Let’s talk about wine. Some of you love it. Some of you hate it. Most of you fall somewhere in between. What nearly everyone has in common are questions. Wine seems complicated and that can make gifting wine a little daunting.
It helps to have a plan when you head out to buy wine, for yourself or as a gift. A good plan starts with a good foundation, so let’s learn a bit about wine.
All wine is made from fermented grapes. Anything else must be named with the accompanying fruit. You may run across peach wine or strawberry wine. You can ferment a lot of things, but it’s grapes that make it wine.
Wine is made all over the world, which makes choosing the perfect bottle feel just that much more complicated.
To simplify things, we’ll use three basic categories. True wine connoisseurs will argue that there is much more to it, and that’s true. But you don’t need to be a connoisseur to buy wine with confidence. You just need a little information.
Red wine can be intimidating. It feels like there are few lighthearted red wines. Most seem somber and weighty. But that isn’t true. There is a red wine for nearly every wine drinker and occasion.
Red wine gets its color, as you may have guessed, from the color of the grapes used to make it. But it isn’t the color of the juice. It’s the color of the skin, which is left in contact with the juice during fermentation.
The result is not just an enormous variety of red wine colors. The skin also lends the finished product its tannins. Those tannins, sometimes combined with oak barrels for aging, give red wine its bitterness.
Red wines are generally separated into three types: light-bodied, medium-bodied, and full-bodied.
Light-bodied red wines have fewer tannins, are lighter in color, and tend to be less dry and more refreshing than their siblings.
Medium-bodied reds have more tannins and color, and richer flavors, than light-bodied reds. But they are still fairly accessible and can be enjoyed by most wine drinkers.
Full-bodied reds have a lot of tannins, a lot of deep colors, and tend to be dry with bold, complex flavor profiles. Red wine is served at room temperature.
Fun Fact: Full-bodied red wine has the highest levels heart-healthy of antioxidants.
White wine tends to be lighter, crisper, and often sweeter than red wine. White wine is usually made from the juice of green grapes and the skin is not part of the fermentation process.
While red wines are relaxing with their tannins, white wines are having a party with acidity. They can be dry, crisp, or sweet and often focus on fruity flavors. But they aren’t only for summer afternoons. The flavors of white wines can vary from smooth and creamy to floral, or even spicy.
Fun Fact: White wine generally has less alcohol than red wine.
Sparkling, Rosé, and Fortified Wine
There’s no particular reason, other than convenience, that these three types of wine have to be grouped. They’re not very similar but are all variations of red or white wines.
Sparkling wines have bubbles! Champagne, Prosecco, and all the other carbonated wines from lesser-known regions have reputations as celebratory drinks. However, for many people, they are the chilled wine of choice.
Fun Fact: Those bubbles come from a second fermentation.
Don’t scoff at this pretty pink wine. It’s made from red wine grapes exposed to the skins for only a short time. That gives it a lighter flavor and fewer tannins. It is served cold, like white wine, so really does sit nicely between red and white.
Fun Fact: Rosé saw its first of many waves of popularity in the 1700s.
Fortified wines have distilled grape liquor mixed with the fermented wine. Port, sherry, masala, and more fortified wines were once commonly consumed after a meal. While not as popular today, they still have plenty of devotees.
Fun Fact: Fortified wines have the most alcohol of the main wine types.
Pairing Wine with Food
When bringing a gift of wine, it’s tempting to try and choose something that goes well with what’s being served. But remember, your host is likely to have already chosen wine. Your wine gift doesn’t have to go with the meal!
But it’s nice to know some basics about pairing wine with food. While your gift doesn’t have to suit a specific meal, it’s thoughtful to consider the foods your hosts enjoy and choose a wine they can drink with a future meal.
Food and wine pairing is a particularly complicated blend of culinary art and science. You don’t need to take a full college course to choose a bottle of wine. Knowing a few basics will get you through nearly every gift-giving situation.
Red Wine Pairing
Red wine is generally considered a good choice for pairing with red meat. Choose a light, medium, or full-bodied red wine based on the heaviness of the meal being served. A lighter meal pairs best with a lighter-bodied wine.
White Wine Pairing
White wines go well with lighter fare like fish, chicken, and salads. The acidity helps bring out the flavor of the foods. Fuller-bodied white wines like Chardonnay go well with slightly heavier dishes like lobster and fish or poultry with heavy sauces.
Rosé is very versatile, with its combination of white and red wine characteristics. Try pairing it with anything from cheese to spicy seafood.
Sparkling Wine Pairing
Of course, sparkling wine is ideal for toasts and celebrations, but it also goes well with food. Interestingly, sparkling wine’s bubbles cut the saltiness in foods. They also pair well with fish and vegetable dishes.
Fortified Wine Pairing
Fortified wines have a long tradition of being served with cheeses and desserts. They can also be mixed into cocktails! Vermouth is a fortified wine used to make martinis.
Choosing A Wine Gift
Now that you know a little more about wine, you can confidently choose a wine gift for any occasion. But it never hurts to have a few suggestions in your back pocket when you’re staring down those crowded aisles.
A wine gift does not have to cost a fortune. There are good wines of every variety in every price range. Do you have a $5 wine that you love? Don’t hesitate to share it with friends as a gift.
Champagne and other sparkling wines are particularly good choices for wine gifts. They’re celebratory and fun, and welcome on nearly any occasion. Try a fruity Italian La Marca Prosecco or go for a tart flavor with Chandon Brut from California.
Crisp or light white wines are excellent wine gifts. They pair well with light foods and are classic summer party wines. Try Italy’s crisp Elena Walch Pinot Grigio, Washington’s Seven Hills Winery Sauvignon Blanc, or Oregon’s Argyle Nuthouse Riesling.
Are you feeling in the mood for rosé? It’s beautiful to look at and wonderfully versatile. Try France’s Triennes Rosé or California’s Arnot-Roberts Rosé.
If you’re going to give red wine as a gift, it’s a good idea to stick with accessible light or middle-bodied options. Try California’s Frank Family Vineyards Carneros Pinot Noir or J. Lohr Estates Los Osos Merlot.
These selections are reasonably priced and highly rated. Don’t be afraid to ask someone at the store to help you find what you’re looking for, or to help you choose something if you’re unsure.
One of the most overlooked sources for excellent wine gifts is local wineries. Wineries are operating all over the country and producing delicious wines of all varieties.
A great way to learn more about wine, and find a great source for wine gifts for every occasion, is to visit a winery for a tasting. Making sure you have safe transportation, head out for an afternoon and sample what your local wineries have to offer.
These small vineyards can be hidden gems. Beautiful settings, knowledgeable staff, and community roots make them ideal for finding wine gifts. You’ll discover wonderful wine, learn from experts, and support a local business. It’s a true win-win-win situation.
The Gift of Wine
Wine is a thoughtful, traditional gift. Don’t let the complexity of the wine world intimidate you. The guidelines above are just that—guidelines. Not only should you drink wine you love, with whatever foods you like, but you can also gift wine the same way.
You don’t need to be a wine expert to give a thoughtful wine gift. A little knowledge goes a long way. Now that you know a little bit about wine, you can feel comfortable and confident about the wines you choose.
The most important part of giving and sharing wine is the experience. No matter what you end up choosing to give as a gift, you’re giving the chance to try something new. And that’s a wonderful gift at any price point.