No need to be stumped when it comes to the wine and spirits drinker on your holiday gift list:
• Bounty Hunter Bronze Star Club ($49.95 monthly): The Wine Curmudgeon is not a big fan of wine clubs. Too often, what the club says is “boutique” or “hard to find” is stuff that someone else is closing out. Plus, you have to pay shipping. But Bounty Hunter, a California wine outfit, has a good reputation and this is a more than decent deal: three bottles a month, two reds and a white. Bounty Hunter promises it won’t send any wines that someone else is getting rid of, and it guarantees every selection.
• Wine bucket ($8). One question I always hear: Where can I buy a cheap, durable wine bucket? In fact, it’s not easy, since so many wine buckets are ugly, clunky things that cost $40. Hence this alternative, which is actually a five-pound flour bucket from King Arthur, the mail order baking company. It’s 8 ¼ inches tall, so it comes up to the neck of a wine bottle, and at 7 inches or so, it’s wide enough for plenty of ice. And it’s watertight.
• Savvy Vodka ($25). The Auler family, whose Fall Creek Vineyards is one of Texas’ leading wineries, has introduced a Texas vodka, using water from the Hill Country. “We’ve always wondered what we could do with the water from Fall Creek, which just bubbles out of the ground,” says Chad Auler, who is overseeing the project. “And when I did my research and saw that water is such a key in making great vodka, I knew what we could do.”
• To Cork or Not to Cork: Tradition, Romance, Science, and the Battle for the Wine Bottle ($26). This is the definitive study of the battle between corks and screw tops for the hearts and minds of wine drinkers and wine producers. Author George Taber, whose 2005 The Judgment of Paris (about the 1976 wine competition that put California on the map) was a surprise best-seller, not only knows wine, but he knows how to write. That’s a prerequisite for a book about wine closures. And his conclusions may surprise some people.
• Panther Creek Winemaker’s Cuvee Pinot Noir 2005 ($25). This is not only one of the best Oregon pinots available, but it may be the best value. I serve this to people who don’t drink much wine, and they always have two reactions: First, “Wow, I really liked that,” and second, “It’s only $25?”
• Vinturi Wine Aerator ($34.95). This is the season’s hippest gift, though I’m not sure how practical it is. Hold the aerator over your wine glass and pour the wine through it, and the wine will open up – just as if you had decanted the bottle or opened it 30 or 40 minutes ahead of time to let it breathe. Personally, I’d spend the $35 on a bottle of wine (some Savary Chablis, perhaps) and open the bottle ahead of time, but that’s why I’m the Wine Curmudgeon.