Although a plain, brown bag might suffice for some winos, others want their Holiday/Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Whatever-Else gift in a plush velvet bag. I'm pretty sure I own every kitschy, wine-related knickknack that has emerged from China's belching factories, and the velvet bags are often the best part. But there are some items that wine enthusiasts actually want or even need — and they don't have to be expensive. This guide might ease the pain of today's ailing economy.
Wines. Less adventurous: Calina Chardonnay Reserva, Chile ($9); more adventurous : St. Francis 2005 Red Sonoma ($12); very adventurous: Almira Los Dos Grenache/Syrah ($10).
Wine charms. Despite their cutesy cheesiness, they're useful when you have a dozen matching wine glasses (ditto for martini glasses). $10 for a set of four on most specialty wine websites. If you're creative, you can design your own using wares found at crafts stores.
Vacu Vin Rapid Ice Wine Chiller. This handy frozen girdle fits around a wine bottle and chills it within 20 minutes. $10 at WineEnthusiast.com or at upscale kitchen stores. Also useful to keep sparkling wine bottles cold.
Wines. Less adventurous: Catena 2007 Chardonnay Mendoza ($18); more adventurous: Blackstone Sonoma Reserve 2005 Rubric ($20); really adventurous: Clos de Siete 2007 Red Wine Mendoza ($18).
Vacu Vin Wine Bottle Stoppers. Everyone should own this tool. On those rare days when finishing a bottle isn't an option, fit the rubber, corklike stopper into the top, then use the hand pump to suck out the offending oxygen. About $12 at most kitchen stores and online.
Books on wine. For the wine newbie, an informative, down-to-earth book by Marnie Old called Wine Secrets ($13.57 at Amazon.com) or the perennial bible by Kevin Zraly, Windows on the World Complete Wine Course ($16.47 on Amazon.com); for the geeks in your life, the enlightening To Cork or Not to Cork , by George Taber ($10.40) — it chronicles the pros and cons of cork versus screwtop — or First Big Crush by Eric Arnold ($17.28), an entertaining diary of his experience during harvest in New Zealand.
Wine aroma kit. For true geeks learning to train their noses to distinguish wine aromas (professionals often use it for exercise). Companies charge more than $100 for what you can build for less than $20. Fill film canisters or small glass bottles half-full of each of the following: crushed coffee beans, cinnamon sticks, cherry cola, cloves, raspberry jam, tobacco leaves (cigar is best), black cherry jam, green pepper, dirt, grapefruit rinds, lemon or lime rinds, dried mushrooms, and leather. The premise is to smell the wine, then smell the essences and find similarities. Very cool for parties.
Mo' Money ($25-plus)
Wines. How about a mixed half or whole case? Review a few of my archived columns on tayloreason.com and buy six to 12 bottles. No need for wrapping the cardboard box; put a bow on top and smile.
A decent wine opener. Another necessary item: a Screwpull wine opener (but not the table model — no foil cutter). No complicated levers, no hassle. Retails around $30 anywhere wine stuff is sold.
Good wine glasses. I buy Spiegelau crystal since it's cheaper than Riedel and I can't tell the difference. But Riedel has a relatively new line of stemless glasses called "O." For someone super special (with a sense of humor), even better than the plain version are the "Zin Bitch" or "Naked" Os from Four Vines Winery in Paso Robles. $10 each at FourVines.com.
Philip Stein Wine Wand. The luxurious gift for the enthusiast with everything. Sommelier-tested and approved, this gadget is encrusted with glass jewels and uses "natural frequencies" to infuse and aerate wine with oxygen. It circumvents the sometimes hourlong waiting period to open up a wine's full range of flavors. $325 at philipstein.com.