Tastings: A list of wine gifts, checked twice


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This year, when my darling husband (who is totally uninterested in wine) asks me, as he always does, what is on my wish list for Christmas, I know exactly what to answer. Boot camp!

Boot camps for wine lovers are all the rage these days and are available in many North American wine regions. You can find them in Virginia, New York and Canada, among other places, but I have chosen a camp in Sonoma, Calif., where for three days I can get my hands dirty in the vineyards and cellars and kitchens of local wineries. Organized by the Sonoma County Winegrowers, a group of 1,800 wine grape growers, the annual Sonoma County Grape Camp is scheduled for September 22 to 24. Action-packed days will include picking grapes, sorting, stomping (yes, literally up to your knees in wine) and even blending wine, working side by side with master vintners and master chefs. There are seminars and classes on all aspects of winemaking and wine drinking, plus the opportunity to taste many dozens of wines. We will dine on local foods while living in luxury at The Vintner's Inn in Santa Rosa. The cost for this unique gift is $2,000 for one participant or $3,700 for a couple. For a complete boot camp schedule, visit sonomagrapecamp.com.

While I am so close to Napa Valley, I'd like to add one or two wine-education courses at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena. Their top-rated wine programs are directed by Karen MacNeil, author of "The Wine Bible." CIA offers day-, week- or month-long courses at varying prices (http://www.ciaprochef.com/winestudies),

Speaking of wine education, arguably the best-ever wine reference book just has been entirely revised. "The World Atlas of Wine" by Hugh Johnson was first published in 1971 and was hailed by the French Government as "un evenement majeur de la litterature viticole" and as a bible of the wine industry. For the past three editions, Jancis Robinson has joined Mr. Johnson in producing this classic. With so many changes in where wine is grown, climate and winemaking techniques, this up-to-date volume is a perfect representation of the world of wine in 2014. Virginia is included for the first time with detailed maps of both Northern and Central Virginia. "The World Atlas of Wine" 7th Edition by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson (Mitchell Beazley, 2013, $55).

Also, for the first time in its 42-year history, "The World Atlas of Wine" is being published as a digital edition for the iPad that includes the entire contents of the physical edition with the possibility of zooming in on maps or taking notes. Available from Apple for $29.99.

This year is all about preservation. Preservation systems permit consumers to enjoy wine by the glass without committing to a whole bottle. The hottest ticket for both home and restaurant preservation systems is the recently introduced Coravin, invented by an MIT nuclear engineer, Greg Lambrecht. He began the Coravin project a decade ago when his wife became pregnant and no longer wanted to share a bottle of wine. Determined to enjoy his fine wines by the glass without the remaining wine diminishing after opening, he came up with this system, which inserts a thin, hollow needle into the bottle to first pressurize the contents with inert argon gas, then extract a glass of wine without removing the cork. The tiny hole in the pliable cork reseals itself and the remaining wine stays as fresh as if the bottle were never opened. Coravin is sold online for $299 at coravin.com.

Or you could instead try the Capabunga Wine Preservation Kit ($23.95). It consists of a can of argon gas to spray into the bottle and three caps that will then seal three bottles until you wish to pour more wine (http://shop.capabunga.com).

There are a number of useful new gadgets available this year. One that I have already tried and love is Tempour ($50), a sleek, stainless-steel, four-in-one system for chilling and serving wine. It is a bottle chiller, filter, pourer and stopper. A gel-filled stainless tube detaches from the stainless drip-free pourer and stopper and is kept in the freezer until needed to keep a beverage at optimal temperature. When needed to chill or maintain temperature in a bottle, simply attach the tube to the remainder of the system, insert into bottle and pour directly into a glass. It also can be useful for aperitifs, spirits and sake. In Pittsburgh it is available at Annex Cookery, 218 E. Eighth Ave, Homestead (412-461-4615).

Although not new this year, Vinnibag -- a travel bag for wine, liquids and fragile items -- is a great gift for wine lovers. The contents are suspended in an inflatable air cushion, which protects against impact and leakage. Vinnibags are sold (two for $25) at Bed, Bath and Beyond and at VinniBag.com.

Need some stocking stuffers or hostess gifts? Try the wine-pairing towel duo featuring separate red and white, easy-to-follow charts ($28 for the pair at uncommongoods.com).

When I was in Staples buying printer ink, I picked up several Chill It wine chilling bottle carriers. For $6.99 they are a perfect hostess gift, especially when paired with a special bottle of white or rose wine. They are made of quilted plastic with gel-filled pockets, come in numerous colors and have two handy carrying straps. When left in the freezer for a few hours, they make a perfect tote for getting a wine to a picnic or a party chilled. Also at Staples is a well-organized, Moleskine-type-bound Wine Journal ($19.95), 5-by-8¼ inches with 240 pages divided into themed sections. And lastly, I picked up several boxes of clever Lip Service toothpicks for hors d'oeuvres ($46.99) that are topped with assorted plastic mustaches. There are 16 picks in four different mustache shapes, which provide lots of fun.

To all my wine-loving pals, I send bubbly greetings for a joyous holiday season, great wines and good health in 2014.


Elizabeth Downer: elizabethdowner@gmail.com.

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