Wine gifts with presence
Laguiole cocktail shakers. Photo: firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the years, my family and friends have given me many wine-related gifts, most of them brilliant, but some have fallen flat. Yes, it's the thought that counts, but with a view to avoiding the bad gifts, here's what I'd love for Christmas.
So long as there's room in your armoire or sideboard, you can never have too many glasses. Buy glasses with a good-sized bowl, preferably in a tapered tulip shape. Look for Riedel, Spieglau and Plumm. My favourite is the Riedel champagne flute because at its base on the inside it's etched to provide a rough surface for the bubbles to form, giving a constant bead of bubbles from the bottom to the top. But don't look for a suite of glass types; instead find one with a good all-purpose shape. The Riedel riesling glass from its Vinum range is a good starting point. Stemless glasses are also in vogue - I use one at home most days since it fits more easily into the dishwasher, and they come into their own when used for Hendricks, tonic and cucumber on a warm evening. Riedel glassware (about $50 a glass,or less in sets of four) is widely available, including at Plonk at the Fyshwick Markets, Essential Ingredient, Myer, David Jones and online. David Jones has other good brands - Spieglau and Luigi Bormioli. Myer has a Plumm starter pack for $129 - four glasses and a decanter.
These days a bottle opener is almost as useful as a letter opener, with the widespread use of screwcap. But there are times you need to go scratching to the back the drawer to find one. My favourites are the simplest waiter's friends. If you are after a work of art, Laguiole makes beautiful waiter's friends in different handle materials from wood to bone or plastic. If you are looking for a stocking filler and the Laguiole is out of your price range (some versions are $70; others over $100, stockists include David Jones and Essential Ingredient), the simple Pulltap waiter's friends are the best (I've seen these at First Choice for just $3). They have a distinctive hinge in the lever to aid in pulling out the cork in a straight line.
The Le Creuset champagne opener is essential for champagne lovers, taking the hard work out of opening a bottle. It's a four-pronged device which wedges over the top of a champagne cork, a really simple idea with no moving parts. It's particularly useful if you know someone with arthritis who might otherwise struggle to open their Dom Perignon. At Essential Ingredient ($25).
A little like the glassware philosophy, if you've got room, you can never have enough. There are so many funky shapes and styles, but for me the plainer the better. Most wines we drink benefit from a little air on opening, so for a wine lover a decanter should be an everyday item. Note: Wine decanters usually don't have lids; if there's a lid, it's probably for spirits or port, so look out for the right kind. You'll find quality decanters at Myer (which stocks LSA, among others), David Jones, Essential Ingredient and other stores. The Riedel Vinum Cabernet Magnum decanter pictured is from Essential Ingredient ($120).
I think you'd be surprised many homes don't have a decent ice bucket. With our warm summers and al fresco lifestyles you need one. Again, they come in a range of styles so stick to something simple. At all kitchen shops.
There's an enormous range of rubbish books out there, the worst no more than ratings guides and compendiums of points. Your wine lover will be bored by this type of book before the sun rises on Boxing Day. My favourites are those I return to, reference-style books that describe the wines of a region, the makers and the climate. These are books with stories that put a human side to the wines. Top of the list is Vino Italiano, by Joseph Bastianich (Random House, 2005), which really captures the romance and feel of the wine regions of Italy, and includes regional recipes. I've owned a copy of Hugh Johnson's Wine Companion (latest edition from Octopus Books, 2009) since I was 18. It's a great book about the wine regions of the world and 20 years on I still refer to it from time to time. Closer to home, James Halliday's Wine Companion (Hardie Grant, latest edition 2014, $39.95) is a favourite - although basically a listing with tasting notes and star ratings, it's a useful reference book as it has winery and cellar door addresses.
Well-made cocktails are becoming super trendy so maybe it's time to get a shaker for home. One I've spied recently has a revolving outer cover with cut-away gaps with recipes for the classic cocktails. A brilliant idea as I can never remember the correct quantities to make my manhattans and screwdrivers. This one was the Donaldson recipe cocktail shaker at Essential Ingredient ($29), but there are lots around, and it's the gift I'm after for Christmas.
>> Fergus McGhie is marketing manager at Mount Majura Winery in Canberra.