Sunday, November 13, 2011

10 Unique Gift Ideas for the Wine Enthusiast on Your Holiday List

Since the holidays are upon us and travel has slowed, I wanted to take a little break from wine country advice and offer up some suggestions for holiday gifts perfect for your favorite wine enthusiast. Most people like to give wine as a gift, which is fantastic if you are privy to exactly what the recipient enjoys; otherwise your bottle could end up as a much dreaded re-gift or a shelf warmer. If you are uncomfortable giving wine as a gift or desire to

give something a little more imaginative, I have compiled the list below of 10 items that are
sure to wow any wine lover this holiday season.

  1. Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator
    Aerate your wine in the amount of time it takes to pour a glass. Within seconds,
    reds and whites are mixed with precisely the right amount of air, delivering a better taste. Wines breathe instantly and result in a better bouquet, enhanced flavor and smoother finish. This item can be found at Target. | Price: $39.99
  1. Subscription to Wine Spectator Magazine
    Give someone you love the most reliable and useful guide to wine anywhere. Each
    issue contains more than 500 wines in all price ranges which are rated and tasted. | Price: $49.95 (annually)

  2. iTunes Gift Card With A Thoughtful List Of Must Have iPhone Wine Apps.
    This is a clever gift for the Oenophile who is an iPhone user. Apps are a wonderful
    and useful tool and there are many that are essential for wine enthusiasts. iTune
    Gift cards can be purchased at various stores such as Target, Albertsons & The
    Apple Store. Gift cards can be used online at the App Store (

    Must Have Wine Apps:

    *Winery quest pro
      A wine tasting app that offers information about wineries in whichever region
      you are visiting.  Features include, tasting fees, operating hours, architecture, 
      ambiance, dog friendly and more. | Price: $7.99

    *Memorable Wines

      An elegant app quickly recording, remembering and sharing your favorite
      wines. | Price: $7.99

    *Cellar: Manage your wine cellar
      A phenomenal way to manage your personal wine cellar. Offers space to

      enter intricate information about your collection. It’s like browsing the real
    thing! | Price: $4.99

    *Wine Search

      Allows you to compare wine prices quoted on restaurant wine lists with
    the actual retail price tag. | Price: $1.99
*Cheese Board
  A handy app containing over 1,000 cheese and wine pairings with a
  description of 500 wine varietals. | Price: $1.99
*Wine Pocket Pro
  Acts not only as a wine and food pairing guide but also educates you on   
  wine style definitions and how to appreciate wine properly. | Price: $3.99

     4.    Wine Bottle Cork Cage
            An unforgettable clever gift! The wine bottle cork cage is a fun and
            innovative way to keep and cherish all of your wonderful wine memories.          
   | Price: $25.00
     5.    Vacu Vin Stainless Steel Vacuum Wine Saver
            This wine saver is a valuable tool for anyone who likes to savor their bottle
            over a period of days. With the sound of a simple click, the Vacu Vin
            stainless steel wine saver is a vacuum pump, which extracts the air from
            the opened bottle. | Price: $29.95

     6.    Push Button Electric Blue Cork Screw
            A wine opener as entertaining to watch as it is easy to use! The blue light
            Allows you to view the progress in the cork removal as it shine through
            the action window. This extractor removes corks smoothly, and promptly
            from your bottle. | Price: $29.95

     7.   Wine Label Lifter & Label Album Combination Gift
           A great way to document favorite wine!

           Oenophilia Label Lift (50 pack):
           Wine Label Saver removes wine labels easily from bottle and creates a
           laminated label to place in your wine album. Can be purchased from
   | Price: $19.95
  Wine Label Album
           This leather embossed binder offers an organized way to treasure your   
           most memorable wines. This binder holds up to 50 wine labels as well as
           wine ratings and other information you need to remember. Can be
           purchased from | price: $34.99

     8.   Arrange A Private Tour & Tasting At A Winery
           Many wineries offer private tours & tastings that include benefits such as    
           barrel tastings, vineyard tours, tasting of reserve & library wines, vertical
           tastings and food & wine parings. A private wine tasting is an unforgettable
           experience and If the winery offers a complimentary private tasting, purchase a 

           couple of bottles of their wine prior to the appointment and have them present it
           to your guest at the end of their visit. Prices & benefits vary per winery. For a list
           of California wineries visit

     9.  Tickets For A Local Wine Event
          Wine events are exciting and a great way to taste wines from a variety of wineries
          in one convenient location. Each California Wine region participates in wine events 

          sponsored by the local chamber of commerce or vintners association. Event tickets 
          can typically be purchased in advance and include benefits such as unlimited wine
          tasting at participating wineries, barrel tastings, food & wine pairing, discounts, 
          drawings and more. Prices and benefits vary per event. For information on California
          wine events

   10.    Intelli Scanner Mini
    Your favorite wine enthusiast will enjoy thisportable barcode reader, and
    innovative wine
management software to manage, track, and search your
    wine collection. Just scan the barcode on a wine label and the scanner will
    automatically download detailed information
on your wine like the winery,
    vintage, type, and varietal -- no typing necessary!
    Price: $279-$329

     I hope my suggestions are helpful and I wish you all a wonderful holiday season!


Friday, October 28, 2011

Wine Tasting? There's an app for that too!

