The Best Wine Gifts, According to Somms and Industry Pros

Wine bottles wrapped in varying colors of tissue paper
Photo by Tom Arena

Nobody wants to spend December fighting crowds of harried shoppers just to check off their holiday gift lists. The solution to avoid shopping mayhem? Wine.

To compile a comprehensive guide for any gifting occasion, we polled top wine professionals to find out which bottles sommeliers and buyers pick out for those tricky gift recipients.

The wine store can even be a one-stop shop if gift-wrapping supplies are low, too. “I like to wrap the gift in a darling wine tote bag from a local shop,” says Vanessa Rea, wine director of Eastern Standard in Boston. “You can never have too many wine totes.”

Israeli Wine wrapped in teal tissue paper against a deep blue background
Photo by Tom Arena

For the Parents: Israeli Wine

Whether your love of wine is inherited or not, the holidays offer an opportunity to introduce your parents to something new and unexpected.

“Now’s the chance to impress your parents with your wine prowess,” says Erik Segelbaum, an advanced sommelier and the founder of SOMLYAY, a wine consulting company. “Wines from Israel are my go-to.”

The country produces a range of wine styles from many grape varieties. Bordeaux-style red blends, Mediterranean grapes and indigenous varieties like Marawi and Bittuni are all fair game.

For the In-Laws: Barolo

It never hurts to try to impress your in-laws. “Show them you’re in it for the long haul and go classic, like Barolo from Piedmont,” says Rea.

Even if your in-laws aren’t wine aficionados, they’ll recognize the name and appreciate that you went for a heavy hitter. Plus, these Nebbiolos are layered, food friendly and offer the opportunity for future family dinner plans.

Rea’s bonus tip: A little bottle age goes a long way.

Israel: New World Wines With a Bordeaux Connection

For a Long-Term Partner: Vintage Madeira

If anyone deserves a splurge during the holidays, it’s your long-term partner. Segelbaum recommends hunting down a bottle of vintage Madeira. Find a bottle from your partner’s birth year, a feat that shouldn’t be too tough. Madeira wines are virtually indestructible, even when open.

You could also create a new holiday tradition with the bottle.

“Have an ounce or two together, then seal the bottle and wait until next year’s holiday to have another few ounces and reminisce about your lives since your last taste,” says Segelbaum. “You’ll create a tradition to look forward to for at least 10 years.”

For a New Significant Other: Sparkling Rosé

“Nothing says ‘I love you’ like pink bubbles,” says Alexandra Masanotti, head buyer at Jersey City Super Buy-Rite in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Rosé sparkling wine is fun and festive, even if you don’t have a huge budget. Rosé Champagne is a classic, delicious option for those who want to splurge. Masanotti recommends rosé Cava for those looking to save money.

To add a special touch, order your significant other’s favorite food. “Rosé sparkling will probably pair well with whatever his or her favorite dinner is, from fried chicken to spicy foods,” says Masanotti.

Bottle of Bordeaux wine wrapped in bright yellow tissue paper against a teal background
Photo by Tom Arena

For the Boss: Aged Left Bank Bordeaux

While you could get creative with your boss’s wine gift, Steven Washuta, wine director at Portale in New York City, recommends keeping it classic.

“The boss deserves something classy and sophisticated, and no region delivers that more consistently than Bordeaux,” he says.

Stick to the Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines of the Left Bank, where heavy hitters abound, but there’s no need to shell out hundreds of dollars if it’s beyond your budget. Washuta recommends Haut-Médoc overperformers like Château Sociando-Mallet or Château Poujeaux.

For Your Geeky Wine Friend: Lambrusco

Your super geeky, wine-savvy friend may have every Romorantin, Valdiguié and unfiltered pétillant-naturel around, but do they have this classic sparkling red? With just the right balance of refreshment and complexity, great Lambrusco might be exactly what your friend is missing.

“A beautifully balanced Lambrusco is the bottle your wine gathering didn’t know it needed,” says Isabella Fitzgerald, beverage manager of Momofuku Kāwi in New York City. “The bottle will be empty before all the rest you open.”

For Your Secret Santa: Paso Robles Red Blend

Stuck with an office Secret Santa that you’ve barely exchanged two words with all year? A crowd-pleasing, full-bodied red is always a safe bet, according to Elyse Genderson, wine director for Schneider’s of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

To meet the typical $20 price limit, look for wines from Paso Robles. “A modest budget of about $15 will get you a wine that is not just drinkable, but actually interesting,” she says. “It’s hard not to love a generous and bold red, and any coworker would try to steal it in a white elephant swap.”

Champagne bottle wrapped in hot pink tissue paper against a bright yellow background
Photo by Tom Arena

For a Holiday Party Host: Champagne

Hosting is often downright exhausting, so Rea has one rule when gifting wine: “Bring a bottle of something that will be enjoyed well after their houseguests leave,” she says.

Genderson always brings a bottle of Champagne for the host or hostess, with strict instructions to drink it while doing the dishes. “Not only is Champagne festive and celebratory during the holidays, but gifting a nice bottle is a wonderful way to express gratitude,” she says.

For Literally Anyone: Sparkling Wine—From Anywhere

Unexpected gift recipients always pop up, so a catch-all present can alleviate stress. “Gifting bubbles is my favorite way to spread holiday cheer,” says Rea.

Whether it’s Champagne or Prosecco, Méthode Cap Classique from South Africa or Franciacorta from Italy, sparkling wines offer a reason to celebrate over the holiday season.

Segelbaum recommends looking outside the box to countries like Portugal, Germany and Austria to find great values. Rea likes to attach a small note to the bottle with her favorite pairings (fried chicken and Sicilian pizza are her go-tos, she says).

A bonus? If you have extra bottles on hand when Dec. 31 rolls around, you have something delicious to toast to the new year.

Published on December 16, 2019
Topics: Wine and Ratings


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