Special Occasion Wine Gifts

The Wall Street Journal has long had a feature they call “Open That Bottle Night”.  The premise is that many people have a few bottles that they’re saving for a special occasion.  But the occasion never seems to come and so the wines linger until they’re no longer so special.  The Journal advises that we all should open and savor one of those bottles at least once a year.

Photo courtesy of Marketview Liquor.

We do in fact have a certain number of bottles that get extra care and, yes, we do open them on some special occasions – birthdays, anniversaries – and some not so special, like that first barbecued steak of the season.  But then there are some reasons for wines that are important for someone else.  These might include welcoming a new addition to the family, reciprocating a friend’s wine generosity or celebrating some relatives’ fiftieth wedding anniversary.

We have confronted that situation over the years and have taken a few different approaches.

The easiest is simply to look through our collection and choose one of those wines to share with others.  That works well if we’ll be drinking it at our house, where we can control the handling of the wine from cellar to table.  But if we’re going to someone else’s place, all the care that has been given to a bottle over the years is likely to be for naught.  The sediment will be shaken, the temperature will be unpredictable and so the wine really shouldn’t be drunk that night.

So off to the wine shop we go.  But what to look for?  First, we really need to understand the tastes of the intended recipient, the nature of the occasion and possibly the menu.  There’s no sense bringing a California power hitter if the people we’ll share the wine with favor delicate Burgundies.  The intent is not to say, “Here’s something we like” but rather to show that we have an appreciation for what they like.

Another approach is to avoid table wines altogether.  How about a Champagne, say, or a Port?  The problem with giving Champagne these days is that there seems to be no middle ground.  Any given Champagne maison will have a base-level bottle that’s not quite special enough and a top-end premium bottling that may be beyond a reasonable price range.  For example, the wine shop we usually patronize has Pommery’s Brut Royale for $55 and their Cuvée Louise at $220.  Just how special is that special occasion?

Port has some of the same problems as a red table wine.  First, vintage Port that’s ready to drink (20 years old or more) can be very pricey.  And even more than aged red wines, Port throws a lot of sediment, making it difficult to consume at the time it is offered.  Sauternes might be a good alternative, but these dessert wines don’t have the same cachet as Port does.

In the end, the wine version of the Golden Rule (“Give what you would like to receive”) applies, combined with some serious consideration for what we know of the recipient’s tastes.  The secret is to say, “We hope you enjoy this wine.  You don’t have to serve it tonight.”  If that means we don’t get to share it with them, there will be other occasions and other wines.

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