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Runneth Over

wine glass
Jug of Wine & Thou: Sometimes that ain't enough--but a $9.4 million ranch will do.

Photo by Michael Amsler



Gifts for sippers, swillers, swirlers, and other imbibers

By Bob Johnson

HAVE YOU EVER noticed how certain colognes smell wonderful on some people, but ghastly on others? The same is true of wine. And while we're not suggesting you pour wine all over your significant other and start sniffing (although you certainly wouldn't be the first to do so), we're talking about the taste of wine. A glass of fine Sonoma County cabernet sauvignon may taste fruity and vivacious to one imbiber, but sour and harsh to another.

Who's right? Both are. Like scent, wine is a very personal thing, which makes buying a bottle of wine for a business associate, friend, or even family member a real conundrum. Complicating the situation is today's wine marketplace, in which price doesn't always equate with quality. There are some absolutely dreadful bottles of wine--especially of the imported variety--that cost more than $30, and some surprisingly delightful bottlings that can be had for less than $10.

So what's a holiday shopper to do if there is a wine lover on his or her list? We wouldn't go so far as to suggest not purchasing wine, but if buying a bottle is your route of choice, negotiate it with care: Find out exactly what kind of wine the person enjoys--winery, varietal, and vintage--and buy that specific bottle.

If you'd prefer that your choice of a gift be a surprise, a number of other wine-related options are available. The shopping list below includes ideas both for people on a tight budget and for those for whom money is no object.

Cook 'em, Dano: The Robert Mondavi Winery has published a compact booklet containing appetizer recipes for antipasto prawns with button mushrooms and red onions, scallops wrapped in pancetta, and other delectable appetizers. Each recipe is accompanied by an appropriate wine recommendation--featuring the Mondavi line, of course--and each booklet has a string tie, making it ideal for placing around the top of a wine bottle or attaching to another gift. The winery is offering up to three booklets per person, free of charge, while supplies last.


Robert Mondavi Winery, P.O. Box 106, Oakville, CA 94562.

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 information, check out the Sutter Home website. Windows NT, '95, or 3.11 operating software is required.

Save (Part of) a Tree: If you've ever accidentally pushed a cork down into the wine when trying to open a bottle, you know how frustrating it can be to retrieve. The solution: a unique pronged tool called the Cork Retriever ($9.99), which enables the user to snatch the cork before it harms the flavor of the wine.


If your favorite wine shop doesn't carry it, call 417/883-4066 to order.

Days of Our Lives: Fetzer Vineyards in Hopland offers a full-color 1998 calendar featuring a dozen gorgeous vineyard and winery scenes.


$9.95, plus $2 postage. Ordering info: 800/846-8637.

Dum, Dum, Dum: Red Wine for Dummies ($12.99) is another in the series of business and general reference books from Dummies Press, the people who brought you DOS for Dummies. Each entry in the book, written by Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan, contains just enough information about the topic to inform without boring wine novices.

Collectibles: If you've been a fan of Lytton Springs wines over the years, please note that the 1994 Sonoma County Zinfandel ($16) will be the final bottling bearing the Lytton Springs name and label. The winery was purchased by Ridge Vineyards a few years ago, and the Lytton Springs brand is being phased out. Buy it at the Healdsburg winery, where you also can purchase older Lytton Springs vintages. One of my all-time favorite wines, the 1985 Lytton Springs Reserve Zinfandel, is still holding up well and selling at the winery for $35. And Healdsburg's Dry Creek Vineyard has released its 25th Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon, a special limited-edition bottling from the 1994 vintage, featuring a classy silk-screened label.


Ridge-Lytton Springs Winery, 650 Lytton Springs Road (433-7721); Dry Creek Vineyard, 3770 Lambert Bridge Road (433-1000).

Wall to Wall: Dozens of Sonoma County wineries offer posters that depict either the wineries themselves, their vineyards, or both. Gundlach-Bundschu Winery in Sonoma carries a line of humorous posters created for the Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction; some of them are also available as postcards. Armida Winery in Healdsburg has just released its first winery poster and also sells a number of vineyard scene posters. Prices vary.


Gundlach-Bundschu, 3775 Thornsberry Road (938-5277); Armida Winery, 2201 Westside Road (433-2222).

Land Ho!: Actor James Garner has put his 400-acre Southern California ranch, which includes 22 acres of chardonnay vines, on the market. The property--located in the bucolic Santa Ynez Valley north of Santa Barbara--also features a six-bedroom, 8,000-square-foot house, with a temperature-controlled wine cellar; a three-bedroom manager's house; a four-stall barn; a croquet court; koi ponds; and a reservoir. All for only a cool $9.4 million.


For information on this monstrous holiday gift, call T. Hayer & Associates in Solvang (805/688-9300).

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From the Dec. 11-17, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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