The holidays always present the problem of finding presents for people you love. Not for the wine lover, however. There is always yet another good but unknown bottle of wine to impress friends with, or a new wine glass, or just a glass you know someone would love but doesn't yet have. Above all else wineglasses are useful gifts. Not only will they will be enjoyed and used for years in some cases, but giving a good wine glass to a friend can even help elevate his or her appreciation of wine forever.
Although there are other wine glasses that look good, overall there is nothing that compares with the best series of Riedel glasses ever made, the Sommeliers series. However, for a more modest sum I would recommend the Riedel Vinum series, which I have used in every restaurant I have ever worked in.
Beyond the merely utilitarian or hedonistic gift, every year there is an emotional or spiritual reason to drink something that honors or commemorates a special person
If you want a fun party "glass" that won't break by the pool or on the lawn in a season when people can run barefoot outdoors, then try Govino, which makes stemless Bordeaux-style, tulip-shaped tasting glasses out of a food quality polymer. They can be reused, but they should be hand washed, and they are recyclable. Decanters also make impressive gifts, especially the recent creations of the younger generation of the Riedel family. Maximilian Riedel's Amadeus, Eve, Cornetto, Swan and "O" Magnum are beautiful and functional. And as another piece of advice, if you or your friends want to read about wine and friendship, learn about the camaraderie of the sommelier profession, and discover from insiders how to select wine, you must absolutely get Rajat Parr and Jordan McKay's new book, Secrets of the Sommeliers (Random House, 2010).
Beyond the merely utilitarian or hedonistic gift, every year there is an emotional or spiritual reason to drink something that honors or commemorates a special person or event. If there is someone in your life who has turned 21 this year, for example, it isn't too late to end the year with a celebration of wines. This year my family will be celebrating my daughter's 21st year, when she returns from college for winter break. So it will mean drinking wines from 1989. The vintage of 1989 from many of the best regions in Europe has held up very well. Only California had a bit of a problem with wet and cool weather in 1989.
If you can't find this or another older, mature vintage, or prefer something a little less costly to improve the holiday meal, the more recent vintage of 2007 in the Northern Rhone is very good, and the 2005 has some outstanding wines, although the Grenache-based 2007 wines of the Southern Rhone are better than the 2005s. Bordeaux has 2005 and 2001, and, starting to drink well now, the 2000. Out of Italy there are great wines from the Piedmont 2004 vintage available: Gaja, Vietti, Aldo Conterno, Giacosa, Clerico, and Sandrone.
This year I have also been drinking a few Cru Beaujolais like I haven't in years. The 2009 vintage may be one of the finest, most richly textured vintages for Beaujolais made in a traditional style in decades. The wines are not necessarily cheap, as Beaujolais Nouveau inevitably is, but they are well worth the price. Chenas, Morgon, Moulin a Vent, Brouilly, and Fleurie are among the better cru villages of the Beaujolais Villages to seek out. Some great Beaujolais Villages in 2009 are Jadot Moulin a Vent "Chateau des Jacques," Liger Belair Moulin a Vent, Burgaud Morgon "Cote de Py," Guy Breton Morgon, and Janin Moulin a Vent "Clos du Tremblay."
Hopefully you will have a personal connection to recall as you enjoy good wine with family and friends this holiday. Fortunately for my daughter, I saved a few well-chosen Right Bank Bordeaux from her birth year, such as Chateau Canon, Chateau Clinet, L'Angelus, Troplong Mondot, and La Conseillante. (If you don't have much of a budget, then there are Le Pin, Lafleur, or Petrus itself.) On the Left Bank, Haut Brion, La Mission Haut Brion, Montrose, and Palmer are superb.
Above all else, I also cherish a few bottles of Jaboulet Hermitage "La Chapelle" 1989 that I kept for my daughter. I first tasted this wine out of barrel with Gerard Jaboulet, who bottled a few Jeroboams of it for her to be tasted when she turned 21. He was one of the great personalities in the Rhone whose palate, acumen, and generosity kept his family name at the top ranks of winemaking. It was one of his negociant wines from my uncle's cellar, a Jaboulet Chateauneuf du Pape "Les Cedres" 1967, that first impressed me with how a great wine can taste.
When I first met Gerard in Tain L'Hermitage in 1987, I told him about this and he decided to play a trick on his father, Louis, who was at his desk that day at 75 years of age. Gerard located a bottle of the same 1967 Chateauneuf in their library and from the cellar he had someone carry a glass of this wine up to his father's office for him to comment on, at the same time calling him from the cellar phone. In around three amazing seconds of lively and animated analysis, which I could clearly hear booming out of the receiver in Gerard's hand, held gingerly away from his ear, Louis correctly identified the "Les Cedres," vintage and all, and commented that we must not think him very clever if we thought that he couldn't identify one of his favorite wines.
Gerard passed away unexpectedly in 1997, outlived, sadly, by his father, and his passing ultimately meant the decline and sale of the family business in 2005. But as we drink his Hermitage "La Chapelle" 1989, one of the last great wines from this historic family, I will tell my daughter his story.