When it came to choosing host gifts for any occasion, I used to have a one-track mind. Invariably, it was a bottle of wine, but thanks to ideas from imaginative friends, my horizons are a little broader. I've discovered new and classic wine accessories that make perfect gifts.
The ultimate corkscrew, the Screwpull, once cost hundreds of dollars, but ever since the patent on the professional cork puller expired, copycats have appeared on the market for much less. They may not carry the warranty that the Screwpull does, but they sell for as little as $25. Some models come with a stand, as well as a capsule cutter. You'll find them in kitchen accessory and gift shops.
"Give a girl a drink and she'll be happy for an hour. Give her a wine education and she'll be happy for the rest of her life," I say. With that in mind, look for the revised Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book 2004 (Mitchell Beazley, $20). Recommendations include what's best to drink, at what temperatures, in what shape of glass and with what food. Most bookstores have it, or you can order it online. If your host is an aspiring wine taster, Richard Best, the frugal oenophile, has issued a new version of The Frugal Oenophile's Lexicon of Wine Tasting Terms (Chester Press, $10). Visit frugal-wine.com for info.
With Private Preserve wine preserver, you can offer wine by the glass just like your favourite restaurant. It protects unfinished bottles of fine wine or spirits from oxidation and spoilage, keeping them fresh for weeks. Each $16 can is good for up to 120 uses; sold in kitchen accessory shops and liquor stores in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.
If you enjoy your reds, you'll find many uses for Wine Out, a red wine stain remover. It works on clothing, carpets, upholstery, tablecloths, vinyl and many other materials. It's available in two sizes: a 12-ounce bottle at $12 and a pocket-size aerosol can at $8. Visit winecellarexpress.com for info.
GOING BEYOND WINE
A bottle is still the standard host gift, but there's no rule that says it has to be wine. Surprise your friends with a passion fruit aperitif like the new Alizé Sunset Passion or the original Alizé Gold Passion, or cranberry-flavoured Alizé Red Passion ($24-$29 each). They combine fruit juice with fine cognac and are lovely over ice or in a pre-prandial cocktail. Perhaps a traditional after-dinner digestif is more your style. Grand Marnier Limited Edition ($43) is the classic orange liqueur. It's delicious served neat, heated on crêpes Suzette, or splashed in an end-of-meal coffee. At this time of year, there's also a large selection of gift packs, like a bottle of Freixenet sparkling wine with two champagne flutes for about $17.