How much should a gift bottle of wine cost?
There is no simple answer. If there were, it would be: $15 to $30 a bottle is fine if the giver is relatively young and still paying off student loans; $30 to $50 is a good range for most career and professional adults who want to give something nice without looking extravagant; and $50-plus is right if the giver and receiver are both wine nerds or wine snobs, who can afford the best.
The most-difficult situation — the one that makes people nervous — is when very little is known about the person being gifted and the giver is anxious to make a good impression. No one wants to appear to be a cheapskate or someone who overspends.
The dinner dilemma
Perhaps the most common occasion to give a gift is taking a bottle to a dinner party. Lizzie Post is the great-granddaughter of manners maven Emily Post — the 20th edition of the landmark “Emily Post’s Etiquette” is out this fall — and frequently writes and lectures on social niceties. “The first question I always ask is, ‘What’s your budget?’” Post says. “Gifts shouldn’t be a burden. If $15 is a splurge for you, any gracious host will thank you.”
And there’s also a difference between taking a thank-you gift to the host and taking wine to drink with dinner. “If you are tasked with bringing a bottle,” Post says, “then it’s okay to ask what is being prepared. Even to ask what the host would like to go with the dish.”
Wine consultant Amanda Wittstrom Higgins of Full Cup Solutions says she tries “to imagine how the wine will be enjoyed — lakeside in a Solo cup requires a different perspective than prime rib Christmas dinner.” Kimberly Charles, owner of Charles Communications Associates, notes that among friends bringing a good wine that also has a great back story makes for great storytelling around the dinner table.
But unless the guest and the host know each other very well, it’s a huge risk to take an expensive or rare bottle the guest has been dying to taste, because it may be set aside as a host gift and never opened. To avoid confusion, gift wrap it if it’s a gift. Otherwise, say “I thought this might be nice to try with dinner.”
Housewarmings and other occasions
“Housewarming presents should be simple — often it’s just baked cookies,” Post says, or a simpler wine.
Linda Collier, proprietor of Collier’s of Centreville, Delaware, says, “I usually recommend bubbles as the only proper way to celebrate a new house.” Post will buy into giving Champagne if the occasion is right. “I love a magnum of Perrier-Jouët as a wedding gift, an anniversary, or a big promotion,” she says.
David Parker, owner of Benchmark Wine Group, which sources fine and rare wine, has thousands of choices of special-occasion bottles on offer, but says, “Generally I feel very comfortable bringing a bottle to a dinner party or as a housewarming gift in the range of $40 to $50.”
As to what kind of bottle, a gift consultant for New York’s Sherry-Lehmann says, “Unless you know something specific about the host’s preferences, red wine is the safest choice, and it should be something from a well-known area such as California, Bordeaux, or Burgundy.”
Business and corporate gifts
Business gifts, such as those from a small-business proprietor to a faithful vendor or customer, or the bottle a marketing executive might give a client, are very tricky. A too-expensive bottle might make someone feel they’re being compromised — or even set off business ethics alarm bells.
Parker says something in the $150 to $200 range would be safe. But Post raises another serious matter, “It’s okay to give something to a client as a thank-you for a good year,” she says, “but what if they don’t drink wine, whatever the reason? If you don’t know, don’t put the burden on them.”
Some companies allow employees to give a gift in lieu of lodging when they stay with a friend or relative while on a business trip. In this case, a bottle of wine is perfect. If the employee is given a per diem for lodging, the gift should be within that range. A $50 to $100 bottle would be considered a business expense by many companies, but to be safe, first check with a supervisor or human resources manager.
There is no better gift to give than a vintage wine from a friend’s birth year. Such wines are usually reserved for key birthdays, such as the 21st, 30th, or even 50th and can generally be sourced from an online retailer. For a godparent, a birth-year wine is a great future gift for the lucky baby. Benchmark, for example, has several reputable wines from the 1980 vintages available for between $300 and $500.
There are also a few general wine gift guidelines to remember: Don’t hesitate to consult the local wine shop for gift expertise. They routinely answer a variety of questions about the best wines for all sorts of occasions. When ordering gifts online, be sure to budget in added delivery or shipping costs. Gift cards are an alternative, especially when the occasion can’t be attended in person. Joe Fisch, CEO of online retailer Wine Access, says sales of wine gift cards skyrocketed during the pandemic and are still very popular. Remember, too, there are no secrets about how much that bottle of wine cost, as wine prices are readily available on the web.
One final piece of advice: Don’t be tempted to give a wine aficionado a gag gift bottle of cheap wine. They may laugh with the jokester who’s presenting it, but they will also laugh behind his back when they pour it down the drain.
5 great gift wines:
Michel Chapoutier Les Vignes Bila-Haut Pays d’Oc Rosé 2021 (~$35)
With South of France breeding without Provencal pricing, this is the kind of wine that fits any casual occasion, from a barbecue to a Saturday lunch to a neighborhood supper. Chapoutier makes some of the best and priciest Rhone wines, say Hermitage, but he also knows how to make a delicious, affordable quaff. This one, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault, is light in body and flavors and has some minerality, ripe strawberries, and finishing citrus — a versatile wine that complements foods rather than overpowers them.
Donnachiara Empatia Campania Fiano di Avellino 2020 (~$26)
If you’ve been tasked with bringing a white table wine to dinner, why not bring one with an interesting pedigree to discuss while the side dishes are being passed? The Fiano grape is like an exotic perfume, but one that doesn’t overpower with its floral aromas, tart/spicy apple flavors, and hints of orange rind and enough acidity for a clean finish. Expect to see more and more of this Italian variety, especially from this Campania region inland from Naples.
Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée Champagne Extra Brut NV (~$68)
What dinner host could resist the offer, “May I bring a bottle of Champagne to help kick the evening off?” This is on the modest side for Champagne prices, even though Paillard is known as a contrarian who puts lots of reserve wine — older, blended vintages — into his bubblies. The result is a Champagne that is richer and more-textured than most, with bouquet and flavors of brioche and dried fruits with a very satisfying finish. It is also tightly wound, so it will open up with each glass.
Sullivan Coeur de Vigne Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (~$120)
The $50 to $100 range of red wines are a sweet spot for really special occasions or a fancy dinner with multiple courses and multiple wines. This Napa Valley gem would make a great anchor wine for the meat course. The wine is especially attractive as it is the classic antidote to the fruit-forward, overpowering Napa Cabs; rich, ripe, rich blackberries, and black raspberries, but also a celebration of savory, herbal components with smooth tannins and excellent barrel accents.
Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore Bordeaux Blend 2018 (~$259)
If you want a shoot-the-moon gift that would be a welcomed addition to any collector’s cellar, this super-Tuscan from the Maremma Coast is it. It can serve as a birth year wine gift for a special godchild, for an exec who’s just been promoted to the corner office, or an artist who has just won a major prize. The Bordeaux-style blend eschews flamboyance for structure that will let it age for ages, but at the moment, it offers subdued dark berry flavors with fine tannins, a rich, savory earthiness that borders on chocolate, and light creaminess in the finish.