Wine need not be that last-minute grab, plunked on the sideboard to little notice at the holiday gathering. For the person who complains of having too much stuff, a bottle of wine can be a most thoughtful gift, indeed: it’s all too easy to get rid of. You can even upgrade the gift by adding something that won’t just be taking up space in the garage a year later: experiences and stories.
A gift certificate to a five-course wine and food pairing says more than “I thought of you in the grocery checkout line and grabbed this gift card.” It might even say, “I want you to enjoy a sumptuous Sunday at the Bubble Room at J Vineyards.” The tasting kicks off with bubbly, natch, and if white sturgeon and caviar with a garnish of nasturtium isn’t their thing, vegetarian and other dietary restrictions are welcomed. The cost per person is $125 (most wineries listed here simply sell a gift card that may be used for any merchandise or experience). 707.431.3646.
Perched above a dun sweep of the Carneros region, Ram’s Gate Winery warms the soul with blazing fireplaces and a sumptuous small bites program. $130. 707.721.8700.
Folks are gaga about so-called wine castles, I’m told, but Castello di Amorosa is the real thing—it’s got a dungeon, you see. And a “Royal” tour option that includes gourmet food pairing. $95. 707.967.6272.
The wine and food pairing at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards is like dining in a country manor. Hosted by staff who explain how chef-prepared morsels like cocoa-infused tortelli pasta pair with the winery’s Rockpile Cabernet Sauvignon, tastings are a group experience where strangers start to exchange notes as more wine is poured. $85. 707.833.0242.
Flying yourself, or just the bottle, across the country? Bring the experience to them about your charmed adventures in wine country:
It’s hard to believe there’s no traffic jam at the vintage hamlet of Duncan’s Mills over the season. Among the town’s craft and bauble shops, Sophie’s Cellars stocks hard-to-find wines like Radio-Coteau Terra Neuma Pinot Noir. 25179 Hwy. 116.
Don’t blink on the long drive up Sage Canyon Road or you’ll miss rustic little Nichelini Winery, hugging the edge of the canyon. 2950 Sage Canyon Road, St. Helena.
Dog lovers on the list, drop by Frenchie Winery at Raymond Vineyards, dedicated to a French bulldog. Cute dog labels abound. 849 Zinfandel Lane, St. Helena.
Everybody needs something special to uncork and toast the new year, and a trip to Schramsberg is an atmospheric detour through hand-dug wine caves to achieve that end. If you like to stir the political pot at the table, don’t forget to mention that Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs was uncorked during President Richard Nixon’s trip to open up diplomatic and trade relations with China. $70. 707.709.2469.