiner recommends the Vidal Blanc as a lesser-known-light and refreshing white wine.
A Bottle They Wouldn’t Buy for Themselves
Port, sherry, and champagne make excellent gifts. They are tasty, universally agreeable, and while people enjoy them, they’d rarely purchase a bottle on their own. Port and sherry last a few months, even a year or two, after opened because they are fortified with brandy and have higher alcohol levels. They are sweet and generally served in small portions after dinner, another reason a bottle can go a long way. It’s a gift enjoyed well after the holiday season is over.
Local Wine is Nothing to Turn Up Your Nose At
The Hudson Valley is home to many vineyards so buying locally can provide a personal touch and you don’t have to skimp on the quality. An avid hiker might recognize that Whitecliff Vineyard’s Sky Island Red, a Bordeaux mix, is named after the Shawangunk ecosystem. Don’t think of local wineries as one-trick ponies, they have a large variety of whites, reds, and even ports.
“Local wines are a great gift around the holidays specifically because they are unique. Big producers go to great lengths to make sure the wines stay the same year after year,” says Migliore. “We don’t have to make wines that please everybody. We make wines to please the people who seek them out and are interested in something unique that represents the region.”
Mix it Up
If you are looking to buy more than one bottle for a person, a set or case of wine makes a lovely larger gift for the holiday. Stay away from ready-made gift sets. “I really would discourage people from buying the commercial gift boxes,” says Landolt. “For the most part they are simple mediocre wines and the real wine lover likes the gift of a unique or unusual wine.” Take the chance to continue to personalize your gift and broaden the horizons of your recipient.
Ken Maguire often gets patrons who want to buy a $100 bottle of wine for their boss. He tries to steer them away by suggesting three $30 or two $40 bottles. With quality $8 bottles coming out of Spain and Portugal, a case of wine may very well be within your budget. Having tasted nine-tenths of the wine at In Good Taste, Maguire can help you build your own gift set. “We can even write a critique or flavor profile of each wine,” says Maguire. He even suggests buying bottles and putting them in a basket with cheese, bread, and olives.
Spirits for the Earthy
Wines are filtered and fined in a variety of ways, some using egg whites, bone charcoal, gelatin, and other animal products that pose a problem for vegetarians and vegans. When choosing wines for others, consider their dietary restrictions and buy accordingly. “Many years ago you had to choose between an earth-friendly wine or a good wine,” says Albin. “Not only is that not the case now, there are lots of earth-friendly, outstanding wines. But it turns out, a lot of the best wines in the world were very earth-friendly because they were doing things with such care from the beginning. It’s just that they didn’t market it that way.”
Once you’ve found an earth-friendly producer, you may wonder how to select a bottle for a vegetarian. The same rules apply. “If it’s lighter and more delicate, like vegetable fare, and not heavily spiced or seasoned you might go with white wine. If it’s earthy or full flavored and highly seasoned or spiced you turn to variety of red wines,” says Landolt. “It’s not as hopeless as people think. Vegetarian fare can be just as conducive to good wine.”
Don’t Break the Bank
As with all gifts, spend what you think is appropriate. “There are quality wines at almost every price level, and the more you spend doesn’t guarantee equally increasing quality,” says Landolt.
Now that you’ve realized you could be an earthy, adventurous red; crisp, clean Vidal Blanc; or flirty blush, and you can make up for never having backpacked through Europe by tasting your way through Italy, France, and the Iberian Peninsula from your dinner table, you may find it difficult to part with your holiday gifts this year. But you can give your wine and drink it too. Have your new, beloved wine merchant help you pick out a case for your holiday dinner tour. For every dinner party you attend this season, bring a new and exciting bottle and enjoy it with your host.