Italian Wines as Gifts for Any - and All - Occasions


As the year winds down and the holiday gift-giving season approaches we nervously start thinking about gifts for friends, relatives, loved ones, professional acquaintances and all others for whom some sort of gift would be appropriate.

Wines, of course, make excellent presents because they meet some of the basic requirements of gift-giving. These are presents that the recipients can use and enjoy and they add an element of surprise and delight during the presentation. They not only make good presents but also good company during holiday parties as well as other celebratory occasions throughout the year.

However, several caveats are in order when considering wine as a gift. First, like any other gift, you should know something about the person and their tastes before deciding on a bottle of wine. If the person for whom you are buying a gift tends to favor beer or bourbon drinks, or worse, doesn’t drink at all, then a bottle of wine may not be the best gift for this person.

Second, under no circumstances buy a cheap, big-name wine and expect it to be well received. That’s not to say you can’t find decent wines at reasonable prices. But the point is that you want to make a positive impression on a host and/or somebody special so you want to give something better than merely decent.

Plush reindeer with bottle of wineAll right, enough said about that. Once you decide on giving wine you have to decide exactly what wine. There are an overwhelming number of wines available in the marketplace so the challenge is to match the wine to the person and/or occasion. And, unless you have an unlimited budget, you also have to consider exactly how much you want to spend on a gift bottle of wine.

To help resolve some of these tricky issues I have devised several wine-gifting alternatives with suggested gift price ranges that depend on who the gift recipient is and/or the occasion.

And since I have a predilection for all things Italian, all of the alternatives listed are (surprise!) Italian wines.

The wines in each category are presented in order of price.

Thoughtful but Not Expensive Wines (under $25)

These are wines for gifts to personal friends, office colleagues, or people with whom you regularly meet like your personal trainer, yoga instructor or anyone whose help you want to acknowledge.  These wines are also appropriate for informal, casual occasions or get-togethers when a bottle of wine as a gift to the host would be in order. While these wines are relatively inexpensive, they all rate high on a quality-to-price basis. They are affordable but interesting wines that show some thought on the part of the giver and that they were not just hurriedly grabbed off a wine shop shelf on the way to the festivities.

Here are some Italian wines appropriate for these occasions:

Fontanafredda, “Briccotondo” Barbera Piemonte 2016 (about $15)
Fontanafredda’s “Briccotondo” is made entirely of Barbera grapes harvested from the estate’s vineyards in the Piedmont region. It has good fruit appeal and is distinctly Italian in terms of its structure, balance and food-friendly acidity.

Mastroberardino, Aglianico 2016 (about $15)
It’s a delicious wine made from an intriguing variety (Aglianico) by a top producer at a remarkably affordable price. It’s always a crowd pleaser and always hard to resist a second glass.

Duca di Salaparuta, "Passo delle Mule" Nero di Avola 2012 (about $19)
Duca di Salaparuta’s 2012 Passo delle Mule displays all the attractive features and intense personality of a Nero d’Avola wine. It has a complex cornucopia of tempting dark-cherry fruit aromas and layered, juicy fruit and spice flavors. It is a warm, enveloping drinking experience.

Castello Banfi, Chianti Classico Riserva 22013 Castello Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva bottle label013 (about $20)
This Chianti Classico Riserva consists of Sangiovese with a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Canaiolo Nero. With its rich and silky cherry and dark fruit flavors and supple tannins, It is a substantial wine with a very modest price tag that is hard to beat on a quality-to-price basis.

Feudi di San Gregorio, Fiano di Avellino 2016 (about $20)
This medium-bodied white wine is loaded with tropical fruit flavors, a lively freshness and deliciously-pleasing white fruit overtones.

Classy but not over-the-top wines ($25 to $50)

This category is a step-up in price from the previous category and is intended for long-term personal friends like your former college roommate with whom you’ve kept in touch and some family members like your father-in-law or mother-in-law, cousins, nephews, godparents and perhaps siblings. Wines in this category show that you are thoughtful and value your relationship with the giftee.

Tua Rita, “Perlato del Bosco” Rosso Toscana 2013 (about $28)
The Tua Rita winery is a small, family-run winery with an outsize reputation for producing quality wines. With its densely packed, ripe black berry and currant flavors, this Super-Tuscan is delicious and seductive.

Cantina di Santadi, “Shardana Valli di Porto Pinto” IGT 2012 (about $31)
Cantina di Santadi is a prominent cooperative winery on the island of Sardinia that has a well-deserved reputation for producing quality wines from primarily local, indigenous grape varieties. Made of 85 percent Carignano and 15 percent Syrah, this very dark and intense wine delivers plenty of fruit, structure, balance and polished tannins. While ready to drink now, the 2012 Shardana can go the distance.

AvignAvignonesi, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2011onesi, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2014 (about $27)
Made entirely ofSangiovese grapes, this 2011 Vino Nobile displays all the opulent features of a warm vintage - intense red fruit aromas, juicy and fresh ripe berryfruit flavors with some spice and balsamic notes on the lingering finish.

