Columns by John

John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

Christmas: A few of my favorite things

As a card-carrying member of LOG (Laggards of America), I am fanatically dedicated to the practice of procrastination. I almost never do today what I can put off until… later.

Well, it’s later now, and with Christmas only a week away, I’m motivated to find gifts for the people who have patiently tolerated my imperfections for the past twelve months. And, of course, the gifts I will bestow on friends and family will be either wine or wine accoutrements (i.e., “stuff”). So, in the Spirit of the Season, you may joyfully read on for my fine wine -and wine-related – suggestions you might consider gifting to those special people in your life.

I’ll start with some non-liquid gift ideas that should enhance the enjoyment and appreciation of wine.

Wine Books:  The Oxford Companion to Wine ($36) by Janice Robinson and The World Atlas of  Wine  ($37) by Janice Robinson and Hugh Johnson are the two most comprehensive compendiums of wine information you will ever read. They are the ultimate reference guides to anything to do with the liquid we all love. You can find them at local bookstores or online at Amazon.


Wine Stemware: The aesthetics of sipping wine in crystal is oftentimes a very expensive proposition, but it’s nice to occasionally break out (probably not the best choice of words) the special stemware for that celebratory event. Riedel, Schott Zweise and Spiegelau are probably the best options for fine crystal. You can find them at wine shops, department stores and online. I recently purchased Riedel Veritas Wine Glasses (a set of four tasting glasses) at Amazon ($159). These glasses are dishwasher safe, and you can select from several styles and shapes.

Wine Decanter: I truly believe that using a crystal decanter to aerate wine not only improves the taste, but it also adds to the aesthetic enjoyment of your bottle. I’m convinced that young red wines, in particular, will always benefit from aeration. The idea is to decant the wine into a larger, more open, container to allow a generous amount of oxygen to aerate it. Decanters come in all shapes, sizes and prices, and they’re available in wine shops, departments stores and online.

Wine Aerator: When you don’t have the time to decant your wine, the Vinturi aerator is my go-to device for unlocking the true flavor of wine that’s been sitting inert in a bottle for months or even years. Pouring wine from the bottle through the Vinturi (which is essentially a small glass tube) into stemware has a similar effect to aerating wine in a decanter. You can find the Vinturi at your local wine shop or online for under

Wine Preservation Devices: I’ve used the Vacu Vin wine saver ($15) for decades to preserve the wine remaining (however infrequently) in opened bottles. It works by inserting a rubber stopper into the bottle top and pumping the air out. This creates a vacuum and keeps the wine fresh for another time. The Coravin Pivot (from $100) claims it preserves wine up to four weeks. The device uses argon gas to replace oxygen and preserve the wine. While I don’t own one, I’ve sipped wine using the Coravin process and it tastes fine. Many wine bars use Coravin or Coravin-like systems.

Okay, so let’s get to the wines. These vinous goodies are wines I would also be very pleased to receive as holiday gifts (are you reading this dear?)

White Wine: Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay; Ramey Russian River Chardonnay; Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru; Veuve Cliquot Brut Champagne; Iron Horse Russian Cuvee (sparkling); Taittinger Comptes De Champagne Rose; Dolce Late Harvest Far Niente Napa Valley (375 ml); and Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Grand Cru Riesling (Alsace).

Red Wine: Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon; Domaine Serene Evenstad Pinot Noir; Il Poggione Brunello De Montalcino; Joseph Phelps Insignia; Alto Montayo Garnacha (Spain); Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve; Chateau Lynch Bages; Chateau Brainaire Ducru; Chateau Cos d’Estournel; Saddleback Cabernet Sauvignon; Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; and Ornellaia (red blend from Italy).
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book Augie’s World, is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. Both novels are available in print and audio at Amazon. You can find out more about his novels and wine columns at

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