Last week I suggested that a fine bottle, red or white, costing, say, $50 or more - much more, if the recipient is really important - would always be a distinctive if not unique gift. And though a bottle on the topmost shelf might not be in reach of a Toledo wine retailer, an alternative lacking only a bit of class would be a case - 12 bottles or six, depending on the origin -costing $108 to $216 plus Ohio sales tax.
Today, let's move on to alternatives.
First, books. One can't learn what wine's about without pouring a splash, which is why wine tastings, friendly or commercial, are almost indispensible. But being familiar in theory with the leap from vine to wine, knowing about aroma (“nose,” “bouquet”), color, sparkles and still, alcohol, acid, tannins, varietals, “finish,” and so on lays down a layer of knowing “why” that enhances the enjoyment. So a subscription may be just right, for example to the Wine Spectator, America's best ($45; P.O. Box 37368, Boone, Iowa 50037-2368), or the English Decanter, as many see it the English-language world's best (U.S. $83.95; 800-875-2997).
What books may have over periodicals is relatively lasting pertinence, the history of winemaking and winemaking regions, what winemakers have learned from experience, the traditions that, as much as “terroir,” shape the styles of Burgundy and those of Bordeaux. As I suggested recently, The Pleasures Of Wine by Gerald Asher, a collection of 30 years' essays, may be a classic successor to George Saintsbury in the making.
Yet a touch of contemporaneity may more suit your gift recipient (and perhaps yourself): There are some good to very good guides to various wine regions, including the most popular destination, northern California. Look for the appropriate ACCESS Guide, $20, from Harper; this book covers Napa, as indeed it must, but then passes over the Mayacamas Mountains to guide the reader through the parallel and hospitable wine counties, Sonoma and Mendocino.
Many commercial winemakers began as amateurs working in basement tubs; if your gift recipient is so inclined, he can only be pleased with Jon Iverson's Home Winemaking Step By Step ($17.95, Stonemark Publishing Co., Medford, Ore.). I'm no winemaker, but this looks more precise and technical than a widely familiar guide, From Vines To Wines.
Closer to home both in source (Berkshire Publishers, Lee, Mass.) and subject (wineries from Massachusetts to Virginia) is Touring East Coast Wine Country, A Guide To The Finest Wineries ($18.95), which will lead you to a collection of wineries the author, Marguerite Thomas, considers among the East Coast's best, and includes suggestions of places to eat and sleep. It deserves more attention than I can give it now, but I'll come back to it before tourists head out to New England and the mid-Atlantic states.
Guide books inspire the last of today's gift suggestions: the reservation of a restful, rural weekend to greet spring, say, in a winery-related bed and breakfast.
One I can vouch for is Chalet Debonne, a half-hour east of Cleveland, 800-424-9463.
For other Ohio and Michigan bed and breakfasts related to wineries, call the Ohio Wine Producers' Association, 440-466-4417, or the Michigan Grape & Wine Industry Council, 517-373-1104. Others in great numbers, of course, are to be found in northern California.