Years ago when I first began my adventures
in wine tasting, there was no possible way
for me to avoid messy maps & guide books
that generally lead me into a sea of clamoring tourists. Today in the age of information technology, even something as simple as wine tasting has been taken to a whole new level. Devices such as computers, androids & iPads are sweeping the market providing users with access to invaluable travel information such as maps, reviews and discounts all available at their fingertips.

Napa and Sonoma Winery Finder is a free iPhone app
provided by that not only works as a winery
locater but also offers FREE tastings, 2 for one coupons and
other discounts at select wineries throughout The Napa &
Sonoma Valleys. With many wineries currently charging a
$5.00-$25 per person tasting fees, this little gem is ideal for oenophiles & travelers on a limited budget. All special offers
are recognized by participating wineries and can yield visitors
a substantial savings.

Discover over 75 wineries with this GPS application that displays static maps with markers and
turn by turn driving directions to each winery. In addition to California Wine Country, this app now
includes various tasting rooms in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Other Features include:

- Integrated reviews & ratings for each individual winery
- The ability to check-in at each winery with your Twitter, Facebook, & Foursquare account.

No iPhone? No problem, offers printable wine tasting coupons that can be obtained directly from their website.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

5 Factors to Consider When Creating a Wine Tasting Itinerary

There is no argument that most California wineries produce good to exceptional wine however, there is more to selecting a tasting room to visit than solely for the product at hand. Although sampling wine is the main objective of a winery visit, there are 5 factors I tend to consider before finalizing my winery itinerary; quality, value, wine types & varietals, customer service & tasting environment.

1. Wine Quality: Not all wine is created equal, but does it really matter? For experts, wine quality is a highly important factor, however for the neophyte, not so much. You can invest your time sifting through a plethora of public reviews on sites such as or TripAdvisor, but you need to keep in mind that the majority of the general public has a limited knowledge of actual quality and tend to base their opinion strictly on their own personal taste. Even if you want to take public opinion into consideration, you are bound to find inconsistent evaluations since each palate can differ greatly. Professional wine websites & blogs can offer information on wine caliber but even if the wine is considered to be of superior quality, it still does not guarantee that you are going to like it. In my honest opinion, if you happen upon inconsistent public reviews that specifically target wine quality & taste, it is best not to disregard the winery completely, sample it for yourself and draw your own conclusion.

2. Value: Quality to price ratio is also difficult for the novice to determine since their wine knowledge is so limited. If you really enjoyed it and the bottle is within your price range, I would consider it a worthwhile purchase. A little research prior to visiting any winery will ensure you are comfortable with the cost of the wine. If you find that the winery only produces wine in the $50-$100 range and your budget only allows you to spend between $25-$35 per bottle, I would suggest skipping that particular winery unless your sole intention is to taste. Another facet to consider when determining value is the winery's policy on tasting fees. Most tasting rooms charge a fee to sample their wine and if the policy does not allow for the fee to be applied toward the purchase of a bottle, you have just added 10 or so additional dollars to your purchase.

Wine Types & Varietals: Whether you prefer red or white, not every tasting room can fulfill your needs. A great number of California wineries exclusively produce red wine which can leave white wine drinkers out in the cold. If you are strictly looking to taste whites, it is essential for you to do your homework. The good news is, white wine production is gaining ground throughout the state and with some research efforts you will find more opportunities to taste white wine at wineries that have added them to their portfolio. As a red wine drinker, I would certainly be interested in which red wine varietals are produced at any given winery but tend to base my decision more so on which grape varieties are prominent in the region I am visiting. Santa Barbara is well known for velvety Pinot Noirs and crisp Chardonnays, while Paso Robles is notable for spicy Zinfandels and premium Rhone varieties. The Temecula AVA (American Viticulture Area) is a haven for those seeking white wine however, red wine drinkers are bound to find some satisfaction in this region as well. 

4. Customer service: Hospitality is a make or break in my book and I have encountered more inhospitable tasting environments than I care to mention. I have heard these wineries described as "snobby" or “pretentious” but I just chalk it up to poor customer service. I do feel that some tasting room attendants believe their wine is so exemplary that it will just sell itself; however, if I don’t feel there is an interest in explaining the product, I tend to view their service as abysmal, which ultimately ends up costing them a sale. Factors such as service are where I put my trust
in online public reviews. If I see consistent service issues, I will more than likely redirect my business elsewhere. The majority of my greatest tasting room experiences have occurred while tasting with the wine maker or winery owner. Obviously these are the individuals who are motivated to sell their wine and it is imperative for them to do it well.

5. Tasting Environment: Each tasting environment is unique and I love to mix it up. I have had the opportunity to visit large commercial wineries housed in extravagant castles, mid size wineries decorated with neoclassical elements, small family wineries who conduct tastings from their own living rooms & boutique wineries with tasting areas that consisted of nothing more than two barrels topped with a wooden board. I must admit, my favorite wineries are small, garage type settings packed with oak barrels containing fermenting wine. I find that these wineries are often the smallest producers and are typically best kept secrets hidden among the many mass production facilities throughout wine country. A winery with a breathtaking view is least important on my personal list of priorities and I look at it as an extra added a bonus. On occasion, I do like to pencil in at least one winery with aesthetically pleasing scenery in the event that I decide to relax and partake in a picnic. This particular factor does not hinder my overall wine tasting experience and like I said, is considered a benefit. 

To some, this may seem like an overly methodical approach to building a tasting room itinerary, but I feel that it increases my chances of exceptional experiences.