Ah, the holidays, when those who find it difficult enough to choose wine for themselves confront the ostensibly more daunting task of buying for others.
To which I say "humbug." Not about the buying part, but the daunting part.
Selecting beverages for others -- a host or holiday gift or the juice for one's own party -- should be viewed more as an opportunity than an obligation. Here's how, in each scenario:
Entertaining: The plethora of wine choices and the endlessly sputtering economy are not part of the problem but part of the solution. More good wine than ever is lining store shelves, and the recession has made many swell options more affordable than ever as wineries often reduced prices and merchants moved into almost perpetual "sale" mode.
(Caveat: Just because a wine has a friendly price doesn't mean it's good, so tread carefully; better yet, stick with what you know.)
Your guests' preferences will differ, of course, but there's a dandy solution: Buy blends, since the different grapes can provide connective tissue for a range of palates. And there's no need to spend even $15 a bottle.
Outstanding white options: Chenin blanc-viognier offerings from Pine Ridge and Pepi, Hedges CMS, Banfi Centine from Italy and Samora Tejo from Portugal. And don't forget the sweet side, with a Barefoot Moscato or a box of Big House White.
Tasty red blends abound: Clif Family "The Climber," Marietta Old Vine, La Vieille Ferme from France, Famiglia Meschini Malbec-Syrah from Argentina or almost anything from Portugal (Udaca Irreverente or Dow Vale do Bomfim, for starters).
If your winemonger doesn't have one of these, ask for something similar -- in quality and price.
Host gift: First, when taking a wine to a party (dinner or otherwise), do not expect that your bottle will be served, so don't grab something that you're counting on trying yourself.
If you know a particular grape or brand that your host favors, go with that. If not, your task becomes even easier: Figure out how much you want to spend, and go with the best value you have found in that range, a wine that tasted like it should (and could) cost a whole lot more. With any luck, it will provide as much "discovery" for them as it did for you.
Holiday gift: This should be more personal. While the host gift is, in a sense, all about you, this should be all about the recipient. And just a little thought goes a long way.
If their name is Jordan, give them a Jordan chardonnay or cabernet. If they're Jewish, find a wine from the fabulous Israel house Golan Heights (Yarden is often on the label). If they recently returned from Spain, go for an Olivares Monastrell in the $15 range, a Muga Reserva for around $25 or a Clio at about $50.
If they are big believers in buying local, especially on the food front, consider a wine from a small family winery: perhaps a Marquette or frontenac gris from a Minnesota vintner or, if splurging, a "grower Champagne," aka "farmer fizz," such as Marc Hebrart or Pierre Peters.
If they are dyed-in-the-wool Minnesotans, consider not only a local bottle (you might have to journey to the winery) but something from local folks who have journeyed west: Raptor Ridge or Le Cadeau from Oregon, Meek Family from Washington, or Shane, Kitchak or Terra Valentine from California.
Unless it's a stocking stuffer for someone close, eschew the "joke" bottle, where it's too easy to misfire on more than one front. After all, while Old Bastard might be one of the world's most profound wines -- and priced accordingly -- Fat Bastard is one of the least profound.
On the other hand, nothing says the holidays like an off-target gift.
Bill Ward • firstname.lastname@example.org