If you are shopping for any wine fanatics this year, you might like to know about some unusual gifts I have unearthed for this holiday season.
For years I've been waiting for the Neiman Marcus holiday catalog to market the dream-come-true-but-never-affordable gift for a wine-lover. That would, of course, be a Napa winery.
Since Neiman never offered a wine estate, someone else is filling the void with a less costly option. Greg Snell, a semiconductor engineer in California, has devised a machine that allows winemaker wannabees to make wine at home.
The WinePod Classic is a wine-making system that allows anyone to make great wine in the kitchen, basement or garage. A sleek and handsome 4-foot-tall, stainless-steel tank becomes a self-contained winery that ferments, presses and ages wine. The production is computer- controlled by software that comes with the system to monitor sugar and tannin levels and provide optimum fermentation temperatures for red or white wines.
Each batch will produce four cases of wine with whatever grape one chooses. If the price seems high, just think what it would cost to buy a Napa winery! It's $4,499 at winepod.net. (Grapes, bottles and accessories are sold separately.)
The Note Wine Label Saver is a great gadget for serious collectors. In the past, it was easy to remove labels from wine bottles with a quick soak in warm water, but modern glue makes it virtually impossible to create a label scrapbook these days. The Note is a handsome tool designed to break the glue barrier and remove labels in one piece. Just place the bottle on the device and apply pressure against the sharp blade while twisting the bottle to scrape the label from the glass.
When not in use, The Note is stored in a wooden box with a leather protector covering the razor-like edge. The Note can be purchased alone ($64) or with a companion leather-bound tasting album to preserve the labels and add tasting notes. $98 for the pair at hinckleycellars.com.
There are some wallet-friendly items on the list, too. From Wal-mart comes the Haier Wine Lover's Bundle ($30). This set includes a cordless, rechargeable wine opener and foil cutter, wine thermometer cuff that shows the temperature of the bottle, stainless-steel bucket to keep wine at the proper temperature and a bottle stopper with a rubber ring to reseal opened bottles. Go to walmart.com and click on "for the home," "kitchen," "housewares," "bar accessories" to order.
At sterlingwineonline. com there is a large selection of wine-inspired jewelry for men and women. I have my eyes on the champagne flute earrings for $29.95 but there also are pendants and broaches and high-ticket items with precious stones as well as many other wine-related gifts.
For the well-dressed men on the list, how about a gorgeous yellow silk tie with clusters of purple grapes and glasses of red wine in the pattern at wildties.com ($19.95 on sale).
Sillysandals.com features fun flip-flops decorated with large bunches of red or green grapes for $26.95.
Wine lovers have a weakness for grape products of all sorts and not just those sold in bottles.
An unusual choice would be Le Raisin sold at Palate Partners, 2013 Penn Ave., Strip District (412-391-1709). These grape treats are crafted from fresh fruit preserved in rum and coated in dark chocolate ($28).
No one ever has too many wine glasses. Palate Partners (see above) is offering big savings on Riedel glassware, including decanters.
Another great glass is the elegant Schott Zwiesel titanium and zirconium stemware sold at Sur la Table at the SouthSide Works. These very sturdy and dishwasher-proof glasses come in boxes of six for $59.50. They are available in four wine shapes. They can also be ordered from surlatable.com or by calling 800-243-0852.
Because drinking wine from a proper glass on a backpacking or bicycle trip is a special treat, who wouldn't love a pair of super-lightweight and nearly indestructible Lexan wine glasses. They unscrew at midpoint of the stem so the base fits into the bowl for minimum space concerns. The bowl holds a hefty 10 ounces. $6.99 each from campmor.com or 800-230-2153. Ask for item #73300P.
I'd welcome one of the newly designed wine totes from Caddy-O that chills the wine while transporting it. Made from faux leather, it has a freezeable sleeve that fits inside the tote and also serves as a tabletop chiller. A waiter's corkscrew is zipped into the carrying strap to complete this handy package. $24.95 at caddyo.com or 800-522-2462.
Personal wine labels can be had from myownlabels.com. There are numerous templates ready to be personalized. Seven dollars buys from six to 14 labels depending on size. These would be fun to use for special events as well as to dress up a bottle one is giving to a friend.
Among new wine books I'd love to find under our tree are the following:
Alice Feiring's "The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization" (Harcourt, $23) is meant to be a funny and insightful book lauding the artisanally produced wines of the world, which are becoming more and more rare as wine producers strive to make the big fruit bombs that seem to get the attention of the likes of Robert Parker.
"The Wine Snob's Dictionary," subtitled "The Essential Lexicon of Oenological Knowledge" (Broadway, $12.95) should be both fun to read and a useful reference. One of the authors also wrote the amusing foodie satire, "The United States of Arugula," which was a big seller last year.
"A Year of Wine: Perfect Pairings, Great Buys and What to Sip for Each Season" is the work of Dr. Tyler Coleman, whose wine blog, Dr. Vino, is generally considered one of the best on the Web. This user-friendly book (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, $24) is apt to get the reader to try unknown wines and grape varieties. His pairings can venture from the ordinary -- i.e., what to drink with chips and salsa for a Super Bowl party (answer: prosecco or cava bubbly wine to replace beer).
"Wine and Food Pairings Cookbook" is organized by wine styles and pairs each style with recipes by celebrity chefs such as Bobby Flay, Rick Bayless, Jose Andreas and Lidia Bastianich, among others. It is an appealing and unusual combination of wine book and cookbook (Running Press, $29.95).
Santa, if there are people on your list who don't read, don't like to wash glasses or chill and transport wine, don't collect labels and don't like the idea of making their own wine, the fall-back suggestion is an interesting bottle of wine, something like Tir Na N'og Old Vine Grenache 2006, PLCB #27942, $24.99, made from 100 percent grenache grapes from old vines growing in Australia. This is an unusual opportunity to taste a grape variety that is rarely bottled as a sole varietal but more commonly blended with other Rhone Valley varieties such as syrah and mourvedre.
And for you, Santa, there will always be a plate of cheese and a glass of wine waiting by our fireplace the night you stop by.
Elizabeth Downer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1454.