White, the budget wine gift
Rieslings and Pouilly-Fuisses for everybody
By Tim Protzman firstname.lastname@example.org
Warning! Warning! Christmas is in a week! Gift alert!
But I know someone who’s getting a nice present. I got an e-mail from a lady who wanted two cases of Roederer Cristal Champagne. It was a mistake, but why’d I get it? Am I on her e-mail speed dial? Cristal is a nice gift. The going price is around $235 a bottle so it’s not something you’d tip your milkman with. But what do you tip your milkman with? How can you give wine gifts that don’t leave you in the poor house? But are memorable, too? The quick one-word answer is: White! Real winos sometimes overlook white wines in the race to red. Even Gil, my late great wine guru, used to say to anyone who dissed red wine, “But that’s where all the flavor is.”
The truth is that white wines are a little more approachable for the wine beginner. Red may have cachet and weight for the more educated palate, but there’s plenty of flavor in white wine.
My favorite white to recommend this year is Riesling. It’s inexpensive, pretty well made and different. When was the last time you had a glass of Riesling at the tavern?
Kendall-Jackson, Woodbridge and Robert Mondavi all come in at around $10 dollars a bottle. You’ll smell apple and honeysuckle. You’ll taste melon, honey, green apple and a wee bit of custard. If you’re really gifty then buy a case, which runs about $120. This is perfect for the hairdresser or a teacher or the toll attendant. One, they’ll thank you profusely. Two, they’ll tell you just how nice the wine was. This goes for people who don’t know wine and even semi-connoisseurs like me. The one person who might be underwhelmed is the wine expert. Most will like it and find it fun, satisfying and tasty. But the ones who start conversations with “We found this little vineyard in Rheingau…” will find it déclassé.
Riesling brands also worth trying — Bonny Doon, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Dr. Frank, Hopler, Grant Bruge, J Lohr, Long Flat, Rosemount, Salmon Run, Snoqualmie and Tohu.
The hot Riesling areas now are California, Oregon, Australia, New York Finger Lakes, Germany and the French province of Alsace. But beware of turning to the source. Alsace and Germany produce great Rieslings, but they’re expensive. The cheaper ones from these two places are usually not very drinkable.
Pouilly-Fuisse is chardonnay. But it’s got its own terroir, and it’s not as pricey as white Burgundy.
I’d give this to someone who likes wine a lot. And at $20 to $30 a bottle the recipient is a little more special. Like your boss or a co-worker, parents or new significant other. I’d go with the Jadot or Laboure-Roi, $19.99 and $21.99 respectively.
Why Pouilly-Fuisse? Different, with great name recognition and I’ll bet most of you have yet to taste one. But don’t get too worked up, it’s still just chardonnay.
Does your office have a gift exchange? Do they do a Secret Santa? I worked for this large healthcare company and most of the people in my office liked wine. And Martinis and beer. We also had this little tradition — a Yankee gift swap. We’d all bring in a wrapped gift, usually something from home, and we’d all pick numbers. Number One would choose a gift from the pile and unwrap it. Number Two could take Number One’s gift, prompting them to take another one from the pile, or one from the pile. Number three could choose the two unwrapped gifts or one from the pile. So Number 22 had the pick of everything. One year we did this with wine. Wine we had at home or something from the liquor store.
The first unwrapped bottle was A Little Penguin Shiraz. Tina got it and there it stayed. Our boss got Chateau Beauchene du Rhone Villages, which is a step up from Cote du Rhone as this represents the 95 villages and vineyards and an increase in quality. The boss kept that bottle. A catfight broke out over the Gramona Grand Reserve Cava or Spanish sparkling wine. It kept getting passed back and forth. Alliances arose, like on Survivor, to capture the prize, until … the Chateau Larose Trintaudon 1998 (it’s a structured little Haut-Medoc) showed up. Tommy made a play for it and was trumped two turns later by Kate. Kate didn’t even drink wine; she just wanted her Team Leader Angie to get it. Things got heated. Mistletoe was hung over someone’s derriere and people were told to kiss it. My bottle of Cape Mentelle Margaret River Cabernet/Merlot went to Sue with little fanfare. And I got a 1994 Beaulieu Rutherford Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. I had a high number and luckily, Dave came after me. He didn’t drink but had his eye on the 1.5-liter Barefoot Chardonnay for his family’s Christmas dinner. Quantity was important, not quality.
The Beaulieu was exquisite, especially since it cost me $13.99, which is what I paid for the Cape Mentelle. Surprisingly, Beverly had brought it. She was cute, smart and totally without a clue when it came to wine. She’d pulled the bottle out of a case her father had in his basement. He had lots of others too. And that’s how she came to be my girlfriend.