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Photograph by Michael Amsler

Buy the Bottle

Wine gifts for discriminating tastes

By Bob Johnson

'TIS THE SEASON, and you know what that means: searching, struggling, and stressing to find just the right gift for each person on your holiday list. If there's a wine lover on that list--and habitating in or near California's North Coast Wine Country--the gift possibilities seemingly are endless. And, perhaps surprisingly, they need not necessarily involve vino. Better still, the "Santa's helper" list we've compiled requires no fighting for a parking space at the local mall. Everything on the list is a simple phone call and a friendly UPS (or FedEx) driver away.

Ready for some armchair shopping?

Sit back, loosen up your phone-punching finger, and as they like to say on info-mercials, have your credit card ready.

  • Perhaps the best wine primer ever written, Kevin Zraly's Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, has been updated this year. It provides a good overview of the world's wine regions, interesting historical notes, tips on tasting, and much more. Perfect for someone just getting into wine. $24.95. Wine Appreciation Guild, 800/231-9463, or wineappreciationguild.com.

  • Uncorking a bottle of wine doesn't have to strain one's wrist. The Screwpull Lever accomplishes the task with a simple "over-and-back" motion. It's a truly ingenious invention, and would be most appreciated by anyone who enjoys wine on a regular basis. (Attention, all friends and family members: The previous sentence includes a very important subliminal message. If you are not now reaching into your wallet and preparing to make a call or go online, please reread.) $160. 877/CRE-USET, or screwpull.com.

  • A less expensive version that utilizes the same lever principle, the Rabbit, is new this year from housewares specialist Metrokane. (Attention, all friends and family members: If your investment portfolio at the start of the year consisted entirely of dotcom stocks, you may transpose the aforementioned subliminal message to this item.) $75. International Wine Accessories, 800/527-4072, or iwawine.com.

  • Some of the most comical moments on NBC's Frasier occur when brothers Frasier and Niles Crane discuss or evaluate wine. So it was only natural that David Hyde Pierce, who plays Niles, would one day host a wine-related series on PBS. That day has come, and the six-part series, Wine 101, is now available on video. $89.95. Wine Enthusiast Catalog, 800/356-8466, or wineenthusiast.com.

  • Gift baskets always make great holiday presents, and two good sources are the Web-based gotfruit.com and the Orange County-based Wine Country Gift Baskets. (Yes, we know they no longer grow wine grapes in Orange County, thus rendering the region suspect as "wine country," but, heck, they don't grow many oranges there, either.) Wine Country Gift Baskets features a "local flavor" basket that includes three bottles of Kendall-Jackson wine (also not grown, fermented, or aged in Orange County) and assorted goodies for $99.95, and a "Connoisseur's Selection" basket with similar edibles and two bottles of La Crema wine for $74.95. The company offers a 5 percent discount on orders placed through its website, giftprogram.com. At gotfruit.com, whose Web address is the same as the company name, the baskets feature a mix-and-match array of cheeses, wines (including several North Coast bottlings), and, natch, fruit. Yes, even those perfectly shaped, seemingly-untouched-by-human-hands pears that suddenly materialize every holiday season.

  • For the person who has everything . . . from a gift giver not on a budget . . . how about a metal wine rack shaped like a cello? Two sizes are available, one that holds six bottles, measuring 14 by 42 inches, and one that holds 10 bottles and six wine glasses, measuring 24 by 56 inches. We'd add a comment such as, "This gift is a great way to strike a whimsical chord," but we're above such things around here. $390 (small) and $585 (large), plus shipping, from Galleria Lighting & Design of Denver. And you even have to pay for the phone call: 303/592-1223.

    Local Options

    Don't like to shop on-line, worry that your credit card number might be intercepted when ordering, or afraid your phone might be tapped? Old-fashioned, hop-in-the-car shopping is available nearby, offering an eclectic variety of gifts that won't evoke same-old, same-old shrugs from wine enthusiasts. Among the options:

  • ON THE VINE A gift shop where every item in stock has some relation to wine, food, or nature. Many of the goods, such as grape-cluster pins and vino-themed charm bracelets, can't be found anywhere else. 1234 Main St., St. Helena; 707/963-2209.

  • ART AND ALL THAT JAZZ Another outlet for rare or one-of-a-kind jewelry, many of the designs related to wine. Also a good source of jazz CDs--the perfect accompaniment to a glass of merlot. 119-A Plaza St., Healdsburg; 707/433-7900, or www.artandallthatjazz.com.

  • V. SATTUI WINERY Best known for its vast picnic grounds and only-at-the-winery, award-winning bottlings, this also is an excellent source of gift items. And if you're assembling a basket as a gift for a party host, you'll find more than 200 choices at Sattui, from artisan breads to delectable cheeses. Corner of Highway 29 and White Lane, St. Helena; 707/963-7774.

  • K-J WINE COUNTRY STORE Wine-themed gifts of every kind and in every price range can be found here, along with virtually every wine in the K-J portfolio (including the four Cs--Calina, Cambria, Camelot, and Cardinale). 5007 Fulton Road, Fulton; 707/571-8100.

  • CARMENET MARKETPLACE The newest place to shop for glassware, pottery, and ceramics crafted by Wine Country artists. Of course, you can also purchase Carmenet wines, including the popular Dynamite line. No reports of Jimmy Walker sightings thus far, however. 14301 Arnold Drive., Glen Ellen; 707/996-8345.

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  • From the December 21-27, 2000 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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