Wine makes a great holiday gift. It's portable. It's festive. It's timely, with people entertaining more during the holiday season. Wine can be quickly gift-wrapped and tied with a bow or slipped into a decorative paper or cloth wine bag. And wine certainly is easy to find. What other tasteful, impressive gift can you buy at a supermarket or even, in a pinch, at a convenience store?

Since many people worry about selecting just the right gift wine, here are a few guidelines.

First, if you're clueless about wine, don't hesitate to ask a good wine merchant for advice. Forget your fear that they are trying to pawn off some inferior plonk that didn't sell last year. Folks at a good wine shop want to make you look good so that you patronize them next time. Give the wine guy or gal a firm and definite price range, mention anything you know about your gift recipient's taste in wine, and let them do the heavy lifting.

A few tips:

  • If you're on a budget, steer clear of big-ticket categories such as Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or French Bordeaux. Instead, look for good-value categories, such as California Sauvignon Blanc or Italian Dolcetto, and pick a wine from one of the better producers. If the wine is a bit unusual, ask the retailer for a food pairing recommendation and mention that on the gift card.

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  • Nothing is more festive than Champagne or sparkling wine, and there are choices in every price range. Many bottles come in eye-pleasing holiday packaging, making your task even easier.

  • Consider a large-format bottle such as a magnum, which is 1.5 liters or the equivalent of two 750-ml bottles. Specialty wine retailers often carry magnums and larger-format bottles, or they can be ordered direct from a favorite winery, if your state permits shipping of wine.

  • Consider a sweet wine, such as a late-harvest Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend - and look for a half-bottle. A full bottle of dessert wine is a big commitment unless you are serving a table of 12.

Finally, don't feel you have to blow your budget to buy a lovely wine gift. There are plenty of delicious, under-$20 wines out there. I know, because I drink them!

Jean T. Barrett writes about epicurean subjects for several magazines including Sky, Wine Spectator and Westways. Ms. Barrett has served as a judge at national and international wine competitions, including the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition and the Los Angeles County Fair Wines of the Americas Competition. In addition to her magazine work, she has collaborated on three books with television personality Colin Cowie, and wrote the text for two Wine Spectator wine guides. She lives in Los Angeles. This article appears courtesy of WineAnswers.

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