Varietal gifts help make holiday spirits bright

Holiday shoppers don’t have to spend a bundle to please the wine aficionados on their gift list — or even those who simply enjoy an occasional glass.

To make wine a special gift, local retailers advise buyers to look for something unusual or from a limited production.

“People who love wine, they appreciate what each varietal has to offer,” said Erik Fredrickson, the owner of Fermentations in Cambria. “They appreciate the fact that it’s from a small producer and there are only 200 cases made.”

The Central Coast has hundreds of boutique wineries with such offerings for as little as $10 a bottle. Retail shops carry a broader range, often with wines from around the globe.

For a bigger splurge, a club membership could treat them for up to a year and give discounts on other purchases. Rules and prices vary by wine club, but most suggest finding one that’s flexible. Some even let members choose their own wines.

Of course, knowing a person’s preferences makes the selection easier. Otherwise, sellers are happy to guide buyers toward “safe” or “middle-of-the-road” selections that appeal to most palates, such as a zinfandel that isn’t too spicy or a smooth syrah or merlot.

Pinot noir, a grape difficult to grow in most regions, can also showcase one of the Central Coast’s specialties.

“It’s something we do well around here,” said Greg Breshears of Central Coast Wines in downtown San Luis Obispo. “We carry a sparkling pinot noir that’s great for this time of year.”

For single people, half-size bottles are popular, said Gretchen Gonyer, the owner of Crushed Grape in San Luis Obispo. She offers a Santa’s Six Pack with half a dozen wines from different local producers plus chocolate in a reusable holder for $75.

Most wine shops will create custom gift bags, baskets or bundles that combine bottles with gourmet oils, salts or other items for as little as $20.

But not all can mail gifts outside California. Each state has different and often complicated rules about shipping alcohol. Depending on their licensing, some shops require buyers to be on-site at the time of purchase.

Nonalcoholic gifts can be shipped anywhere, though, and can please even the most picky. Shops provide decanters, stemware, aerators, decorative stoppers, wine glass charms and even decorative cages for those who save corks.

For the more whimsical, Morro Bay Wine Seller owner Chris Battles has mugs and T-shirts with slogans such as “Pinot Envy — Get Over It.”Colorful freezer bags keep wine chilled on the way to a holiday party or restaurant, Fredrickson said. They have become a popular hostess gift among his customers.

“I say pick something fun and unusual,” said Ali Rush Carscaden, owner of 15 degrees C in Templeton. “Not your generic (wine) where everyone knows the producer and price point.”