There are thousands of wine-related gifts out there, most of them of little use. It's easy to find aprons, napkins and even pillows emblazoned with the common phrase, “Life’s too short to drink bad wine,” and there are numerous risqué phrases to be found on these items, as well. What you really want to think about when buying a gift for a wine lover is whether the item is useful, but that's not always so easy. My kitchen drawers are full of gifts that were meant to be useful, but turned out otherwise.

To make your gift memorable, consider the wine experience of the recipient. Anyone who hopes to become knowledgeable about wine needs four things: a good bottle of wine, good stemware, a good opener and a good book. Whether you provide some or all of these, each will be appreciated.

The most essential need for a wine lover is stemware. This is how wine is enjoyed. Riedel is the preeminent maker of fine stemware and has done extensive research proving its glasses make any wine taste better, and I would agree. However, Riedel claims that you need a certain glass for each type of wine. I don’t think that’s necessary. A good thin crystal glass of 12 ounces or more will satisfy most needs. These can be found at many wine retailers and specialty stores such as Crate & Barrel. I have even seen Riedel discounted at Stein Mart.

Opening the bottle usually requires an opener, of which many are available. Forget the winged openers; they are obsolete and impractical. Instead, consider the waiter’s corkscrew. It has a small knife for cutting the foil and a strong screw to remove the cork. The screw needs to be long enough to penetrate the cork fully or the cork will break, and make sure it has double levers. Another efficient but less common opener is the Ah-So. It removes the cork by sliding two prongs down along the side. Very convenient.

I would suggest the reading selection be The Wine Bible by Karen McNeil. All you need to know about wine is in this book. You might also consider a subscription to Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast.

For a suitable wine gift, determine your recipient’s wine preferences by discussing his or her wine collection or asking about favorite pours. Remember, it’s a lot to push novices to try something outside their comfort zone.

For the expert wine lover, all of the above would be suitable, but I would substitute a more advanced book such as Jamie Goode's intriguing book Flawless: Understanding Faults in Wine. As for wine, that's a little easier. If the recipient is a true expert, he or she will appreciate any well-made wine. For a unique gift, my suggestion would be to scour Wine Spectator’s top 100 and choose one or two that fit your budget. Because these wines are so highly rated, availability may present a problem, so check with local wine stores or Wine.com. The effort will be much appreciated.

Other ideas might include a gift certificate to a local wine store or a restaurant with a great wine list, or, if expense is not an issue, a wine refrigerator. Or splurge on the ultimate gift: a trip to Napa Valley, Bordeaux or Tuscany. Good luck and happy holidays.

Read more of Bob McGinn's wine writing at gulfcoastwinejournal.com.

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