Finding the right holiday wine gift

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Don't break the bank when gifting wine (but don't be too cheap).

BUZZ: Hey Marnie, what's a nice holiday wine gift I can make? My wife asked me to pick some up for last-minute presents, but I don't know if it should be wine to serve hot or one to serve for dinner. My wife told me to ask you first - I don't think she trusts me.

Marnie: She has the right idea - with all the parties coming up and people to remember, I recommend having a stash of good gift wines on hand. But, your habit of grabbing the cheapest bottle isn't the best plan.

Buzz: It has always worked for me!

Marnie: Don't get me wrong. Bargain basement wines are the right choice sometimes, especially if you're making hot, spiced mulled wine. But giving wines under $10 as gifts is a Grinch move. When spreading good cheer, choose wines in the $11 to $15 category for everyday occasions like a neighborhood open house or for gifting the letter carrier. For closer friends and swankier events, $25 is a much safer budget.

Buzz: Can a lot of people taste the difference between a $10 bottle and a $25 one?

Marnie: I know you don't pay attention to such things, Buzz, but many people do notice if they're drinking rotgut. You can judge any wine's quality by the length of its "finish," the aftertaste, regardless of color or style. The term refers to the period of time after swallowing during which flavor sensations continue to resonate in the mouth. These can linger for anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes. Wines made with impeccable ingredients and craftsmanship consistently display a longer, stronger, more pleasant finish than is found in less ambitious wines. A fine wine's finish is perceived not simply as lasting tastes, smells and mouth-feel but as an almost palpable vibrating energy that hums in the mouth for a minute or two after each sip.

Buzz: So it's extra cost for a vibrating aftertaste? Are we talking about something other than wine?

Marnie: Behave, Buzz. I'm talking about the fact that, while many wines are overpriced, there is a noticeable jump in quality when you spend more than $10. In my experience, though, the rate of increase in quality for every extra dollar spent peaks between $15 and $25 and levels off over $50, where pricing starts to reflect a wine's rarity as much as it does quality. Spending $25 is a good way to play the odds and get the most for your dollar. There's reasonable assurance you'll find well-made wines with dignified labels, and you won't come off as a cheapskate.

Buzz: Well, most people call me Cheap Buzz and I don't skate, so I'll get a few of those $25 ones for our best friends.