Holiday Gift Guide

How the mighty have fallen. Last year we were riding high with extreme wine accessories. This year we’re going back to basics for our holiday gift giving. Wines, glasses and books. Period.


Sweet wines are the perfect wine gift. Practically everybody loves them but either can’t admit it or won’t buy them for themselves. How did dryness ever become the popular standard of sophistication? Humans have a natural preference for sweet things – our positive response to them is our bodies’ primitive way of telling us what we’re eating or drinking has nutritional value. Back to basics: caveman and cavewoman need sweet wine. Another great thing about sweet wines is that they’re cheaper than dry wines of similar quality. The easiest way to find excellent value sweet wines is to go to your favorite wine shop and ask for a recommendation. You may be amazed at the amount of geeky enthusiasm you’ve unleashed. Proceed with caution but go with their advice. Otherwise, here are a few excellent value suggestions: Kourtaki Mavrodaphne of Patras NV $9 find this wine Mavrodaphne of Patras is a Port-like Greek dessert wine from main wine region of the Peloponnese. Named after the indigenous grape variety, Mavrodaphne, that it’s made from, it has the spicy warm holiday flavors of English Christmas pudding. A cheap, cheerful and delicious way to toast Tiny Tim. PEDRO ROMERO Moscatel Sherry NV $13 find this wine In direct defiance of the wine press, wine drinkers worldwide ignore the great wines that are Sherry. What does that mean for Moscatel, one of the less regarded Sherry grape varieties? Quite simply, it means bargains. Also known as Muscat of Alexandria, Moscatel was probably more popular back in Cleopatra’s time. Deliciously raisiny, peachy with orange peel and toasted almonds but with the old world oxidized flavors that will get the nod from hard core wine geeks. Smiles and nods all around- this one is hard to beat. 2004 Coyeux Beaumes de Venise $15 /half find this wine Guaranteed to cheer even the meanest Grinch’s tiny heart, it’s made from Muscat Blanc. Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains, which is the grape's full name is the most acclaimed variety of Muscat. Fresh peachy, grapy and floral this has always been one of my favorite dessert wines. It’s made like port – alcohol is added to stop the fermentation of the grape’s sugars, preserving a nice balance of sweetness. Alois Kracher Beerenauslese $22 to $40/half find this wine The great Alois Kracher tragically died just over a year ago and the Kracher winery is now run by his son Gerhard. If you’ve never had a Beerenauslese wine, where the grapes are picked late in the season and have dried on the vine to concentrate their sugars, the Kracher wines are a great place to start. Not because they’re beginner wines, but because they're amazingly good value for some of the world’s finest Beerenauslese - try any one you can find. 2005 Château La Tour Blanche Sauternes $32/half find this wine This is a spectacular bargain especially since its more illustrious neighbor, Château d'Yquem, goes for $400 to $500 a half bottle in the same vintage. Decanter magazine recently had a blind tasting of Cru Classe Sauternes and preferred the 2003 Château La Tour Blanche (5/5 Stars) to the Château d’Yquem (3/5 Stars). The 2005 vintage is considered even better than 2003. This intensely aromatic and sweet wine is perhaps the greatest bargain in the wine world today. It’s delicious now but really should use a decade or 2 to develop into something amazing.


If I could have only one wine glass it would be the 13.6 ounce Schott Zweisel Forte (known in Europe as the Viña). We use ours almost every day for both red and white wines. It's also the official glass of the San Francisco Wine Competition, which make sense since it's like an enlarged version of the official INAO (Institut National des Appellations d'Origine) tasting glass. The INAO glass was developed in France in the 1970’s and has long been regarded as the perfect tasting glass except for one critical thing: it’s too small. The Forte is also made from titanium crystal which makes them more durable than regular crystal. They’re not cheap but they don’t cost the world either. Find them in the US Find them in the UK If you can’t force yourself to spend more than $10 on a glass you may want to go the IKEA route. They’re especially handy if your parties end with everyone throwing their glasses into the fireplace. Don’t let the funny names and umlauts distract you, it’s the shape we’re interested in. We want the sides to taper up to concentrate the aromas as the Forte does. These are good choices:

IKEA 365+ IVRIG $2.99 each

OPTIMAL $1.99 each

Here's a mediocre choice and the equivalent of an old wooden tennis racket. This style of glass is often used in fine wine shops and tasting rooms but that doesn't make it good. Why handicap yourself with your equipment when you don't have to?

