For Tom Alberg, the founder of Novelty Hill Winery in Woodinville, wine is the gift that reduces holiday shopping anxiety. “You don’t have to worry whether it’s the right size,” he quips. More importantly, wines are almost always cheaper by the dozen, so those looking to go beyond the basic bottle have some great options. Wineries, specialty retailers, and even grocery stores such as PCC offer case discounts of 5 to 20 percent; some will even package and ship the wines on your behalf, leaving you more headspace to mull over vintage and varietal. For the naughty ones on your list, perhaps zins for their sins. For those who have been nice, perhaps some ice—as in ice wine. And then there’s the matter of how much you want to spend.
Cases of DeLille Cellars’ red blend, Aix, and its Doyenne syrah, two worthy Washington gift packs, go for between $400 and $560, depending on the vintages available. Cases of the Giant Wine Co. Columbia Valley red or white, St. Laurent syrah rosé and Waterbrook Mélange, on the other hand, are available directly from their wineries for under $200.
If 12 bottles seem like more of a burden than a bestowal, consider that some great regional wines are packed in threes or sixes in handsome wooden boxes. Dunham Cellars in Walla Walla sells a special edition Artist Series three-pack featuring a bottle each of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah, each made with fruit from the venerated Lewis Vineyard. The winemaker, Eric Dunham, crafts the wine in the bottle as well as the art on the label. The trio goes for $250.
Vertical collections—collections of the same wine from different vintages—make fine gifts for the upwardly mobile. Matthews Cellars in Woodinville released a five-year vertical (1999–2003) of their flagship Columbia Valley Red Wine this November. Presented in a custom-made cedar box, the five-bottle collection retails for $385 at the winery.
Magnums (one and a half liters) and double magnums (three liters) make for impressive gift presentation. But if magnum-size headaches are to be avoided, a dinner party of four or more is a must, so save large bottles for the party throwers on your list. And even though Alberg has to go back just a tad on his word—size is somewhat of an issue here—he agrees that these bonus bottles can be a real boon. “Large formats are something special,” says Alberg. “People never buy those for their own personal use.” They can also be real works of art. Many local wineries bottle a limited number of large-format wines featuring special labels; Novelty Hill engraves their magnums and double magnums instead of using the paper labels they paste on regular 750-milliliter bottles.
Ready to shop? Know that December is among the busiest months for wine sales. Wineries and trade groups host open houses (see below) during the holiday season to cater to consumers’ holiday-shopping needs.