It may be a bit early to start shopping for the holiday season, but it is never too soon to find that perfect something for the wine aficionados in your life.
The world of wine has seen a proliferation of wine gadgets of dubious usefulness and efficacy in recent years. A corkscrew and decent wine glasses are the only specialty implements that are truly required to drink wine, but following are a few tried-and-true ideas for those seeking to take the enjoyment of wine to another level.
As noted above, good stemware is always nice, but it can be a bit tricky to buy for someone else. Will they want glasses that can go (and will fit) in the dishwasher? Will they want a dozen glasses of the same size and shape or want stemware of various sizes and shapes for different types of wines? A decanter is a great one-size fits all gift idea for the service of wine.
A decanter is a glass vessel with a wide bottom that allows a large surface area of the wine to be in contact with the ambient air. This allows young wines to “breathe” in order to soften their tannins and let their flavours and aromas open-up. Pouring wines in a decanter or “decanting/carafing” will make most red wines at all price points, (and some fuller-bodied whites) more approachable, enjoyable and taste more balanced and expressive.
Decanters range in design from practical to whimsical, and, in price from reasonable to extravagant. I would recommend erring on the side of practical and reasonable. A good decanter is one that you use often to get the most out of your wines. Simple designs have the added benefit of being easier to clean. Decanters are also useful when drinking older wines. The process of slowly decanting leaves behind, in the bottle, the naturally-occurring sediments that are formed over the years by the tannins as they bind together during the aging process.
Another great way to get more enjoyment out of wine is to become more knowledgeable. Knowing more about wine not only allows you to select wines that are more likely to match your preferences, but also allows you to better “understand” the wines that you are tasting by being acquainted with the geography, climate, history, culture and cuisine of the areas where they are made and with the grape varieties that are used in their production.
Two references books are universally recognized in the wine world as essential. The World Atlas of Wine is a compendium of maps of the world’s wine regions. Regions and their key wines, principal producers and grape varieties are described in great detail. This is the ultimate wine book for the armchair traveller – enjoying a glass of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon or Sancerre while reading about these famed regions and seeing the contour of every hillside and vineyard and the exact location of legendary wineries is the next best thing to travelling to California or France. It is worth noting, for the tablet-inclined, that the World Atlas of Wine is also offered in electronic format with great interactive maps.
The Oxford Companion to Wine is an impressive encyclopedia of all things wine. It presents, explains and illustrates close to 4,000 wine terms, from amontillado to Zweigelt, covering topics related to history, vine-growing, wine-making, grape varieties, key producers and personalities, and wine regions. This is not only a great tool to tame the indecipherable terminology of wine, but also a great way to learn for those that prefer to peruse and meander as they tackle a new subject.
I have early editions of these books and years after purchasing them, rarely a week goes by that I don’t consult both; when I’m lucky, to read up on a wine that I am about to decant!
Jean-Sébastien Morin is a category manager with P.E.I. Liquor. He is an accredited sommelier, wine writer, educator and wine judge. His love of wine was born in the late 1980s, while studying and working in Europe. Inspired Grapes aims to transmit Morin’s passion for wine while never forgetting that the pleasure of a glass of wine often resides in the moment and the company in which it is shared. To reach, Morin email firstname.lastname@example.org.