The prospect of choosing wine for others presents a special challenge because you can’t make decisions based on your own preferences. Here are some strategies for choosing wines for others that they will love, whether you’re buying for gifts, weddings, another member of your household or a dinner party.
The first question when shopping for another person is “what do they like to drink?” The more specific information you have, the easier it will be to make a decision. If you learn that they like white wine, for example, it’s less helpful than finding that they like Chardonnay, or better yet, California Chardonnay. You can get this helpful info by asking them directly or by asking someone close to them. You can also pay attention to the wines they serve when entertaining, or the bottles on their wine rack if it’s openly displayed.
The Safe Bet
If you want to play it safe, try to buy them something similar to the brand they already enjoy, but don’t get exactly the brand they already like. If they already have a cellar stocked with a particular wine, giving them an additional bottle is nice but not memorable. Instead, look to surprise them with something they haven’t heard of or tried before. That way, you have a good chance that they’ll love the wine and learn something new in the meantime. A new experience is worth a lot in and of itself, especially if you take the time to do some research to be sure it’s still enjoyable. If you’re not sure what to choose, call or email your favorite wine seller. The best ones have knowledgeable people on staff who will happily recommend wines similar to anything you care to name.
For the More Adventurous
If your giftee or guest is more adventurous and prone to trying new things, you’re in luck. There are thousands of wines available that will delight them with exotic tastes and interesting stories. Look for wines from unusual wine regions made from grapes you’ve never encountered. If you’re lucky, the wine will be opened at an occasion where you’re present, and you can share the adventure for yourself. Still, you might want to keep general categories in mind. Some people might like to try any type of sparkling or white wine but don’t care for red or dessert wine. Keep your selection within the bounds of styles they like, and you’ll still have plenty to choose from.
As stated above, you should try to buy wine that’s within the bounds of what your giftee already enjoys, but you can make an exception if you buy them more than one bottle. For example, let’s say your friend likes spicy reds from the New World. This gives you a huge range of options, from Australian Shiraz to Zinfandel from California. If you buy them a second bottle, you can throw a wildcard into the mix with something less certain. So, you could buy a bottle of Shiraz from Australia’s Barossa Valley and add a bottle of Negroamaro from Sicily. Even though the second wine is not from the New World – and therefore outside of the known parameters – it’s still a spicy, full-bodied wine from a warm climate. You can present the two bottles like this: “Here’s a Shiraz from Australia since I know you like that style of wine. I also bought you something that tastes similar from Italy. I don’t know for sure if you’ll like it but I thought it might be fun to compare them. Maybe you’ll discover a new favorite.”
If you want more detailed ideas on what to buy for someone who likes a particular wine, see our series of posts on the subject and feel free to reach out if you have specific questions.