Hippo Manchester
December 22, 2005


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Wine: Gifts for blood, love or money

Nothing says ďmerryĒ like a bottle of wine

By Tim Protzman  tprotzman@hotmail.com

Sometimes you get The Waltons, sometimes you get the Borgias ó it all depends on the circumstances of birth. Whatever hand natureís assigned to you, itís a fact that you must spend time with your family at Christmastime and Hanukkah (which begins at sundown on Dec. 25). And both celebrations, although religious, require gifts be given.

They say you can pick your friends but not your family, so sometimes youíre stuck buying gifts for people who may be less than deserving. Thatís where wine comes in.

Rather than a Rooster Tea Cozy from the Christmas Tree Shops, give a bottle of something nice or cheap depending on your comfort level. You donít have to love them, you just have to spend a major portion of your holidays with them.

Here are some suggestions guaranteed to impart a false or even real sense of familial bliss.

The Half Bottle

This can be for the family member whoís naughty or nice. If theyíre really good (and maybe older and you stand a chance to get into the will) then a nice half bottle of a dessert wine or good Bordeaux makes a nice stocking stuffer. A sauterne like Chateau Rieussec ($27.99), which pairs with salty cheeses, nuts or desserts, is for those you want to impress. For that aunt or uncle who used to tease you and now lives alone with their cats on a fixed income, half bottles are inexpensive and perfect for that solitary dinner on the TV tray. Fetzer Valley Oaks Chardonnay, $4.49, is nice and the recipient can have a glass without the expense and danger of falling down, breaking a hip and moving in with you to recuperate. Half bottles also present a economical way of giving a wide variety of wines for the enthusiast to sample.

Boxed Wine

Perfect for the wine initiate to enjoy or just to have for a party. Itís economical and the wine stays fresh. Peter Vella Chablis is crisp, smooth and good for a picnic or informal gathering and, at $10.99 for five liters, the heavy hitters in your family will be ecstatic without breaking your budget.

Fruit Wines

This is an unusual gift for the wine enthusiast that wonít set you back and wonít draw a ho-hum response. Elderberry, apple and even dandelion are available and, while not in the same league as Far Niente ($49.99) or Ferrari-Carano ($26.99) taste-wise, will make a memorable impression. Try Eric Bordeletís Poire Authentique, Normandy Sparkling Pear Cider ($15.99) to kick it up a notch in taste and quality.

The greatest wine gift Iíve ever heard was for one of those 30-something unmarried cousins who still lives with his mother and collects Star Trek memorabilia. The gifter soaked the label off a cheap bottle of Australian Shiraz (try Rosemount Estates Cab/Merlot $6.99) and made their own label for Klingon Blood Wine. The geek was thrilled!

Hereís what Iím drinking and giving as wine gifts this week: 

2003 Cricklewood Pinot Noir, $16.99 ó Great New World burgundy from a transplanted French vintner in Oregonís luscious Willamette Valley.

1998 Vina Mayor Reserva, $14.99 ó From Spainís premier region, Ribera del Duero. Itís a little bit pinot, a little bit cabernet. Great taste, smooth finish with a multiple flavored structure and no afterburn. 100 percent tempranillo grapes.

2001 Columbia Crest Walter Clore Private Reserve Red Wine, $26.44 ó Named after a Washington State winemaking pioneer, this Bordeaux style red is 56 percent cabernet, 37 percent merlot and 7 percent cabernet franc. Very nice and elegant but Iíd love to taste this in six years when the echoes of fruit explosion die down.

Viu Manet Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, $13.99 ó Two different wine shops sang its praises and I heard the chorus and loved it. One of the best inexpensive wines ever. Drinks like a $30 Californian.

Merlot is Back!

Sick of those chemical-tasting cabernets? Switch back to merlot and see why less really is more.

2001 Geyser Peak Merlot, $15.99 ó The tannic balance was perfect. The fruit present but not obnoxious. Thank goodness the winemaker let nature take her course and opted for gentle nudges, rather than creating some Franken-wine monster. From Sonoma.