Retail figures from Black Friday show that overstuffed Americans trotted from the Thanksgiving Day table to big box chain stores and spent nearly 10 percent less than a year ago on Christmas shopping sales. Still, they spent $17 billion.
Most of the sales were on electronic products, including IPhones, video games, IPads, tablets, head phones, etc.
I wonder how much was spent on wine, though? Probably not much, since most people don’t put wine on their shopping lists. But they should.
My family is older now and only the children receive gifts. The adults are content to share a great traditional meal and sit back and watch the kids’ excitement.
Still, gift-giving is not easily abandoned when it’s been drilled into you all your life by loving parents and family. So I fill the need by giving away bottles of wine to people I consider do-gooders, including special acquaintances. I also receive plenty from generous and kind friends.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on wine to bring a smile to someone’s face. I proved that you can buy an assorted case of wine for less than $100. One of my favorites, a $4.99 French white table wine, would cost you $60 for 12 bottles. Remember, it’s the thought that counts.
I beleive there is no better shopping experience in the world than shopping for wines. Most store merchants I’ve met, especially those in Greater Lowell, are knowledgeable, friendly, humorous and willing to stay within YOUR budget if you simple engage them. They love to show off their quality bargains because, naturally, they want you to become a regular customer. So don’t think for a moment they are out to lead you to a more expensive wine, when a $10 purchase will serve the purpose. Sadly, most wine customers shy away from conversing with their local experts and buy whatever looks nice on the label instead of what’s inside the bottle. Money is money and you should get the best value for it. Wine allows you to do that.
So, this holiday season, I urge you to take a wine tour of your local store with one of the managers. Tell him or her of the friends or family members you are buying for. Try matching the wine to the personality of the gift receiver or pick out something from the most exotic place on earth (Tazmania is actually producing decent wine). But have fun.
Here are a few wines that I’ve tasted recently and might just make it into someone’s Christmas stocking.
• Italo Cescon Pinot Grigio, Veneto, 2011 — This wine is as beautifully made as is its bright, artful packaging — a yellow ribbon that forms a “tie” at the bottle neck with a wood sprig, maybe from the vineyard. It’s not a a fruit bomb, yet very aromatic with apple and pear and tastefully dry on the palate. Take a sip and think of yourself on a gondola ride on the Grand Canal, smooth, pleasurable and romantic. The Wine Goddess is making this a holiday party companion for her homemade appetizers. It costs $12.24 a bottle at Bin Ends in Braintree and Needham.
• Brooks Riesling, Willamette Valley, Oregon — Jimi Brooks, the founder of Brooks Family Winery, died in 2004 at 38 and left it up to his wife and young son to keep his organic farming operation going. They did. It’s a great all-American success story that’s still in the making. You have to root for people like this. Brooks Riesling gets better each year and their Pinot Noir is already among the state’s best. For $12 a bottle, this mostly dry Riesling represents a solid value from the Great Northwest.
• La Battastina Gavi, Italy — A smooth, dry white wine from the Piedmont region, made from Cortese grapes. Try this with roasted chicken or white fish. The nose walks you through an apple orchard and delivers you at the door of cool peach and fresh melon flavors, all for $12.99 a bottle at Wine Connextion.
• Nanna’s Shortcake Zinfandel, California, 2012 — Here’s another fund wine from the BNA Wine Group of Lodi, whose winemaker – Tony Leonardini – is a St. Helena volunteer firefighter. Well, he’s blazing a trail with his modern production style that brings out the freshest flavors in varietal grapes (Butternut Chardonnay is another one of Tony’s bottlings). Nanna’s Zinfandel is a dark, juicy and energetic wine. Strawberry fruit lingers on the tongue with a bit of vanilla cream. It sells for $11.99. Pair it with grilled meat, big pasta dishes and turkey.
• Acacia Pinot Noir, California, 2011 — Acacia Winery’s goal is to produce balanced, French-style Pinot Noir from single-vineyard grapes. Their multiple bottlings range in price from $20 to $90. I purchased this one from their Carneros vineyard on sale for $16.88 at Bin Ends and enjoyed it with grilled salmon and cheese tortellini. The ruby color is beautiful and the cherry flavors have a subtle and intriguing bitter chocolate finish. A good value based on this winery’s more expensive options.
• Modus Ruffino Toscana, Italy, 2009 — A SuperTuscan blend (Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot) that is so powerful in big, blackberry plum flavors and yet so supple and elegant with every long-lasting sip. One wine expert, who gave this 95 points, described it as “alluring” in all its rich charateristics. You don’t have to wear a tuxedo to a fancy restaurant to enjoy this wine with a simple pasta Bolognese dish. It sells for $28 on the high end, but was recently on sale for $21.99 in select Massachusetts wine outlets. It’s sold out on Internet wine sites so if you see a bottle, grab it before it’s too late.
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