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When someone takes the time and effort to invite you into their home for an evening al or party, one way to show your appreciation is by taking a bottle of fine wine. It’s an act of generosity, a gift to be shared and a show of your distinctive taste. But when wine shops offer hundreds of labels, and you want to get just the right bottle, knowing where to start can be overwhelming.
A few guidelines, however, can help you clear up the confusion and send you on your way to a delightful evening. Narrow the field right away by setting a price. For $15-$25, for example, you can get a wide choice of impressive wines.
CHOOSING THE TYPE OF WINE
Bordeaux. One of the world’s greatest wines, France’s jewel-shaded red Bordeaux has a firm texture and a berryish quality in its youth. The very best tend to be extraordinarily expensive. But the major grapes used to make red Bordeaux–Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot–also grow well in other countries, and many wines made from them offer excellent alternatives within our price limit. The best of these varieties are made in California, Australia, South Africa and other winemaking regions.
A white Bordeaux is a blend that usually combines the tangy, lively acidity of Sauvignon Blanc with the smooth, weightier character of Semillon grapes. Countries other than France produce wines from these grape varieties, both separately and blended, that make great selections.
Burgundy. France’s other areas and highly expensive red wine is made of the Pinot Noir grape and has a gentle, strawberry- or cherry-like flavor. Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which grow well in many parts of the world, Pinot Noir is a fragile grape, and only a few wine regions outside of Burgundy–Oregon, New Zealand and cooler regions of California–really succeed with it. But a really good one makes a great impression.
Burgundy’s highly honored white wines are made of Chardonnay, a grape that grows well all over the world. The finest of white grapes, it produces a wine that is rich and complex in taste and is a sure bet to take since most people enjoy drinking it. Chardonnays have a creamy, buttery texture and a flavor that hints of vanilla and nuts when grown in warmer climates, such as in Australia and some parts of California; and a lighter-bodied and citrusy taste with an aroma similar to green apples when grown in cooler climates, such as New Zealand, Oregon and parts of California.
CHAMPAGNE AND SPARKLING WINES
Most vintage Champagne exceed the $25 price limit. But there are other well-made sparkling wines you can proudly offer as a gift. Check the label for “Champagne Method,” “Methode Champenoise” or “Fermented in this bottle” to find one made by the long, arduous method that makes Champagne so good, its bubbles lasting to the final sip.
The shape of the bottle can give you some clue to the type of wine it holds. In France and Germany, where winemaking is older than the countries themselves, each region has