Top 5 Wine Gifts for the Holidays 2012

Here are some ideas for wine-themed gifts for the 2012 holiday season, including a few that I'll be giving and a few -- hint, hint -- that I'd like to receive!

5. Wine Grapes by Master of Wine Jancis Robinson et alia

If you follow along here at Wine Time, you know just how much I revere Master of Wine and prolific author and editor Jancis Robinson. She's delivered yet another landmark work, just in time for the holidays, Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours (Ecco [Harper Collins], November 2012). As she likes to point out, an ampelographic work of this scope wouldn't have been possible even a few short years ago (ampelography is the study and classification of grape varieties, from the Greek ampelos meaning vine). Recent breakthroughs in genetic research of grape varieties have reshaped the field and revealed remarkable insights into the origins of some of the world's most commonly vinified wine grapes. At $175 a pop, this gorgeous cloth-bound tome is not exactly something you contribute to your office Kris Kringle. But a quick search reveals that you can find it for as low as $110 on bargain book sites.

4. How to Love Wine by The New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov

If a $110 gift is a little steep for the wine lover in your life, Eric Asimov's new "memoir and manifesto" How to Love Wine (William Morrow [Harper Collins] October 2012) at $25 (and even less on discount sites) is another must-have for the wine-aware. In a densely packed vineyard of wine books this season, most of which are overly romanticized or pleonastically technical, Eric's book is as relevant as it is vital to understanding wine and our nation's often troubled relationship with the new era of oenophilia. (I reviewed it here.) This is what I'm getting my mom for the holidays, by the way (she doesn't read any of my blogs so it will still be a surprise).

3. Subscription to an Online Wine Guide

Beyond Robert Parker, Jr.'s WineAdvocate.com, WineSpectator.com, and Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar (WineAccess.com), there are more online wine newsletters and guides available to oenonauts than ever before. I'm a big fan of the amazing Peter Liem's ChampagneGuide.net ($89 for a year's subscription). U.S. Natural wine authority Alice Feiring also launched a new newsletter this year (devoted to, yep, you guessed it, Natural wine). $65 gets you 10 issues of her "Feiring Line" (her last name is pronounced like the pun).

2. A Vintage (or faux vintage) Tastevin

What's a tastevin, you ask? It's a small silver (or sometimes gold) vessel used by sommeliers to taste wine. Often decorative, these palm-sized cups are ideal for tasting wine: The inert and naturally cool surface of the silver offers the wine to the taster in its most pure expression. A recent search on Google Shopping (just enter "tastevin" and then refine your price ceiling) revealed a wide range of prices and styles, from vintage reissues to real-deal early twentieth-century collectibles. WineEnthusiast.com is a great resource for all kinds of wine accessories, including tastevins. And in case you're shopping for the Eating Our Words wine blogger, I certainly wouldn't mind a stocking stuffed with a Sandra Jordan tastevin for around $200.

1. Birth Year Wine

I know... This last gift idea seems impossibly expensive and logistically impossible. But thanks to the internets, it's not as difficult as it once was to source birth year wine. In fact, it's relatively simple. My birth year is 1967: a quick search on WineSearcher.com (another great subscription idea) swiftly revealed a bottle of Château Talbot Saint-Julien -- fourth growth Bordeaux -- for under $60. Keep in mind: Birth year wine isn't always for drinking; it can also be collected a memento of the year a loved one was born. And if you chose to open the bottle, it offers a taste of the earth as captured in the year that loved one came into the world (it helps if your birth year was a good vintage!).

Happy holidays, everyone! I've got some great recommendations for holiday wines lined up. Stay tuned!

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