SVALKA $4.99 /6

To Elvis, drinking his liquor from an old fruit jar was a high insult. These glasses show a similar level of contempt for any wine:

PRALIN $2.99 each

RÄTTVIK $2.99 each

POKAL $7.99 /6


When times are tough it’s time to get real. The wine books recommended here all have a strong dose of reality as they all have a strong sense of context. Two are wine travel guides and one is a guide to drinking with the seasons. The Wine and Food Lover's Guide to Portugal, by Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter, will make anyone who enjoys wine and food want to get on a plane to Portugal. It’s organized regionally from the Minho and the wines of Vinho Verde in the north down to the Algarve on the south coast. Beautifully illustrated with tons of photos and useful maps, it would be great if every country had such an incredibly in-depth guide. Hey another country does have such a guide. The UK isn't usually regarded as a wine country but its wines have benefited greatly from rising temperatures. A Guide to the Wines of England and Wales by Philip Williamson, David Moore and Neville Blech is another exhaustively in-depth and beautifully illustrated wine travel guide. It's from the people who make the excellent Wine Behind the Label series. A Year of Wine is probably the first wine book to be organized entirely by season. It’s an approach that makes a lot of sense; just as we eat seasonally it follows that we drink that way as well. Written by super wine-blogger Tyler Colman of in his easy going humorous style, it makes an excellent gift for anyone interested in wine. It's the kind of book you can read cover to cover or easily browse with Dr. Vino showing you how to "Drink Different." His unique approach includes shopping and travel advice as well as tips on installing a home cellar. The sommelier surveys – interviews with some of American’s best sommeliers – throughout the book reflect its casual conversational tone and high level of insight into the world of wine.

Wine Guides

Dude, I thought it was Wine, glasses and books. Period. Okay, I can’t help meself, I need to hawk me own wares (as well as speak like a pirate). If you want a really special gift, divers right into our online shop. Here are a couple of excellent stocking stuffers:

Contest! Prizes!

In the spirit of holiday giving, Dr. Vino has offered us a signed copy of his excellent A Year of Wine as first prize, second prize is a copy of our new Hardbound Wine Tasting Notebook and third prize is a Pocket Wine Guide. To enter, just let everyone know what your favorite sweet wine is in the comment section below (even if it's Manischewitz Extra Heavy Malaga). Winners will be chosen at random Wednesday, Dec 17th, 2008 at 12 noon EST.

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  • Favorite sweet wine? Port. I can still vividly remember a glass of 1963 Andressen Colheita that I had in a restaurant ten years ago.

    Not that there’s anything wrong about a vivacious old malmsey….l

    Jeff Grossman on
  • Extra Heavy Malaga

    Chris G. on
  • I have enjoyed many excellent sweet wines, all very different, so it is difficult to choose a favorite. But there was one wonderful dinner that Sue and I shared in Senegalia on the Adriatic Coast near Ancona that ended with a surprise — small glasses of Don Zoilo Pedro Ximenez. A warm sweet wine of many flavors and layers with a finish that went on forever, or so it seemed. I have never found it since, so it remains the perfect memory of a wonderful evening.

    Mike Veseth on
  • I love good dessert wines. I’m a big fan of Banyuls, Sauternes, and TBA. I live in MI and I came across a lake michigan shore Late Harvest Vignoles that I fell in love with!!! It’s a 2005 and it’s from Fenn Valley vineyard in Fenneville, MI. Pretty inexpensive ($17 for 500ml) it packs a punch with a ton of peach and papaya fruit on the initial attack with subtle honey and nutmeg undertones. Delish!

    Kurtis on
  • Sweet wines are something I love to have for certain occasions. People that dislike them I think are thinking about them too much in terms of everyday drinking. Sure, who wants to sit down and drink a whole bottle of TBA? (Well, I’m sure someone!)

    One of the best sweet wines I had this year was a Recioto ( during one of our get togethers at the Cleveland Wine School. I don’t recall the exact bottle, but it was brought in by one of the members of our group and it was amazing – served with fresh berry compote and chocolates. Sweet wines I enjoy tend to be heavy on dried fruit characteristics, and this was perfect being made from dried grapes!


    Ryan Reichert on
  • My favorite sweet wine is “Zinie” by Chateau Potelle. It is a late harvest Zinfandel from
    the Mt. Veeder AVA. Most excellent with chocolate-based desserts!

    Another recent favorite was “White Gold” by Winter’s Hill Vineyard in Dundee Hills AVA
    (part of Willamette Valley area in Oregon). It is a very nice Pinot Blanc dessert wine,
    very expressive.

    Neal ZIring on
  • Koenig Vineyards Riesling Ice Wines. This is a nice local product for us in Idaho and from on of the newest AVA’s in the U.S., the Snake River Valley. The most recent version we’ve had is from their Windridge Vineyard. Tasty, tasty stuff.

    Jamey Anderson on
  • My favourite sweet wine is Mission Hills 2005 Vidal Icewine

    Lydia Stark on
  • Brachetto – When well made it offers a delicate perfume and a flavorful,rich, raspberry palate with crisp acidity accentuated by a delicate fizz. I love it because it is one of the few sweet wines you can pair with a variety of foods from appetizers, salads, cheeses and my favorite – dark chocolate

    Stacy Woods on
  • I too am from Michigan and the Vignoles is a very good sweet wine when made that way. The ice wines from Michigan and Ontario are my favorites, however, especially when made from Riesling.

    RTB on

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