Most of these items I consider to be essential tools for anyone who gets pleasure from drinking wine and wants to maximize the experience. I’m also including a fabulous foodie indulgence that’s a perfect holiday gift. I have personally tested, purchased and used all of these wine tools, and find them exceedingly valuable. I am often amazed when visiting friends who know and love wine, buy and cellar excellent wines, but lack one or more of these basic necessities for opening, storing and getting the most enjoyment out of them.
A quick word about what is not here. You won’t find jokey gimmicks with no practical value. Nothing against fun stuff, but it should also perform a useful function. You won’t find any of the myriad devices that propose to quickly aerate your wine. These things beat the crap out of your wine after winemakers have jumped through hoops to batter the wines as little as possible during racking and bottling. If you want to aerate a wine, open it and let it breathe, or decant it. Gently. Also not here – the Coravin. Popular as it is, and I have nothing against it, I don’t find it particularly useful for me. And it’s not cheap. And I have a thing about needles.
Here are my Top Ten holiday gifts and splurges. I’ve put in some links for purchase (most are available on Amazon). These are not ranked in any particular order; consider them all equally good.
Waiter’s Double-hinged Corkscrew – Almost any tasting room will sell these, imprinted with the winery logo. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on something extra fancy. In fact some of the really pricey ones (made out of exotic woods, or by a famous knife brand) are not really very practical. Look at the name on the metal hinge – truetap and pulltaps are good brands. You want the double hinge and the corkscrew itself (the worm) should be Teflon covered to prolong the life of the tool. ($10 – $15)
The Durand – Go ahead and complain about the cost but if you struggle to open old wines with dicey corks, and especially valuable old bottles worth far more than the cost of this device, this is worth every penny. It combines the virtues of a regular corkscrew and an ah-so, and is far better than either of them when they are used alone. It doesn’t just extract the cork – it prevents it from breaking, crumbling or shredding. The machine tooling on the Durand is excellent and once you get the hang of it it is a pleasure to use. ($120 and up)
Gabriel Glas – I’ve posted previously about the importance of good stemware. It’s simply true that drinking good wine out of sub-par glasses is foolish. Would you play a fine Taylor guitar with corroded, oxidized strings? You could, but it wouldn’t give you the sound it is built for. A wine, no matter how good, will not deliver all its scents and flavors if it’s served in a small, thick, water-stained glass. That said, you don’t have to spend a lot to get serviceable glasses, nor do you need a different glass for every type of wine. There are far too many options for me to list them all, but my one all-purpose go-to glass is this one. It comes in machine blown and hand blown. Go with the former. ($68/set of two). For less expensive but serviceable options I would suggest sets of Libbey Signature Kentfield Estate, Spiegelau or Luigi Bormioli. Please avoid stemless, tinted or etched glasses. Choose classic rounded, clear glasses rather than those with odd shapes and severe angles.
Le Creuset Champagne Star – Do you ever find it almost impossible to twist the cork on a bottle of bubbly? It happens to me all the time. You’ve chilled the wine, carefully removed the wire cage, covered the bottle with a towel and grabbed hold of the cork to give it a turn. And… nothing. It won’t budge. This is especially true of non-Champagne fizz – the cheaper the wine, the stuck-er the cork (you may quote me on that). This well-designed device fits the grooves in the top of the cork and easily turns it. I found a cheaper version ($13) from Vacu Vin but hey, for a great gift and one that is sure to be welcome I say go big and get the Le Creuset. ($38)
Vacu Vin Rapid Ice Chilling Sleeves – Keep a couple of these in your freezer ready to slip on any wine that needs a quick chill. They are a great hot weather tool that’s fast and easy to use. For an even faster cool down I put the bottle back in the freezer with the sleeve on. That will give you a perfect temperature in five minutes or less (pro tip… set a timer!). ($32/set of two).
Decanters – check out your local thrift shop. Find a clear glass, unstained, chip-free pitcher that is big enough to hold a full bottle of wine and has some sort of convenient pouring spout. Pair this gift with a nice bottle of wine. This is the only aeration device you will ever need. ($5 and up).
Top Hat Silicone Bottle Stoppers – A reader suggested these to me and after ordering a set (actually two sets) I am smitten. Listed on Amazon as “Honbay 3PCS Silicone Wine Bottle Stoppers Funny Silicone Magic Hat Wine Bottle Caps Decorative Wine Sealer Preserver Reusable Sealing Bottle Stopper” they live up to the hype. They are funny, decorative and reusable. I grin every time I look at a wine bottle capped with one of these. But they really work, and if you’ve ever struggled to put a composite cork back into an open bottle you will appreciate the practical side of these things. They are sturdy, stylish, useful and (at least to me) hilarious. ($10/set of three).
Last Bottle & Full Pull – I have subscribed to at least a dozen online retailers and these two are my favorites. Both offer well-curated wines at fair-to-awesome prices. They do not duplicate each other. You sign up (for free) and get a daily emailed offer. There is no obligation to buy anything ever. Full Pull is headquartered in Seattle and owner Paul Zitarelli has a fine palate and a focus on Northwest wines. Last Bottle is a California outfit and they offer a wide range of California wines along with selections from France, Italy and Spain. Last Bottle throws in free shipping if you spend a minimum amount on an order – generally around $120. Of course you should support your local wine shops and tasting rooms, but these two online purveyors offer the chance to dramatically expand the reach of your cellar. I purchase from both of them regularly.
Olivieri 1882 Panettone – This was sent to me as a free sample and I was completely gobsmacked by the quality. This is the most expensive bread you’ll ever buy, and I’m guessing that you won’t be sorry for a moment. I tried their most traditional ‘Classic’ Panettone – natural sourdough put through a 48-hour double fermentation. Much lighter than a fruitcake, yet profoundly flavorful. It’s made with Australian 5 crowns sultanas, candied oranges, Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans, Italian wheat flours, raw cane sugar, Bretan centrifuged butter, Italian acacia honey and a whole lot of eggs. Sliced thin and eaten plain or toasted, it’s delicious. I nibbled away at it for a solid week and the bread didn’t lose flavor or become stale. This is a great choice to serve with dessert wines, and a special treat for the holidays. The website lists dozens of variations – I’m probably going to try them all, one at a time.