For those of you enjoying Champagne Socialism this holiday season, here's a follow up with gift ideas for your favorite Capitalist wine lover (just in case you happen to know one).
Few readers are old enough to remember the gag from Steve Martin's stand-up career in the 1970s when he would tell audiences: I hate it when people tell me to "have a nice day"... It puts all the pressure on me to have one!
Like Martin's conundrum, giving wine and wine-related gifts for Christmas is a double-edged corkscrew, so to speak. While everyone appreciates a gift, no one likes a present that "puts pressure" on her or him to enjoy it. And sadly, even the most materialist among wine lovers can be nonplussed by a bottle of lieu dit Grand Cru Burgundy.
So if the weight of consumerist hegemony is so great that you feel compelled, despite your best Trotskyite instincts, to give the capitalist gift of wine or a wine accessory to your comrades and loved ones, here are a few suggestions for thoughtful gift-giving this bourgeois holiday season.
Wine: As I point out above, receiving a bottle of wine as a gift can be onerous. Does the recipient know the wine and know its value? Does the recipient know how to store and serve said bottle of wine? Does she or he have a cellar (or climatized storage space) to age it? Think twice before giving that bottle of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, or Brunello (to name a few sure-fire red collectibles). Be certain you know what you are giving and make sure the recipient is capable of understanding what she or he is receiving.
Large-format wine: "I like big bottles and I cannot lie," once said Karl Marx (that's actually true; well, kinda). Large-format wine always makes for a conversation piece, especially when it comes to sparkling wine. And wine aged in large-format bottles is highly prized by collectors. Today, you can even find lower-end wines in big bottles, which make for great party gifts. See this Wikpedia entry on bottle sizes to impress your fellow proletarians (or even the managerial classes) with your knowledge of large format names and sizes.
Wine openers: When it comes to corkscrews, there are two camps of thought. On the one side, people accustomed to pulling corks from bottles want functionality and expediency. On the other, people unfamiliar with opening bottles want ease and worry-free facility. See this great post by Wine Folly on the wide spectrum of wine openers available to consumers today. Avoid the butterfly and twist-and-pull (wine professionals generally use the "waiter's friend" or "wine key"). I'm not a fan personally but the Rabbit wine opener is a great, although expensive, gift for the wine lover who doesn't love opening wine.
Funnel/filter: As counterintuitive as it may seem, the funnel/filter may be the most useful tool that your favorite wine lover is lacking. I vehemently discourage you from using it to expedite your wine with so-called aeration (more on that on another less festive occasion). But it really comes in handy when a cork breaks and you need to filter the pieces out of the wine. It also makes it a lot easier to pour the wine into a decanter (see below).
Decanters: I'll just come out and say it: As politically incorrect as it may sound, I'm an anti-decanter. In today's world of high-tech winemaking, there's really no need to decant wine other than a desire to show off the color of the wine and/or to brag to your friends about the vessel's fine crystal or astronomic price. Having said that, a beautiful decanter is always a welcome trophy gift (and I'm partial to vintage decanters that you can often find in thrift shops in military industrial complex neighborhoods). The only question you need to ask yourself is does the recipient have a proper China hutch to display it? (because that's where it will collect dust for most of its lifetime).
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Wine publications/subscriptions/newsletters: As with giving a bottle of wine (see above), it's important to consider whether or not the recipient will be able to appreciate and/or use the gift. What's the point of giving a subscription to Wine Spectator if the recipient doesn't engage in points-based wine shopping? But for savvy collectors, subscriptions to publications like the Spectator, Vinous (online only), and even WineSearcher.com can make for great gifts. A year-long subscription to Master of Wine Jancis Robinson's Purple Pages includes access to the online version of the Oxford Companion to Wine (something I use nearly every single day). For natural wine lovers, Alice Feiring's "Feiring Line" (Feiring and firing are homonyms) also makes for a great present (disclosure: Alice is a friend).
Wishing you peace, bread, land, and wine this holiday season! Whatever you give or receive, drink it in good health and in sisterhood and in brotherhood of humankind! Happy holidays!