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The ultimate host gift

(article, Anu Karwa)

p(blue). Editor's note: Anu Karwa wrote the Culinate wine column, titled Swirl, from July 2009 through December 2010.

Wine is often a default, last-minute host or hostess gift. However, just because it’s convenient doesn’t mean it has to be any less thoughtful. And convenience is essential during the holidays, between the stresses of your significant other’s office party (where you’ll know no one and proceed to get tipsy in the corner), shopping for 18 nieces and nephews, and navigating mall parking lots.

It’s also nice to have a few bottles and reusable wine bags tucked away to give in return for unanticipated gifts. 

One note on wine etiquette: Don’t leave the hostess wondering whether or not the bottle you brought is to be opened that evening or not. If you’ve been thoughtful in choosing a particular bottle for the host to drink himself at a later date, tell him why you chose that special bottle just for him — and suggest he kick back with a glass of it after all the crumbs have been swept away. 

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Happy New Year!

h3. Giving wine of personal significance to you 

Picking the “right” wines that will please a variety of palates without busting the budget can cause a hostess some panic. So as a guest, bringing a bottle of your favorite celebratory wine and explaining this to the hostess should set her more at ease. Now you’ve just helped make the night a success, ensuring an invitation back next year. 

Here are a few of my budget-friendly, celebratory picks.

NV Gruet, Brut Sparkling Wine, New Mexico ($15): A well-made, bargain-priced, sparkling wine made in the traditional Champagne method — from New Mexico. It makes an excellent conversation starter. 

2009 Lini Lambrusco Rosso, Emilia-Romagna, Italy ($14): This isn’t your grandma’s Lambrusco. Lambrusco has been reincarnated and is all the rage. Pour some into a glass and ask someone to guess what they’re drinking. Jammy, dark berry fruit balanced with a touch of fizz is perfect for kicking off parties. Works well with many hard cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano.  

h3. Giving wine of personal significance to the recipient

This is one of my favorite ways to acknowledge a person’s interests. For example, my sister-in-law’s 2011 New Year’s resolution is a commitment to purchase environmentally friendly products. She would appreciate a locally made, sustainably grown wine. 

If a couple has traveled to Chile, provide them with a great Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon to help them relive that special period. Similarly appreciated would be a bottle that honors the recipient’s heritage, such as a bottle from a renowned winemaker of color.  

Here are a few possibilities.

2007 Shinn Estate Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, North Fork, New York ($39): Delicious green herbs and fresh earth notes from a dedicated husband-and-wife team.

2008 Anne Amie, Riesling, Willamette Valley, OR ($20):  A dry, sustainably grown Riesling perfect as a pairing with the multitude of hors d’oeuvres a host may be serving. 

2008 Ceja Carneros Chardonnay, Napa, California ($32): Amelia Moran and her family are Mexican-Americans who immigrated to work in the vineyards of Napa in the 1960s and saved enough to purchase their own land and their own winery. Their creamy Chardonnay is a testament to their efforts.

2008 Vision Cellars, Pinot Noir, Sonoma, California ($34): Winemaker Mac McDonald, a trailblazer among African-American winemakers, specializes in Pinot Noir. 

h3. Giving memorable wine  

This one requires more preparation. Try giving a “vertical,” or the same wine from consecutive vintages, to a real wine enthusiast. Suggest the recipient try the wines blind and guess from which vintage the wine is, and then see how the wine progresses from year to year. Include a note on the optimal time to drink the bottles and tasting notes from the winemaker. 

My current top choice for a vertical gift is Orin Swift Cellars, “The Prisoner,” Napa, California. Purchase the 2006, 2007, and 2008 vintages.

If a vertical is out of your budget, pick one age-worthy, collectible wine. Here are a few suggestions. 
2008 La Follette, Van der Kamp Pinot Noir, Sonoma, California ($40): This is the inaugural harvest of a new brand from a storied winemaker. Think of it as history in a bottle, and at a great price for the quality of wine. 
2006 Eberle, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, California ($30): Eberle’s wine library covers a wide range of prices, including the $75 Reserve Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. This more affordable option for gifts still showcases rich, luscious fruit and shows good cellaring potential.

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