A Wine Guide for Every Weirdo On Your Holiday List
There's good stuff out there for all of your friends, even the self-proclaimed beer loyalist.
December 12, 2018 ● 8 min read
By Aralyn Beaumont | Photos via iStock, Lauren Friel, and Jolie Laide; art by ChefsFeed
I don't know a damn thing about wine, really.
Sure, I know key terms that allow me to blindly navigate a menu or the shelves of a wine shop, enough to bluff my way into the path of someone who can decode my nonsense. Hopefully, they know what I mean when I rattle things off like, "light, juicy red" or "pink bubbles" or "something with skin contact.” Since it’s the holidays, I’m in need of a gift with a spectrum of personality equal to that of the cast of characters I surround myself with. Few things do this like a well-matched bottle of wine.
My all-time favorite person to order wine from might just be Vinny Eng, the Wine Director at Tartine Manufactory in San Francisco. Despite whatever darkness looms over the restaurant industry or society at large, he's unfailingly chipper and provides refreshing social commentary along with his pours. Because the entire wine world could fit into a tiny wine fridge, Eng happens to know our razor-sharp wine columnist, Lauren Friel, owner of the buzziest natural wine bar to hit the Boston area this year, Rebel Rebel.
So, we figured: we’ll let them do the talking.
WHAT TO GET FOR SANTA'S ELF INCARNATE
Vinny Eng: My roommate, Wolfgang, just started decorating for the holidays. You know how there’s always that one super hardcore person who's ride-or-die for the holidays and always goes to Michael’s and orders all the crafts?
Lauren Friel: I think [they get] bubbles, because it’s the most celebratory, festive, excitement-inducing one. I’d love to see this person in their holiday sweater and their Rudolph headband getting taught how to saber a bottle of champagne. It would freak them out in the best possible way.
VE: And it should be pink! Or sparkling Riesling! Something unconventional, but special.
LF: And maybe a magnum.
VE: Yes, size definitely matters here. Go big or go home!
LF: Yes, it should be the size of the inflatable snowman on their front lawn.
SHOPPING FOR SCROOGE
Let’s not forget the naysayer who remains borderline grumpy through all the pomp and circumstance of the holiday season, reminding you over every dinner that natural wine, like light-roast coffee, is a trend that won't last. Cool, Dad! Thanks for letting me know, again.
LF: I feel like there’s always one person, as far as wine goes, who’s still hanging on to their preconceived ideas about what certain wines are from the '70s. They won’t drink Chardonnay, won’t drink Lambrusco, won’t drink Riesling, they think Gamay is garbage.
VE: Zinfandel for you! I almost want to throw a Barolo or Bordeaux their way. You know, the noble beast.
LF: I kind of want to blind taste them on really good Beaujolais. Cru Beaujolais, because inevitably they’ll be like, "That’s delicious!" And I’ll be like, "Bam! That’s delicious!"
VE: Like Beaujolais with age! Like Côte de Brouilly from Chanrion!
LF: Or the classics, because sometimes you don’t need to be antagonistic over the holidays.
VE: You can do both!
LF: You bring two bottles: the one that you blind taste them on to antagonize them and then you bring them a Bordeaux or a Barbaresco as a peace offering afterward.
VE: No, you bait the cranky behavior [with a Bordeaux/Barbaresco] and then you switch the outcomes [with a Beaujolais].
LF: That’ll make them love you.
VE: Give them a taste of their own medicine!
PLEASE THE ANTI-CAPITALIST ANARCHIST
LF: There’s always the anti-capitalist, anarchist sibling.
Aralyn Beaumont: Your moody older brother or something.
VE: Who really couldn’t be bothered on the surface, but really deep down inside wishes that everyone was paying attention to them.
AB: The brooding, anti-capitalist sibling who acts like they don't want to participate but secretly loves family tradition.
VE: That’s so funny. They get co-op wine [laughs].
LF: Totally. There are a couple of natural winemakers in California and the Loire Valley who are kind of off the grid, practicing Fukuoka, which is like the anarchist agricultural system, effectively.
VE: It could be either something from La Clarine or it could be a Yamakiri cuvée, the collab between Alex Crangle and Lisa Bauer. Or a co-op from the Südtirol—not German, not Italian.
LF: Yeah, that’s good—or Catalan co-op wine. They’re like, "You guys probably won’t understand this, but…"
AB: "I’ll let you try it anyway if you really want to."
TOAST THE FRIEND WHO’S ALWAYS DOWN
VE: There's your super curious friend who always goes on every adventure with you. I feel like that friend would be game for a red-white blend, because this person wouldn’t expect to be gifted something conventional. Though this particular category of wine is a convention, it’s very rarely seen as conventional. So Métisse from Julien Altaber, the Chardonnay-Gamay blend.
LF: I would also give them anything I found while visiting a winemaker that I brought home with me this year. A one-off experiment they did [with] some crazy grape they found in their vineyard or a neighboring vineyard that they used for the first time just to see. It might be good, it might suck, but either way, it’s a good story and it's something cool.
VE: Right. Unti just did their bottling of the Lacrima they got.
LF: Yeah, stuff like that. The weird, experimental cuvée any winemaker did as a one-off this year.
OH SNAP, SECRET SANTA
LF: There’s that person at work whose name you should know by now but still don’t. It has to be something universally delicious—objectively, inarguably delicious. Lambrusco is always a go-to for me when I’m in a situation like that.
