WineInk: Gifting wine for the holidays

Kelly J. Hayes
Vineyards rows covered by snow in winter at sunset and barrels of wine.
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto


2015 Château d’ Yquem

Then again you can always just go bigger and sweeter than any one else! This three-liter bottle, the equivalent of four full bottles of the botrytized Château d’ Yquem Sauternes dessert wine received a 100-point rating from Robert Parker and James Suckling of Wine Spectator. That adds up to perfection. This offering for $3,200 at Aspen’s …of Grape and Grain is about as unique wine gift that one can find. It would make for one sweet present.

Is wine on your holiday gift list?

On the surface, wine may seem a pretty pedestrian gift. After all, how often, when invited to dinner at a friend’s house, have you absent-mindedly picked up a store-bought wine to take along? It feels so obligatory.

But what if you went a bit deeper when choosing wines for holiday gifts? What if you sought a wine with meaning? Made a selection that shows you have taken time to really think about the person you are gifting, wines with significance for them? It need not be expensive. At the holidays it is the thought that counts.

So how do you pull it off? The most fun way to be a Santa Claus of wine is to go to your local wine shop and simply ask the proprietor, “What’s a great gift?” Give them a price range and let them lead you through the wines. I did this recently at a number of shops posing the question, “What wine in your shop would be a great present if somebody bought it for you for the holidays?”

Each wine guy spent about 30 minutes roaming around his store, picking up different wines before landing on one or two that met the criteria. It was an education in itself.

There are a number of options to take the gift of wine to the next level. You may start by looking for a wine that is hard to find, something unique, maybe even a rarity. Who doesn’t appreciate having a wine made in limited quantity, one that can only be shared by a chosen few?

Johnny Invansco from Carbondale’s Sopris Liquor and Wines offered up a wine so rare that only 60 magnums were produced. “I love this producer!” he exclaimed, as he went big with a magnum of 2017 Walter Scott Seven Springs Vineyard Pinot Noir ($149.99). This fruit is sourced from the Seven Springs Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, owned by Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman.

Then there are wines that come with a story. Maybe a tale exclusive to you and the recipient. It could be something you have shared before, or from a vintage marking the year the two of you met. It could even be a wine that just reminds you both of a moment or place or perhaps a film you have in common.

“Wine is best enjoyed with friends and family, and if it can evoke a memory, it has done its job,” said Sanjay Kanchanlal of Broodmoor Wines and Spirits in Colorado Springs when asked for a suggestion. “I would like to recommend a 2016 Hitching Post Highliner Pinot Noir. It’s not expensive and has a great story.” (It is featured in the movie “Sideways.”) If you have ever been to the wonderful Hitching Post restaurant in the Central Coast California wine country, this $40 bottle will take you right back.

Jason Sterner from of Grape and Grain holds highlights from Santa Barbara’s Habit Winery.
Kelly J. Hayes/Courtesy photo

Despite a collection of many of the world’s most sought-after wines that line the walls at Of Grape and Grain in Aspen, proprietor Jason Sterner would also welcome wines from Santa Barbara that come with a story. “We visited this guy Jeff Fischer in Los Olivos who makes these great wines at Habit Winery. He is also a voice actor who does animated films and commercials.” Jason held up two bottles of Habit Wines, a 2018 Gruner Veltliner and Red Blend led by Cabernet Franc that sell for $34 and $49 respectively. Bargains in a shop that includes many three- and even four-figure wines.

Another option is to build what I call a world wine box, selecting wines from different countries with grapes indigenous to or identified with those places. Who would not want to receive a well-wrapped box of wines that includes, maybe, a Chianti Classico from Italy, Champagne from France, a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s South Island, and an Aussie Shiraz? It’s a trip around the world in wine that will last long after the holidays are over.

Burgundy is always a welcome gift for Bill Reilly at Aspen Wine & Spirit.
Kelly J. Hayes

“I always would welcome a Burgundy,” Bill Reilly of Aspen Wine and Spirit smiled as he hustled past great California and Italian wines in his Aspen shop toward a wall of specially selected Burgundian wines. “Let’s see,” he said as he picked up a number of bottles before settling on a 2017 Pierre Giradin Les Vaumuriens with a wax-dipped closure. “There are so many great young, next-generation producers who are doing things in Burgundy and this wine from Vincent Giradin’s son is an example. And it costs less than a $100.”

Roger Carlson stands proudly with a bottle of Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon in Aspen’s Grog Shop
Kelly J. Hayes/Courtesy photo

Finally, you can just go with a classic wine from a classic maker. There is not a wine lover on the planet who would not be honored with a gift of a bottle of 2016 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. “Wow,” uttered Aspen’s Roger Carlsen as he went back and forth from his Barolo and Barbaresco selections to the California Cabs in his Aspen Grog Shop before settling on this gem from one of the great wineries in the world. “Complex and layered,” he said with satisfaction. I almost thought he was going to open the bottle right there.

When looking for a gift this holiday season, don’t forget the wine. It’s as much fun to buy as it is to give.