In search of the perfect bottle
A painless guide to gifting wine
The holiday season is upon us, and with that comes the challenges of entertaining at home, traveling to visit family, hearty feasts, and, of course, gift giving. Not surprisingly, one of the most popular gifts this time of year is wine. It’s widely known in the wine industry that the fourth quarter is the busiest time of year—it’s not uncommon for stores to sell twice as much wine in the last two months of the year then in non- holiday months. While wine is usually a safe bet, picking out the perfect bottle for your friends, family, or boss can be extremely intimidating. There are numerous factors to keep in mind, from style and taste to packaging and price.
I’ve helped folks pick out countless bottles over the years and will reveal my five secrets for giving the perfect bottle of wine.
The most undervalued wines cost $25–$40.
Contrary to common belief, there is no direct correlation between price and quality in wine. Many wines are overpriced due to inflated market demand, perceived scarcity, ornate packaging, or just plain greed. At $25 you are way more likely to get bottle of wine that was made from smaller-scale, family-owned producers who hand harvest their grapes from specific vineyards and who make the wine with intention and care. My advice is to avoid most wines under $10— these are generally so cheap because of automation and economies of scale, which in most cases compromises the quality of the final product. Takeaway: More money doesn’t necessarily buy you a better bottle of wine, but don’t cheap out.
Avoid the overpriced “blue chips” and go for the hidden gems.
My experience with blind tasting has revealed that the wines with the worst QPR (industry lingo for quality-to-price ratio) are “cult” California Cabernet, Burgundy’s Grand Crus, and Bordeaux from the first growths. Beware of these bottles, as the quality in the bottle is usually excellent, but the price is overinflated. The highest-perform- ing values in the market right now include Bordeaux made by the so-called petits chateaux (aka those without a famous name), Albariño from Spain, Chianti Classico from Italy, and Blaufrankisch from Austria. Rochesterians will not be surprised to learn that some of the best deals from the New World can be found a mere hour’s drive away in the Finger Lakes. The quality in this cool cli- mate New York region has never been higher, with bone-dry, mineral-tinged Riesling leading the way for white wine, while red wine lovers have fallen in love with the juicy, spicy charms of Cabernet Franc. If you’re shopping for a California wine drinker, con- sider checking out the “backroads” regions in the state, like Clements Hills, Cienega Valley, Red Hills Lake County, and Ballard Canyon. Old heritage vines and thoughtful winemaking in these locales have resulted in wines of place with depth and character for a fraction of the price of the better-known regions. Takeaway: Hidden gems tend to work best for the curious foodie who is up for wines that are new and different.
Gift a wine club subscription.
Without a doubt, the best present for the obsessive and thoughtful wine drinker is to gift a wine club membership curated by people you know and trust. The formats and style vary from store to store, but most wine clubs seek to highlight wines that offer value, discovery, or exclusivity. At our store, for example, clubs go for $40 a month, and subscribers receive two wines, complete with notes on the taste, story, and significance of our picks. We have members consistently report that our wine club is their primary avenue for discovering new favorites. As a tip, I would recommend avoiding wine clubs sponsored by big publications who don’t sell wine as their primary business—think outfits like the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, etc. These tend to be handled by large brokers who sell less than stellar bulk wine, bottled under different labels so as to offer exclusivity to their clients. Takeaway: A wine club is the perfect gift for someone who loves to not only drink wine but learn about it too.
We are living through the hottest, most controversial wine trend in the world right now—the natural wine movement. Love it or hate it, it’s a force to be reckoned with and deserves your attention. The term “natural wine” is problematic, as your definition of “natural” can be vastly different from my definition. At Pinnacle, we like to think of a naturally made wine as one that is made from responsibly farmed grapes, with minimal additions (and subtractions), so that the wine can reveal its sense of place—what wine people refer to as “terroir.” Natural wine has won over scores of wine enthusiasts for its charming labels, lower alcohol, and soulful nature. A bottle of petnat, orange wine, or chillable red is the perfect gift for your adventurous wine drinker. Takeaway: If you are shopping for a Millennial or Gen-Z drinker who likes a little funk, consider a natural wine.
Forge a relationship with your local independent wine retailer.
This tip takes a little work, but it is well worth the effort. I like to compare buying wine to buying vinyl records; just as you can tell your local record shop your likes and dislikes in music so that they can make tailored recommendations, it is a sound policy to tell an individual wine professional what you like and ask them to recommend something similar. A good retailer will ask questions to gather more information on the recipient—good things to know include their favorite wines, where they have traveled to, favorite foods, and general personality. Don’t be afraid to shop around either; trust the process and know that over time you will find the right fit. Takeaway: It always pays to have a guy.
If all else fails, sparkling wine is always a great choice. Everyone appreciates bubbles, especially at the holidays!