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Berger: Wines for your holiday gift list

  • Ellen Landis tastes a syrah wine during the Harvest Fair wine judging, Wednesday Sept. 25, 2013 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Five of us visited the home of a beloved food editor some decades ago, and she asked if we'd like a glass of wine — and then realized her faux pas.

Turning to me, she said, "Uh, sorry, all I have is white zinfandel ... and it's been open a week."

Clearly not all foodies are also "winies," and this story came back to me as I began to muse about what wines to give as holiday gifts. In most cases, unless you know a person extremely well and know what sort of wine will be appreciated, giving wine is a bad idea.

Case in point: The food editor above would immediately have thought of re-gifting had I gotten her a bottle of chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon. Too dry. Not what she liked.

If you know a real wine collector, giving wine randomly is usually going to turn out less than great since what you like and what the gift-receiver likes are often kilometers apart. And most non-collectors are unaware of vintage and producer subtleties.

But there are wines that are good for giving to some collectors and these don't have to cost a lot. The secret is to find wines that few collectors ever consider buying, but which would make a nice addition to their cellar.

One is sparkling wine. No one dislikes a well-made bottle of bubbly, and California makes many that are priced reasonably. One of the best is the Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs (about $22, often seen for less than $20).

More reasonably priced is Italian Prosecco, and this year some producers have come out with magnums. Magnums usually run less than $25.

Another wine that usually pleases as a gift is a dessert wine. Quady Winery in Madera makes a wide array of such wines, and its nonvintage Elysium (about $20) is a dramatic Black Muscat that's perfect for serving with almost any dessert.

Also, almost any wine designated late-harvest (from riesling to chardonnay) is a nice gift since these are usually wines that everyone, from casual sippers to wine lovers, appreciate but rarely buy. And since the 2011 vintage in California lent itself to dessert wines, store shelves should have many.


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