Give the vino aficionado in your life a present they’ll really love
So, Christmas. What on earth do you buy a wine buff apart from, er, wine?
Well, there are plenty of ideas for spending your festive pound on wine-related pressies which don’t actually involve stuff to drink and might well be of more lasting value.
Firstly, if I had to pick one great present for a discerning wine drinker – and one which might linger beyond the last drop of a decent bottle – it would be a £40 lifetime membership of the Wine Society, a not-for-profit mutual society, founded in 1874 as a means of selling off wine left from the Great Exhibition. Membership gives access to its portfolio of around 1,500 wines – regularly recommended in this column – but also invitations to tastings and advice from the society’s staff. Already a member? They do a range of terrific gift packages, including glassware and food hampers.
Speaking of glassware, many good wines are served in bad glasses, while a modest wine can often be enhanced – or disguised – by a great glass, which can make an excellent gift. Avoid, please, novelty glasses, festive-themed ones and those adorned with twirling vines or wacky stems: they won’t make the wine taste better, you know. Many wine aficionados and restaurants opt for Riedel glasses and decanters which just seem to do the job: simple, elegant and one for every type of wine.
For those wanting to learn more about wine, there are gift options galore out there, from English wine tasting trips and even cruises, to a Wine and Spirits Education Trust course (from £169 wsetglobal.com) for someone really interested in the technicalities of wine. Slightly less demanding are the one-day or evening courses run by the venerable Berry Bros & Rudd (from £295 bbr.com), where you can still learn to taste like a professional.
And when you are sipping your favourite wines from a good glass and savouring them with the knowledge drawn from a wine tasting course, what else can you do but relax with some reading about wine? There are, of course, many books about wine, but one indispensable tomb is by the great Jancis Robinson: The Oxford Companion to Wine (£26 Amazon.com). The fourth edition contains 4,000 entries on every conceivable wine topic, from the delights of en rama sherry to the wines of China. Robinson is also co-author with Hugo Johnson of the World Atlas of Wine (£33.99 Amazon.co.uk), now in its seventh edition, another chunky reference work, with the emphasis on the world’s wine producing areas.
For something a little lighter, in every sense, and which should appeal to those who enjoy both pleasures, the lovingly produced Folio Book of Food and Drink (£34.95 foliosociety.com) contains writings from authors both known and obscure and includes Evelyn Waugh on wine tasting in Brideshead Revisited and John Keats on the pleasures of claret.
If you really must buy wine there are zillions of options, whether you shop at M&S or Harrods, with gift sets of the big names in claret, champagnes and ports. But remember that you may end up paying over the normal bottle price just for some stylish packaging. Ideally, pick something that will last longer than the bottle itself and a rare or different wine, such as the Gosset Grand Reserve Champagne Gift Set (£76.95 Amazon.co.uk), which includes two glasses and a champagne stopper, as well as a bottle from the small producer that claims to be the oldest in the Champagne region.
And finally, while there are many accessories out there from wine thermometers to corkscrews that resemble instruments of medieval torture, I can heartily recommend a simple stocking filler: a foil cutter, such as this £3 one from John Lewis, possibly both the cheapest and best wine present I’ve ever had, making opening a bottle so easy. And that’s what it’s all about in the end.