A family that drinks together, stays together, so why not give the gift of Niagara wine?  But choosing the right bottle for your loved one can be an unwelcome cause of stress during a season that is supposed to be filled with joy.  White or red?  Sweet or dry?  How much do you spend?  There are a lot of options out there.  Let’s go over a few simple “dos” and “don’ts” when it comes to giving the gift of Niagara wine.

DON’T pick a wine based on a pretty label.

Pretty labels with pictures of leaping kangaroos or little cocktail dresses may be attractive to the eye, but when it comes to buying wine it’s the liquid inside that counts, not the marketing on the bottle’s exterior.  So ignore the pictures on the label and read the words instead.  The words on the label are rich with information that inform about the quality, the terroir (the place the grapes were grown), and the style of the wine inside.  When buying wine from Ontario the most important thing to look for on the label is the letters ‘VQA’ which stand for “Vintners Quality Alliance.”  This is your indicator that 100% of the grapes that went into making that wine were grown in Ontario.  Be wary of ‘ICB’s (“international Canadian blends”) which are wines that have been processed in Ontario but contain only 25% Ontarian grape material with the remainder coming from outside of our country.  These products are not a genuine expression of Ontario’s grape growing industry.

DO have an idea about the style of wine the recipient enjoys.

If you don’t know what your recipient enjoys, then you have an investigative mission to perform before heading to the store.  Collecting the needed information can be as simple as having a telephone conversation.  Start sharing with your friend the story of what you got up to last weekend, and be sure to mention the wine you enjoyed.  (The story doesn’t even have to be true!)   Then ask, “What sort of wine do you like…?”  In addition to appearing like an interested friend who cares, you will succeed in gleaning the desired information without giving away that you are intending to give the gift of wine.  Listen to the response for key words like, “red,” “white, “dry,” or “sweet,” and then choose a wine that falls into that category.  If your friend tells you that they don’t like wine, then make your New Year’s resolution to find a new friend who does.

DON’T hang the wine in a stocking “by the chimney with care.”

Wine is sensitive to temperature and if it is stored incorrectly it can cause off flavours.  While hanging your gift “by the chimney with care” like the old poem says may seem enchanting, it is going to wreak havoc on your Niagara wine.  The heat from that roaring fire will cause the wine to lose its aroma, brightness, and colour, and it will not taste as intended when opened.

DO store your wine on its side, in a cool, dark place.

Wine should be stored at a consistent temperature of about 13oC in a dark place to maintain its integrity.  If your wine is closed using a real cork, then it should be stored on its side to keep the cork moist and prevent any excess air from seeping in and oxidizing the wine.  If you can hide your gift, wrapped, on its side, in a dry corner of the basement or underground cellar, this would be the best place for keeping it before placing it under the tree as close to the time of its unwrapping as possible.

DON’T break the bank.

In my experience I have found that it is not necessary to break the bank to buy a Niagara wine that is high in quality and superb in flavour.  My personal rule is to seldom spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine.  There are many great tasting wines available for $14 to $20.  Don’t get me wrong—if you have the funds to spend more, you are sure to find some rare premium wines from Niagara’s wineries at a higher price point and the quality is going to be exceptional.  But when it comes to giving the gift of great tasting Niagara wine, remember that breaking the bank is not a prerequisite for doing so.

DO keep the receipt.

It is well known among experienced wine consumers that about 5% of all wines closed with a real cork will suffer from cork taint.  If you have ever opened a bottle of wine that has smelled of wet dog, damp basement, or soggy cardboard, you have opened a bottle that is faulty.  Simply return the bottle (with the wine still in it, of course) along with its receipt to the retailer or winery to receive a replacement bottle.

Happy holidays, and happy gifting!


Michael Twyman – Sommelier and Niagara Wine Country Guide for Niagara Vintage Wine Tours and Bootleggers


* The opinions and recommendations in this article are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect Niagara Vintage Wine Tours or Bootleggers.