Tenuta Sette Ponti, "Crognolo" 2013 (about $33)
This stylish Super-Tuscan blend merges the austerity and structure of Sangiovese with the suppleness and fruit-forward flavors of Merlot to yield a firmly structured yet elegant wine. It’s a super-good Super-Tuscan at a very reasonable price.

Col d'Orcia, Brunello di Montalcino 2010 (about $48) Brunello di Montalcino is Tuscany's star wine and is generally considered one of Italy's best. Made entirely of Sangiovese from the excellent 2010 vintage, Col d'Orcia's Brunello is deep and full-bodied with a multi-dimensional flavor profile that's sure to please even the most discerning palate.

Gaja, Ca’ Marcanda  “Promis” Toscana IGT 2012 (about $48)
This wine is a delightful blend of Merlot, Syrah and Sangiovese from Gaja’s estate in Tuscany’s coastal Maremma zone. This is an outstanding wine that offers mere mortals like us the opportunity to experience the grandeur of a Gaja wine without paying a king’s ransom to do so.

Wines that make a statement ($50 and over)

These are wines for people you want to reward or impress such as your boss, a mentor, business partner, financial advisor or anybody else in the need-to-impress category of friends and professional acquaintances.

Chiarlo, Barolo Cannubi 2010 (about $98)
The Cannubi vineyard is a historic Barolo cru considered one of the Piedmont’s most prestigious. 2010 was an excellent vintage in the Piedmont region and this Barolo is as elegant, intense and Italian as a fast lap around the track in a Lamborghini Miura.

Mastroberardino, Taurasi “Radici” 2011 (about $66) Mastroberardino, Taurasi "Radici" 2008
This big, complex and intense red wine is generally recognized as one of the best expressions of Aglianico. Mastroberardino is a winery that has contributed significantly to the development of modern Italian wines and the Taurasi wine has become a quality benchmark for both the variety and southern Italy.

Allegrini, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2012 (about $72)
Amarone is one of Italy’s premier wines and this one from the highly-regarded Allegrini winery is one of the best. This dry red wine is full-bodied and complex and well-endowed with plenty of rich dried fruit and raisin aromas and flavors.

Castello dei Rampolla, “Sammarco” Toscana 2011 (about $58)
This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Merlot. Initially released in 1980 this Super-Tuscan was one of the early quality leaders in modern Italian wine. While full-bodied, rich and intense, it never loses its sense of elegance and subtlety.

Arnaldo-Caprai, Sagrantino di Montefalco 25 Anni 2009 (about $88)
First released in 1993 to commemorate the winery’s 25th anniversary, the 25 Anni has become one of Italy’s most celebrated red wines. Full-bodied, tannic and flavorful, this wine has a devoted following and is the perfect gift for the discerning wine enthusiast.

Tenuta Il Poggione, Brunello di Montalcino 2012 (about $78)
Brunello di Montalcino is one of Italy’s best and most expensive wines. This bold and rich Brunello is a remarkably beautiful wine from a classic vintage and while delightful now will live large for another decade or two.

Antinori, Tignanello 2012 (about $115)
This iconic Super-Tuscan is a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The 2012 vintage is truly impressive - balanced, rich and elegant - and a real pleasure to drink.

Wines for that special someone

This category is for someone really special in your life - a sweetheart, parents, adult children and perhaps that beloved maiden aunt who claims she doesn’t drink but likes a sip of something sweet every now and then. It’s difficult to put a price tag on gifts for this category of individuals. The wines can be very expensive or not expensive at all - it’s the thought that counts. And befitting the occasion, all the wines in this group are sweet and/or sparkling.

Michele Chiarlo, Moscato d’Asti “Nivole” 2015 (about $25 for 375ml)
With a brightly-colored fetching label, engaging aromas and slightly sparkling sweet taste, the Nivole (which means “clouds” in the local Piemontese dialect) is an indulgent pleasure.

Planeta, Passito di Noto 2010Planeta, Passito di Noto 2016 (about $36 for 500ml)
This generous and refined sweet white wine from Planeta’s vineyard estate in Noto in southeastern Sicily is always a pleasure to drink.

Bellavista, Franciacorta "Alma" Gran Cuvee Brut NV (about $32)
Franciacorta is one of Italy’s best sparkling wines in what is a burgeoning Italian sparkling wine scene using the traditional classical metodo method. This one can give some better-known Champagnes a good run for the money. The grapes consist of 90 percent Chardonnay and 10 percent Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero. The Bellavista "Alma" Gran Cuvee Brut NV is a true pleasure to drink and perfect for the festive holiday season.

Donnafugata, “Ben Rye” Passito di Pantelleria 2015 (about $36 for 375ml)
This amber-colored, sweet Sicilian dessert wine is a seriously delicious treat.

Isole e Olena, Vin Santo del Chianti Classico 2007 (about $52 for 375ml)
This is an extraordinary dessert-style sweet wine from one of the top estates in the Chianti Classico zone.


©Richard Marcis

Revised and updated
December 6, 2018

For other reviews of award-winning Italian wines see Italian Wine Reviews.


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