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Thinking Outside The Bottle

Wine gifts that go beyond the usual gadgets

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Since I already own just about every wine gadget, I can imagine what a pain in the ass I am to shop for. Some gadgets I use regularly, like Vacu Vin stoppers, but some just pile up on the counter, like the gaggle of extremely cute yet useless wine charms my craftier friends bear as gifts. Then there's the battery-operated corkscrew oddly resembling a vibrator ... the thought of using it puts a smile on my face, although my old-school Screwpull opener gets me there quicker. The best gifts, however, are the thoughtful ones; even if inexpensive, they'll show that you took the time to be creative. Here are my gift suggestions for the wine lovers on your list, whether they be newbies or connoisseurs.

BUDDING WINE LOVERS
Plastic ice cubes: These odd items have been around for years, yellowing in kitchen drawers. Here's a new use: quickly chill down whites and roses without watering them down. They come in all sorts of shapes, from palm trees to penises, so you can "personalize" the gift. Prices from $2.95 to $14.95 per dozen, and you'll find the best selection online by Googling "plastic ice cubes."

Wine journal: For jotting down preferences and prices, record what your foggy mind might not. Great idea for anyone wanting to figure out their taste trends. It should be small enough to fit in a purse, pocket or Palm case. Cheap, too. I buy mine at Walgreen's for $2.99.

Gift certificates to wine tastings: Tastings are all the rage and everyone should taste a variety outside their comfort zone. Wine shops (where legal), restaurants and other groups regularly hold tastings -- ask about advance purchases. As they say, it's the gift that keeps on giving. Check localwineevents.com or local newspaper listings for tastings. Costs $10-$20 per tasting.

Wine starter kit: Fill a re-gifted holiday bag with: Screwpull wine opener ($25), Vacu Vin Wine Saver ($9), Vacu Vin Rapid Ice Wine Chiller ($9 for two), two good Speigelau or Riedel red wine glasses ($20), and an inexpensive bottle of wine ($10). If you're feelin' the love, add a foil cutter, which efficiently slices the bottle's seal for $8 more. Online or at wine and kitchen stores everywhere.

CURRENT WINE LOVERS
Wine in a cardboard box: For the trendy, hip drinker who's not afraid of being judged, but also as a gag gift for those who think wine should be revered. A box provides 20 glasses of pretty decent wine for up to three months, all for about $20. At wine shops everywhere.

Wine aroma kit: This is for true geeks learning to train their nose to distinguish wine aromas (professionals often use it for training). Companies charge over $100 for what you can build for less than $20. Fill film canisters or small glass bottles half-full of each of the following: coffee beans, cinnamon, cloves, raspberry jam, tobacco leaves, black cherry jam, dirt, grapefruit and lemon rinds, dried mushrooms, and leather. The idea is to smell the wine, then smell the essences to see if they are similar.

Mixed case of sparkling wine: A slightly more expensive gift that I'd covet. Assemble 12 sparkling wines, not just French Champagne, from all around the world and put a big bow around it: Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco or Spumante, German Sekt, and Australian and American sparkling wines. Suggested wines listed in Corkscrew in two weeks.

WINE RECOMMENDATIONS

Columbia Crest 2002 Grand Estates Chardonnay Columbia Valley Ripe and buttery with toasty vanilla, citrus and pear. Goes down real easy any time during the day. Sw = 4. $11. 1/2

Spy Valley 2002 Pinot Noir Marlborough Silky raspberry, gushing blueberry, smooth acids and a dash of dirt thrown in ... what a pinot should be. Sw = 2. $20.

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