A Wine for Every Occasion: The Dos and Don’ts of Giving Wine As a Gift

giving wine as a gift

Sparkling wine coupled with a simple ribbon is the perfect gift for a birthday party or a wedding, and is available in a variety of price ranges depending on the occasion. Photo Credit: Pixabay CC user g7ya

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 Few dilemmas are worse for a wine lover than wondering what to bring to a dinner party, especially when you’re the only wine connoisseur in the room. Do you give the host a Bordeaux blend, or do you stick with something more basic, like a Cabernet Sauvignon? I was once invited to a party of casual wine drinkers, and brought along a decent Bordeaux blend for the occasion. Not only did the host have no idea how to pronounce “Bordeaux,” most of the guests were far happier drinking the magnum bottle of sweet white zinfandel that another guest had brought. After giving the host one glass of the Bordeaux, I had to polish the rest of the wine off myself, since no one else was interested. I learned a valuable lesson that day: you need to consider your audience when you give wine as a gift. Try following these dos and don’ts of giving wine as a gift, and you’ll ensure that your bottles won’t be wasted. You might even make wine lovers out of your friends in the process.

The Dos

Part of the reason the magnum of white zinfandel at the party I attended was more popular than the bottle of Bordeaux was because, standing next to each other on the table, the zinfandel actually looked far more impressive. Magnum bottles are a great choice for gifts, especially in a party setting, because they’re generous and festive, as well as helpful. Giving your friend a magnum or two of a simple party wine, like Champagne or another sparkling wine, takes some of the pressure off of the host, since the wine is plentiful and it will appeal to most party guests who are familiar with good bubbly. Save your standard bottles for intimate settings, like a dinner with fewer than four people, or give standard-sized bottles as standalone gifts after the party is over. And, as writer Janet Fletcher cautions, don’t expect your host to open the wine you brought on the spot. Not only have other guests likely brought along their own bottles, but the host will often have drink arrangements made for the party in advance. Instead, present the bottle to the host with a note that reads, “For your cellar,” or explicitly tell the host that it’s a great wine that you would love for them to try “sometime,” rather than right this moment.  

Large parties are just one setting in which you might give wine as a gift; birthday and wedding celebrations also call for a special bottle of wine. These wines should be in tune with your friend’s tastes, and you should spend more on a bottle for this occasion than you would on wine for a party. With wedding gifts, either go big or forget wine and get something off the registry. As painful as it is to hand over a bottle of Krug without getting to taste it yourself, weddings generally call for this kind of luxury wine gift, and the wine you give the bride and groom should be worth at least as much as it cost them to host you at their wedding. Also, since wine is a consumable product, it is a good idea to pair a bottle with something more permanent, like a good wine cooler or wine rack. And if you plan on mailing that bubbly to your friends, brush up on national shipping laws before you toss the bottle in the mail.

Before choosing a wine, you’ll want to consider whether you will have the opportunity to tell your friend about the bottle you are giving them. If you want to give a wine that is unusual or rare, make sure you have a chance to present the bottle in a calm setting. Avoid handing the bottle to your friend as they are cooking, filling up other guests’ glasses, or trying to juggle five conversations at once. Part of the joy of giving wine as a gift is introducing people to wines you love but which they may never have heard of; this is much easier if you are able to take some time to talk about the wine. Or, consider hosting your own annual wine party instead of trying to find the perfect bottle for every birthday or wedding. You’ll earn points with your friends for the rest of the year, and you won’t feel pressure to be the “wine guy” (or gal) at every special event.

The Don’ts

One cardinal mistake made by even the most well-meaning wine collectors is underestimating a friend’s taste in wine. It’s easy to offend someone by giving them a very basic or inexpensive wine, especially if they know you as a wine collector and enthusiast. A sub-par wine can make the giftee feel that you are not treating them as a peer with good taste. To avoid this, consider the wines that you know your friends already enjoy and drink frequently, then, if possible, improve on them. If your friend loves inexpensive, jammy wines, look into higher-end wines with these flavors. It’s possible that your friend has excellent taste in wine, but simply can’t afford to buy the best bottles for himself on a regular basis.

Another don’t is getting carried away with the presentation. A simple ribbon tied to the neck of the bottle is appropriate for most occasions. Wrapping paper and gift boxes can destroy a good wine if they cause the bottle to heat up. While this isn’t a concern with inexpensive wines, the last thing you want to do with a bottle of Beaucastel is keep it in a gift box in a hot corner of the room for two hours before you hand it to your friend. Instead, place the wine in a portable cooler to keep it at a stable temperature, especially if it’s a bottle that you want your friend to cellar.

Finally, avoid buying wines that are too obscure, especially if it’s a wine you have never tried yourself. Even other collectors generally prefer a simple, drinkable wine as a gift, unless you’re giving a wine that’s legendary or highly collectable. A bottle of fine Champagne or vintage Burgundy should go over well, but a Pigato of dubious quality may have them wondering what to do with the bottle after you leave. That’s why it’s best to save your obscure wines for your own parties and tastings. There’s no guarantee that unusual wines will ever be drunk when you give them away as gifts.

Your Best Wine Gift Options

So, what varietals should you bring to your best friend’s birthday party? Wines from California, Italy and Burgundy are having a major moment in 2016, and many are both delicious and highly collectable. These are not just wines for collectors, though. When giving wine as a gift from these three regions, you get the best value out of the purchase and the bottles could be the kickstart of your friend’s own future collection. My own collection started after being given a good Napa Valley bottle as a gift from a friend, and it was the first time I owned a bottle that was worth cellaring. Try Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Italian Barolo, or white Burgundy for some of the best wines from these regions.

Champagne and sparkling wine are consistent hits at parties, but for special occasions and close friends, you will want to splurge on one of the big Champagne houses, like Moët & Chandon, Krug, or Gosset. For a celebratory gift that’s more casual, Prosecco and Cava are fun and light alternatives to vintage Champagne.

Choose Bordeaux Grand Cru wines from 2005 for a high-quality vintage that makes a special occasion even more special. Many serious collectors have been afraid to give away Bordeaux in recent years, since the quality has fluctuated. However, 2005 is one of the most consistently amazing vintages in recent history, and it makes a gift that is sure to be appreciated by wine lovers.

If you suspect your giftee would appreciate something more unusual, go for Barolo and Brunello from Italy. These niche varietals are unique to Italy and harder to find than wines made from more common grapes, making them more exciting than your average Napa Cab. Spanish Tempranillo-based blends are also the perfect gift for wine lovers seeking the unusual, especially for those who enjoy spicy, peppery red wines. If your giftee is more into sweet style wines, consider giving them a bottle of 2011 Port, as this was an excellent vintage for this varietal. Many Spanish fortified wine blends from the 1980s are also being released for the first time this year. These sappy wines (typically made with sherry) have aged and reduced down for the past 20 or 30 years, making them perfect for a friend with a sweet tooth.

Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Call our experts today to have us store or organize your collection.

Harley is an Executive Wine Specialist for Vinfolio, helping collectors find the best wines for their collection. He’s a lover of everything outdoors and the proper bottles to go along with it. You can find him at any of the newest cocktail bars and restaurants in SF or on an adventure somewhere in between Lake Tahoe and the California coastline.