When was the last time you saw people drinking wine with frowns on their faces? I would venture to say almost never. Drinking wine tends to be very social. Once you pop that cork, you’ll often pour someone else a glass of happiness first, and then, of course, one for yourself.
Wine is so special that we are ceremonial about how we open the bottle, decant before serving, and test to be certain your guests are not subjected to the nasty smell of a corked bottle. We are fussy about the container it’s delivered in. No one really wants a box of wine, do they? We even fuss about the size and shape of the glass we pour our wine into, and the industry even tells us that wine tastes better from large and fancy stemware than from a red Solo cup. Seems unscientific, but I have to agree.
Choosing a wine that is appropriate to bring to a dinner party can be intimidating. I enjoy the adventure of sorting through the jungle of wine choices at New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlet stores, but don’t expect expert advice there, or at my local “packy.” If you find yourself in one of these stores, focus on geography and price. If possible, ask in advance what is being served for dinner so you can pair the appropriate wine with the meal. Often, however, you just don’t know. If that’s the case, look at selections from the Burgundy region of France and the Willamette Valley in Oregon. These locations grow some of the best pinot noir grapes. However, they are not cheap. Quality wines from these regions cost from $30 to $40 a bottle.
If you know that lamb or beef is the main course, look for wines that come from Napa Valley, California, the Bordeaux region of France, or the areas of Barolo, Barbaresco or Brunello in Italy. This is standard advice, but you’ll be in great shape when you are in the jungle and willing to spend $20-$30. Of course, it’s best to shop at a quality wine store where you can count on exceptional advice.
Shopping with an expert by your side will make a difference. Describe the meal or the type of gift and they will offer many more choices than the basics I have outlined. In Andover, I suggest shopping at Andover Classic Wines and asking for Andrea Lewis, the wine manager. She has introduced me to many great white wines. Over the border in Salem, N.H., visit the Tuscan Market and ask to speak with Joe Comforti, their wine director. He buys all of the wine for the Tuscan Kitchen restaurants and has chosen a great selection to offer at retail. In North Andover, seek out the Wine Connextion and ask for their wine director, Sam Messina. He selects all of the wine on the shelves and will be quick to recommend the best choices.
I recently visited the WineNot Boutique in downtown Nashua. Store owner Svetlana Yanushkevich has a Ph.D. in agriculture, a master’s degree in viticulture, and is a professional sommelier and wine educator. Shopping with Yanushkevich is a fun experience, and you’ll undoubtedly get an education along the way. She has assembled a great selection of wine and cheese, as well as some practical boutique wine gifts. I found artisan wine bottle holders in the shapes of crabs and lizards, wine glasses that somehow have a rock stuck through the stem, a big piece of granite that is a wine dispenser, a collection of quality glassware by Spiegelau, and a vast assortment of signs, wine charms and corkscrews.
One gift worthy of serious consideration for any wine lover is a decanter. I decant most of my red wine before serving and have three decanters in the house. When the last glass is poured, some wine inevitably dribbles down the side of the glass and onto the table, making me look like the amateur that I am. Because my pouring skills are so challenged, I had been looking for a wide decanter with a handle. Yanushkevich had exactly what I was looking for — a wide-bottom decanter with an angled spout and a handle. Now, even I can pour wine without spilling.
Make someone happy this season. Whether they are wine challenged or a connoisseur, they’ll enjoy a thoughtful wine gift. Trust me — they almost never get returned. Salute!
Andover Classic Wines
North Andover, Mass.