Wine & Spirits
Great Gifts for the Wine Lover on Your List
I’m always astonished at the variety of wine-related gizmos available out there: There are infrared thermometers that take the temperature of unopened bottles of wine, suspended decanters that double as dispensers, expensive motorized chillers that spin and spritz and even sabers for lopping off the necks of Champagne bottles.
In your holiday shopping desperation, you may feel tempted to buy one of these gadgets, which the retailers call “wine accessories.” Surely, Joe doesn’t already have one of those little glass straws that “hyper-volatilize” a wine for tasting. Nor does he need it. More than likely, your gift will go into a drawer and be forgotten until it’s time to hold a yard sale. (And the recipient of that Champagne saber will have you in mind as he waits to be stitched up at the emergency room.)
Let’s face it: All you really need to enjoy a bottle of wine is a corkscrew (and corkscrews are increasingly superfluous with the rise of screw caps) and a glass. Here are some suggestions for gifts that a wine lover will use and enjoy regularly:
Stemware manufacturers want you to believe that you need a different glass for every kind of wine, but I don’t know anyone with enough storage space for all those glasses. Most people can get by with all-purpose wineglasses, or perhaps, larger glasses for reds and smaller ones for whites.
It’s a pleasure to drink out of elegant, thin-rimmed glasses that are big enough to swirl the wine, rather than those chunky glasses you find in many tasting rooms. The gold standard is the Austrian-made Riedel crystal. Riedel’s hand-blown crystal Sommelier series can set you back as much as much as $95 a stem—boy does it hurt when you break one of those babies! I like the handsome Vinum line of machine-blown crystal ($20-$25). Less expensive ($8-$15) and still very nice are Riedel’s Ouverture glasses or German-made stemware from Schott Zwiesel and Spiegelau.
If you know someone who is always struggling with an old corkscrew or cork puller, it’s time for an upgrade. Beware the gimmicky devices: Some are so complicated they come with an instruction manual.
For years, the top choice was the Screwpull Lever model ($90-$150). It’s easy to use, doesn’t require a space-consuming stand and comes with a foil cutter and extra Teflon-covered screw. Now there are inexpensive copycats galore, although some aren’t very sturdy. One that’s very popular and has a good track record is called the Rabbit ($50). Screwpull also has a standard model ($20). It’s slower than the lever types, but easy to use. Just keep twisting in one direction to pierce the cork and extract it.
Some people have trouble mastering the basic waiter’s corkscrew, but a classic Laguiole model ($50-$100 plus) from France would be a good incentive to learn. These elegant corkscrews use materials like animal horn, wood or stainless steel for the handle.
Most wine-related gadgets I see are simply gimmicky, but there are a few that are truly useful. For chilling a wine quickly, the best device I’ve seen is the Rapid Ice ($10), a gel-filled sleeve that you keep in the freezer and then slip over the bottle to chill. In about 10 minutes, the wine is ready to drink. It’s also handy for red wines that get too warm in hot weather. There’s also a fancy model decorated with the art of Guy Buffet ($15).
Stoppers work well for sealing partly consumed bottles of sparkling wine (if that’s a problem around your house) and make great stocking stuffers. A basic one costs $5-$10. And, for people who have difficulty removing the corks initially, there’s a new gadget from Screwpull called the Cork Catcher ($20). Push it onto the top of the bottle and twist the bottle counter-clockwise. The gizmo pulls the cork with a strong pop and then catches it. It reduces the risk of injuries to bystanders—and makes more sense than a saber.