Q: I have a co-worker and dear friend who seems to have met Mr. Might-Be-Right. The parents have all met and are completely copacetic. This is their first Christmas together and she wants to get him a few impressive things. He's a member of a wine-tasting club. She knows little about wine but would like to get him something that will make the club members sit up and go "hmm." He prefers red to white. Something interesting but not necessarily obvious. Price range is up to $75. She lives on Long Island but works and spends most of her weekends in New York City (Manhattan, to be precise). Any suggestions?
—Carol Ann Weinman, Hartsdale, N.Y.
A: What wine to buy as a holiday gift is a perennial and problematic question. The ideal scenario would be that the one providing the answer know your friend's friend almost as much as the friend does. That's because wine taste is so subjective, so personal.
Failing that, it's useful to have some direction on what to choose. Red instead of white is a good start; so is the desire to make a wine club go "hmm." But saying, for example, pinot noir over cabernet sauvignon would be a better guide to choosing a wine and a Willamette Valley pinot noir from Oregon over, say, a pinot noir from California's Sonoma Coast would be even more useful. I do like her $75 price cap: Shows she's willing to put her money where her heart is while still being reasonable. There are lots of fabulous wines to choose from at or under her price range.
The big problem is finding wines that your friend can purchase. Not all states carry all wines, sad to say.
I've posed your question to some wine pros across the country. Here are suggestions from three of them. Now, remember, the specific wines they recommend may not be available where your friend shops. No need to fret about that, because their choices can be useful markers to help the wine store staff guide your friend to a similar bottle.
"Aspirational but cool" is the direction for Evan Goldstein, the master sommelier, author and president of Full Circle Wine Solutions, a wine and spirits education company based in San Carlos, Calif.
Goldstein goes for a "high end" red from the Ribera del Duero region of northern Spain, perhaps a Rodero or Uvaguilera, or cross over into Portugal and choose, perhaps, a Vale Meao or Vallado from the Douro. If your friend wants to go with a New World wine, meaning a wine made outside of Europe, Goldstein recommends an Australian shiraz from Two Hands Wines or Cluster M45 by Chapoutier & Laughton, or a malbec from Argentina, such as a bottle from Achaval Ferrer or Luca.
Cai J. Palmer, owner of Wine at Five in Rye, N.Y., zeroed in on one particular wine, an Italian red from the village of Montefalco in Umbria.
"The wine is called Paolo Bea Montefalco Rosso Riserva 'Pipparello,' " Palmer wrote in an e-mail. "It is a blend of sangiovese, Montepulciano and sagrantino – the latter is very unusual for a wine in Umbria. Paolo farms organically and within the last 20 years has been vinifying his wines biodynamically as well. We love that this small winery takes such an interest in the land from which they produce their outstanding wines."
Palmer believes the wine club will find this wine interesting because the sagrantino grape "brings a level of complexity that many Umbrian wines often lack."
"It's definitely an intoxicating wine, should be decanted 1 hour before drinking and should be savored with something more hearty than a nibble of cheese," he added.
Wine at Five stocks the 2006 vintage and sells it for $55. Palmer talked to the importer about availability. He said the wine is available also in Illinois, Connecticut, Florida, California, New Jersey and about eight other states.
Shebnem Ince, wine director/sommelier for The Gage and Henri restaurants in Chicago, focused immediately on the "red wine instead of white" directive.
"It tells me where his palate is calibrated," she said, theorizing your friend's man is "probably caught in the pull of lush, Mediterranean climate wines that are not too high in acidity." Given this sounds like an "important" bottle that needs to please, Ince recommends a red wine from Spain's Priorat region, which is also known as Priorato.
"Priorato boasts a climate similar to Napa Valley but the steeply graded terraces and poor soils of the vineyards guarantee small yields which turn into dense, complex wines," Ince wrote in an email, noting $75 will get your friend a "great Priorato and hopefully snag the man."
Ince's choices? An Alvaro Palacios Finca Dofi or a Clod Mogador, a wine from Rene Barbier that may be a bit out of the price range.
So, there you go, Carol Ann, a range of reds suitable for holiday romancing — or, if you ask me, just about any other fun occasion over the coming weeks. Let me know how it goes with your friend.
Do you have a question about food or drink? E-mail Bill Daley at: email@example.com. Snail mail inquiries should be sent to: Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60611. Twitter @billdaley.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times