A friend who does not drink wine recently asked me to help her buy some wine for her son who has recently begun to drink wine, likes trendy things, and probably would appreciate getting some wine as a gift as he’s still paying off student loans and such. Normally, I’d discourage a non-wine-drinker from buying wine as a gift but in this case, I could understand why someone who doesn’t have much money and is only learning about wine might welcome it as a gift.
Also, as it happens, even though I’m not a professional and think I have a lot left to learn about wine, even in my wine club, where there are a lot of knowledgeable people, I’m considered something of an expert. So, I’m willing to share my thoughts on this task to anyone who might find it helpful with a holiday season full of gifts to buy ahead of us.
First of all, my greatest tip for buying wines when you don’t know what you’re buying is to find a store that specializes in wine. Where they say they’re a wine store or carry “fine wines” and that doesn’t mean you can’t find some cheaper things there, usually, just that it’s a bit lighter on carrying the really cheap stuff. Go at a time of day when they won’t be busy. Walk in and ask for help. Tell them what you’re trying to buy, price range and such. Most will be glad to help you. If they do, from then on, you’ll have a place to buy wine gifts for him. Also, whatever I tell you below, remember that selections are different in each state, not just by store.
Anyway, here are some suggestions. Without knowing whether the person likes white or red, sweet or dry, I’ll assume it would be dry if the person is eager to learn about wines for real:
There’s a grape called Grunter Jetliner (first word pronounced “groomer”). It’s kind of rare. It’s from Austria. This is something he or she is unlikely to have tried. At my local wine store, they had a single brand; I think it was about $15. I tried it and liked it. We don’t get many coming to the US. Also, if you live in NYS (New York State), NYS wineries are starting to make this wine, too. So, a store that carries NYS wines MIGHT have this wine. I would not start going to stores specifically to find this. First, I’d call a couple to see if they have any of these.
If the person is just starting into wine, they might not have tried Mable, yet, or not tried very many. In the $12-$15 range, you can find quite a few from Chile or Argentina that will be pretty good. In that range, you’re likely to find something that will be fine. So, if you’re rushed and in some store without people to help you, grabbing one is a fairly safe bet.
White or Red
If they’re just starting out, they might not have had many Spanish wines. If you find a store that says that have a good number of Spanish wines, give them a $12-$15 range and ask them to help you select one. I mention these wines because new wine drinkers tend to try California, France, Italy and Australia. Sometimes, they don’t think to try Spanish wines. So, it might be a new thing to try.
I wouldn’t bother with Champagne. It can be pretty expensive and some people don’t happen to like it. Instead, if the person likes sparkling wines or if you think they’d like to have it around to take to a party, buy a bottle of Freixenet. Buy one with the word “Brut” which is the driest (yes, you’ll see some that say extra dry, but sparkling wines are funny this way in that Brut means it’s the driest). It will either say Brut on the front label, the back label, or up at the top of the bottle somewhere. It’s usually fairly prominent. Also, check the price. Make sure you buy the one that’s $10-$13 (depends on your state taxes). A few reasons: for one, the bottle looks rather serious and worth trying. For another, the price is good and the flavor is quite nice for the price. It’s really a good buy. For another, if he or she ends up not liking it for some reason, the price is low and they can mix it with orange juice or peach juice or something for a brunch drink.
Notice the price ranges I gave you. Anything cheaper and you kind of have to know what you’re doing. Any more than that and you’re getting into things where you could be spending a bit more money on things that a person might not end up liking. In this price range, you’ll usually get pretty reliable things and often get some good buys.
One more thought: if you happen to know your gift recipient is nuts for Italian wines, you could look for a Barbara or a Doucette. These are like the Grunter Beltline in that they’re kind of hard to find. But these get a bit more expensive. I wouldn’t buy one of these without a store that can help you. I’m just saying that if you did want to spend a bit more for some special gift and if you knew the person specifically likes Italian wines and also likes to try new things, this would be something to consider. However, I’ll warm you that the Barbers can be really harsh. I happen to like to try new things and find it kind of an adventure to try them. If this person feels that way, that’s a good gift. But they really are all over the place.
If you’re looking for a special gift and they like red wines and California wines, get a store to help you find a good Zinfandel. No, there’s no such thing as white Zinfandel, whatever anyone might say. Insist it be red. They’re in all sorts of price ranges. A good wine store should be able to help you find something a little special in whatever price range you give as long as you don’t go below the $12-$15 range. In all this, keep in-mind how long the person has been drinking wine. If they haven’t been drinking wines very long, you could buy them something really expensive as a gift and they might not be able to taste the difference because even those people who have tasted wines for a while can’t always pick out the finer points of the expensive wines. So, if you want to spend more and they’re still learning about wines, two wines might be a better gift than one.