VE: Or dry rosé. It’s neither fish nor fowl, but it is fish and it is fowl.
LF: Oh, you know what's fun that a lot of people overlook? There are awesome, cool things to be found in the dessert-wine realm; it's something that, even if they’re not big drinkers, they can open up for something a little bit more special. It's something you can sip on that typically everybody is surprised by and interested in.
VE: Also: cider. Cider somehow is less intimating than wine for a lot of people. You could go to Michigan. There are some great California cider producers. You could go to Spain.
LF: Vermont’s are good. We get a lot from Vermont on this coast.
VE: There’s a cheesemaker in Vermont who does a cider-washed rind soft cheese. It’s so delicious. We did a grand fromage with a few friends, and that was the best in the entire line-up. [Ed. Note: This was a limited-edition collaboration between Jasper Hill and Wyndridge Farms, orchestrated by the Di Bruno Bros.]
SING THAT UNSUNG HERO
We all have those people who magically make our lives easier. They help raise our children, organize our day-to-day, or do the invisible, maddening work of emotional labor. If you think you don't, you definitely do. Figure out who it is and get them a magnum size of what we suggest here—better yet, get them two.
VE: Tip your nanny! Some of us have childcare arrangements or parental-care help. I feel like it would be nice to acknowledge someone who provides a service in your life this holiday season.
LF: Yeah, the people who organize your life for you. Get them something really special.
AB: The person who does all your emotional labor.
VE: Whenever I think about special wines, I think about the people behind them. I love giving Bedrock Wines, because I think it tells such an interesting story about California history and what it means to preserve history. Like the people in your life who are your bedrocks, pun intended!
LF: This is when I give people wines that are really special to me, [and] when I splurge on the fine and rare stuff. It has to tell a good story. Like old bottles of Puffeney—that was a really important estate to me as a young sommelier.
VE: Right, giving the person the wine should develop the opportunity to add a chapter to [your] storybook.
BEST THE PRETENTIOUS (BUT LOVABLE) KNOW-IT-ALL
VE: The know-it-all, the overachiever. For them, you can go two ways about it: give them a box of Franzia. [Erupts with laughter] I’m sort of serious! No, I’m just kidding.
LF: I feel like you can give them something super surprising. Here’s a Riesling from the Piedmont or…
VE: Or the Gamay from Umbria.
LF: Exactly. Or give them a liter of something really cheap, that’s also utterly delightful. A liter with a pop-top that looks super low-brow but is really refined and incredible and unique. Or like something from Ampeleia. Something that has a pedigree, has a story, but is super down-home and delicious.
1. Naughty: Franzia Chillable Red 5L Box
THE ART GEEK
AB: What about the person who loves a cool looking label?
LF: There are so many.
VE: THERE ARE SO MANY OF THEM!
LF: California has some good label game right now.
VE: Yeah, Scott Schultz at Jolie-Laide consistently has good label game. Martha Stoumen has incredible labels, from this incredible local Bay Area artist Carolynn Haydu.
LF: She might have that cinched.
HELLO, NEW DRINKER
LF: Riesling. Indoctrinate them young!
VE: Yeah, Eva Fricke Riesling.
LF: I completely agree. Riesling is such an aromatic varietal. For someone who’s new to drinking, it’s so easy to identify characteristics in the wine, which is the most intimidating part of wine for new drinkers. So that gives you a boost of confidence, and it’s delicious. And everyone should be drinking Riesling.
2. Start with Weingut Brand Riesling Trocken
3. Graduate to Julian Haart Riesling
KNOW THY LUSH
LF: The wino.
LF: Yeah, Beaujolais Nouveau. Portugal is a goldmine for really lovely inexpensive wine.
VE: Or any producer that does a carbonic version of something, like carbonic Syrah from Domaine Faury would be interesting. It’s a style of winemaking that smells like jam and Jolly Ranchers.
LF: It gives you all the fruit and none of the tannins, so you get this crushable version of whatever you’re making.
VE: Yes! Serve on ice, please! Also, I would probably give them something lower alcohol, too.
LF: So they’re not under the table at your dinner party.
VE: Yeah, something even as low as 9 ABV. Or here’s a monkey wrench: get them a 750ml of Jester Kings. It’s a brewery, and they do a lot of aging of their beer in wine barrels. Just be like, "For your wine gift, this is beer aged in wine barrels!"
YES, EVEN THE BEER LOYALIST
LF: For people who are beer lovers, orange wine tends to be something that they respond well to, because they have more texture. Anything funky with Brettanomyces [Ed. note: Known as "Brett" in the wine world, this naturally occurring yeast used to an enemy of winemakers because of the barnyard aromas it can impart onto wines. Now, of course, natural winemakers embrace it for its funky, floral notes.] will remind them of a wild, fermented farmhouse-style beer. I find that's a good gateway drug.
VE: I would agree.
LF: And pét-nat.
VE: Yeah, pét-nats are good. Skin contact wine: ramatos or some version of Malvasia. Vej does a skin contact Malvasia that is delicious. It smells and tastes like cider.
LF: I think at the end of the day, if you’re passionate about what you’re getting people, that’s the most important thing. As long as you dig whatever you’re giving folks, they’ll appreciate it.
VE: Also, shout out to your local wine shop. If you have any doubt, go to your local wine shop and talk to someone. They’ll find you something delicious.