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The No-Fail Wine Gift Guide for the Holidays

Sommeiler Jon McDaniel gives us his top picks for the season

Beacon Tavern Photo credit: Kira Williams

We all come into those situations where you need a bottle of wine and have really no idea what to get—until now! Think outside the box (or ice bucket) and give a unique bottle of wine. Don’t know where to start? Never fear, we have you covered. Jon McDaniel, Corporate Beverage Director for The Gage, Acanto, The Dawson, Beacon Tavern, and Coda di Volpe listed some of his top choices for all those hard-to-buy bottles and finicky family and friends.

Photo credit: Kira Williams

Situation 1: Secret Santa gift

Jon McDaniel: Your coworker boasts constantly about his love for sushi so this year, get him a bottle of wine that will not only go with his love of sashimi but won’t break the bank.

My recommendationWairau River Sauvignon Blanc 2015 – Marlborough, New Zealand – $13.99

A crisp, clean, citrusy white that is one of the fresher styles of Kiwi Sauv Blanc on the market. It has flavors of key lime, jalapeño, and perfect mineral texture for all types of sushi, ceviche, and light white fish.

Photo credit: Kira Williams

Situation 2: The boss who thinks they know everything about wine

JM:We all know the type—the collector, the connoisseur executive that gets his wine club shipments sent to the office and opens it right in front of you, every time!

My recommendationSea Smoke ‘Southing’ Pinot Noir 2014 – Sta. Rita Hills, CA – $69.99

Five years ago, one of the most difficult wines to get on the planet was Sea Smoke ‘Southing’ Pinot Noir. You had to be on a list. Few people know that Sea Smoke exponentially increased its production right here in Chicago … but your boss won’t know that!

Rich, smoky, spicy style of Pinot Noir that has spectacular layers of red raspberry, cinnamon, and blackberry pie. Can age for up to 10 years but can be great now with duck and wood-fired salmon.

Photo via Luciano Pignataro

Situation 3: Party in your neighborhood you REALLY don’t want to attend

JM: Let the bottle do the talking for you.

My recommendation:  San Salvatore ‘Falanghina’ 2015 – Campania, Italy $17.99

Floral, bright, with gobs of tropical fruit that will remind you of your first Piña Colada in Mexico. Perfect for oysters and white pizza. A silly buffalo on the label, a serious wine in the bottle.

Photo credit: Kira Williams

Situation 4: The nephew

JM: Your nephew graduated college with a degree and few job prospects. Which in the world of the sommelier, that is actually a good thing!

My recommendation: Six-pack membership to SOMM Select.

Ian Cauble, who starred in the award-winning documentary SOMM, is now a Master Sommelier with his own direct to consumer website. A membership includes six bottles sent to you every month, perfect for training your taste buds. You can even get six bottles each month in black tissue so you can taste them blind!

Coda di Volpe

Other options for your favorite wine-lovers include:

  • A bottle with meaning: You remember your first date, your first anniversary, your first time that you ate a Sichuan pepper for the love of your life—so I am fairly positive you also remember the bottle of wine that went along with that experience. It doesn’t have to be a momentous $100 bottle, rather something that has meaning to you and your loved one for that particular moment.
  • One.Simple.Decanter: There are thousands of options for vessels to decant a wine. If the recipient of your gift loves big red wines or even massive California Chardonnay, a decanter is a must-have for their wine collection. My suggestion is to get a solid, easy to use decanter that will not only look great but won’t break the bank. One of my personal favorites is the Riedel Merlot Decantera beautifully shaped crystal that allows for easy pouring and is widely available. You can find it in most wine shops for $35-40, it is easy to clean with warm water and dries quickly.
  • A corkscrew to end all corkscrews: There are those people in our lives that have everything that they could possibly need and want. So, what do you get that wine drinker in your life that has everything? Naturally, you purchase a handmade titanium wine key! About six years ago I was given a wine key from a company called Code 38. These beautiful, handmade, titanium corkscrews are a one-of-a-kind item. Insider tip: Customize with a name engraved on the handle.

By Kaleigh Glaza and Jon McDaniel