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Grape Gifts

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Michael Amsler

Holiday items for that wine enthusiast in your life

By Bob Johnson

I COULDN'T tell you the names or the vintages of the most enjoyable wines ever to moisten the lips of this grape juice-stained wretch. The best wines, yes. The most enjoyable wines, no. That's because the most enjoyable wines always are consumed with family or friends, when the focus of the occasion is on the latest adventures of those gathered around the table, rather than on debating whether malolactic fermentation harmed or improved the quality of the liquid in the glasses.

Good company can make a ho-hum wine enjoyable and a good wine exciting. Combine good company with a great wine, and you begin to understand what life really is all about. Having friends can be a double-edged sword, however--especially around the holidays.

The gift list grows longer with each passing year, and when a friendship is based largely upon a shared passion for wine, selecting the "perfect present" can be a perplexing task.

Because tastes and preferences in wine are so personal, I've made it a policy never to give wine as a holiday gift to a wine-loving friend. Instead, I opt for wine-related presents.

This policy may not thrill Sonoma County's vintners, but those who have gift shops adjacent to their tasting rooms shouldn't mind too much. A winery tasting room/gift shop can be a great place to shop for non-bottled wine presents.

With the spirit of giving in mind, and with only a handful of shopping days left until Christmas, we present our second annual list of holiday gift ideas for the wine lover(s) in your life.

Setting a Mood: Your new relationship is on the fast track, and the time has come to move in for the kill, er, take "the next step." So you plan a romantic rendezvous with your significant other-elect. You prepare a gourmet meal (or bring home a reheatable one from the market), pop the cork from a bottle of fine Sonoma County wine, dust off (literally) your Kenny G CD, and, of course, light candles.

But something's missing. What could it be? Then it hits you: "Of course! Grape cluster candle rings!" Corrie Glass makes these attractive, clear, gold-accented rings that slip over candles to add a touch of flair and elegance. $25. Available at various winery tasting rooms.

Screen Dreams: Sutter Home Winery has created four humorous wine-themed computer-screen savers and is offering them free to anyone with a machine capable of downloading them. Three are animated. The one that isn't shows two men wearing antlers, about to square off over a glass of red wine. The caption reads: "Under two bucks, a glass." For downloading info, check out the Sutter Home website. Windows NT, or 3.11 operating software is required.

Drink Plenty of Fluids: Alcohol and caffeine are two leading causes of dehydration. So when one consumes a lot of wine, and then attempts to sober up by drinking a lot of coffee, dry mouth is the common result. The cure: water. And what better way to haul around your personal supply of H20 than in a Kendall-Jackson logo water bottle. The white bottle features gold lettering and a black top, and looks mighty snazzy attached to a belt buckle or swinging from a bicycle handlebar. $4.99. Kendall-Jackson California Wine Center, 5007 Fulton Road, Fulton; 571-8100.

A Cap-ital Idea: Speaking of Kendall-Jackson, that company's signature wine, known as Cardinale, is one of the best bottlings produced in California each year. Only one problem: It fetches upwards of $100. That's per bottle, not per case. If you can't afford this exquisite wine but wants friends to think you can, give the official Cardinale baseball cap. It's black with a brown bill and attractive lettering. As a marketing pro might put it: Buy the cap and save $84! $16. Kendall-Jackson California Wine Center, 5007 Fulton Road, Fulton; 571-8100.

Put a Cork in It: Once a cork has been removed from a wine bottle, it's sometimes difficult to force back in.

This conundrum is solved with marble and stone stoppers, featuring natural variegated marble, fossil stone, and onyx in a variety of colors and patterns. 3 for $14.95 or 6 for $24.95. International Wine Accessories, 10246 Miller Road, Dallas, TX 75238-1206; 800/527-4072.

Timely Advice: A friend or family member can wake up each day of the new year to a picture of dense winter air hovering over a vineyard ... clusters of zinfandel grapes clinging to their vines ... or one of 10 other wine country shots featured in Fetzer Vineyards' 1999 calendar. It measures 10 by 14 inches and spotlights the photography skills of George Rose, who since has moved from the P.R. department at Fetzer to Sonoma County's Clos du Bois Winery. $9.95, tax included, plus $2 postage. Fetzer Vineyards, P.O. Box 611, Hopland 95449; 800/846-8637.

Local photographer Robert Janover also offers a spectacular wine country calendar through his True Images production company.

The Perfect Holiday and Get-Well Gift for Joe DiMaggio: "Joltin' Joe" is best known for two accomplishments: getting at least one hit in each of 56 consecutive baseball games, and hitting on Marilyn Monroe to the point that she agreed to marry him. Some years ago, a true marketing pro hit upon the idea of bottling some merlot wine, placing a picture of Marilyn Monroe on the label, and calling the product "Marilyn Merlot." Bottlings in future years featured other poses, some on the provocative side, always glamorous.

For the person who has everything ... or to help a convalescing Joe DiMaggio feel better ... one now can obtain a vertical collection of Marilyn Merlots from 1985 through 1994. Individual bottles also are available, just in case you find the collection a bit difficult to budget. Vertical collection: $4,200. Individual bottles: $20 to $2,000. Napa Wine Co., 7830-40 St. Helena Hwy., Oakville; 944-8669. (Things are always more expensive in that other valley.)

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From the December 10-16, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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