A Drinkable Gift

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"thank you so much," i strained through gritted teeth.

"yeah? uh? cool. where's your bathroom?"

i held out, at arm's length, a bottle of bodega wine, 10 degrees warmer than room temperature. our guest stared blankly at me for a response.

"it's next to the kitchen," i replied. "careful. the handle's tricky."

he slouched off as i looked for a place to hide the "gift" that had just been bestowed upon us.

hopefully, most of you reading this have the common sense not to plop down $7 at the corner coffee-and-toilet-paper store for a party gift. the fact is, a decent bottle can be bought for $7. it's just a matter of letting your brain work for a minute or two before you buy the first thing you see. but then there's the main thrust of the issue: what wine do i buy for someone else?

this is the eternal problem with "wine as gift." what if the wine you get is something they hate? what if their tastes are completely different than yours? what if-gasp-they don't drink wine?

relax. there are a few easy do's and don'ts that can make buying a bottle of wine as a gift a lot less stressful:

do: ask for help. in every store, even the little mom-and-pop, hole-in-the-wall shops, the sales staff will know something about the wines they sell. it's always best to visit a store where the staff are knowledgeable, but truthfully, when buying wine as a gift, the most important thing is that the wine is good. the sales staff will usually have one or two personal favorites that you can rely on.

don't: buy the most expensive bottle in the store. i've said it before, and i'll continue saying it until the day i die: in wine, higher price does not equal higher quality. there are a great many brands that are expensive simply because of the name. there are also expensive, mediocre wines that have a higher price tag due to import taxes. along the same lines, don't let a flashy label seduce you, either. stick to the suggestions of your (hopefully) helpful sales staff.

do: go bubbly. a go-to, almost never-fail choice is sparkling wine. most people enjoy a glass of celebratory sparkling wine, and it's the perfect bottle to share at a party. it's also a great choice if you show up and your host doesn't happen to drink. they can pour it for their guests, and you've done them the favor of providing something for the party that they didn't have to buy. also, it doesn't have to be expensive. great sparklers from spain and italy can be had for between $10 and $15.

don't: get a dessert wine. i am a dessert wine fanatic. i can't get enough of port, sweet sherry, madeira, sauternes and banyuls. that being said, unless you know your host's taste, steer clear of the sweets. most people have an aversion to sweet wines and bringing one can be expensive for you, and disappointing for your host.

do: find out info on the wine. the gift of wine is made even more special if, when you present the gift, you give the host two or three specifics about the making of the wine, the region it's from or the grapes in the bottle. it can be as easy as asking the sales person about the wine or reading the back of the bottle. you'd be surprised how many people never look back there. giving them info on the wine shows you really cared about the gift, and it makes you look like you worked harder than you actually did.

don't: gift-wrap the wine. just give it as is. wine is something that shouldn't be frilled up and made untouchable. it's meant to be drunk, and the sooner, the better. hand it over, au naturel, and the host will be more compelled to open and enjoy it-and in doing so, appreciate your generosity more immediately.


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