PHOTO/DAVID ROBERT: Soloman Salomon of Whispering Vines holds a bottle of the Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, a popular-selling wine that goes well with many foods.

The autumnal equinox is now behind us, so we have to face the reality that the holiday season is upon us.

Wait! I am not talking about stores putting up Christmas decorations before the smell of pumpkin spice has faded; I simply want to make sure you are ready for all of the parties and holidays ahead—starting now, as we prepare for Nevada Day and Halloween.

Fall is a great time here in the high desert of Northern Nevada. Cooler temperatures encourage all of us to host and attend parties for various reasons—birthdays, holidays, it’s Wednesday, you name it. If you are invited to a gathering or party, and you would like to bring your host a bottle of wine, what wine should you bring? If the wine sucks, what will the host think of you?

If you’ve ever received a red wine as a gift, it almost certainly was a cabernet sauvignon, a merlot, or a pinot noir. If it was a white wine, it was a chardonnay or a sauvignon blanc. In general, people are not creative wine-gifters. Too many folks pick what is popular or on the end cap, assuming the receiver will like it.

Come on people. We can do better than this.

In general, there are four styles of wine: red, white, rosé, and sparkling (which can be any shade). I often take a wine that I want to drink, and hope the host opens it.

You may have heard that sparkling wine pairs with everything. From popcorn to caviar, sparkling wine just works. The same is true as a gift: It just works. If you gift bubbles, your host will normally be happy—but there are couple of rules. Budget allowing, find a bottle labeled “traditional method.” If it is Champagne, it should say “méthode champenoise.” If it’s from elsewhere, it may say “méthode traditionnelle” or “metodo tradizionale.” All of these terms mean this is a quality sparkling wine, where the carbonization is generated in the bottle by yeast fermentation.

The second rule: I recommend picking one that says brut, not sec, on the label. Brut, extra brut and brut nature sparkling wines are dry; extra sec and sec sparkling wines are sweet. Dry is a safer choice, as sweet wines can be polarizing.

If you want to gift a white wine … yes, I know many people like a big, buttery chardonnay—but many people don’t. Some people will walk across hot coals for a light tropical Kim Crawford sauvignon blanc; others, not so much. I suggest you bring an interesting white wine that falls between these two extremes.

Viognier is a white-wine grape that is grown in many places around the world. It can be a very aromatic wine with aromas from tropical fruits, melon, pears and violets. It has a heavier body than a sauvignon blanc, but not as heavy as a chardonnay. This is a good middle-of-the-road choice, but if you want to be more exciting, you might want to bring an Albariño—a white-wine grape grown mostly in Spain and Portugal. This wine will have aromas of peach, lime and grapefruit; on the palate, expect mouth-watering acids with pears, peach, and citrus.

Rosé wines used to be just for summer picnics, but not anymore. The “rosé all day” people have become “rosé any day” people. Rosés are fun, light wines that can run the gamut from very dry to very sweet (like the dreaded white zinfandel). When gifting a rosé, I prefer to pick a bright-colored dry rosé. Rosés can have a color from light straw all the way to a deep red, and the color can help you know the type of grape. I like watermelon-colored ones, which are often made from tempranillo and can be a little spicier than a traditional Provence rosé. Pick a fun color—and get a matching bow!

There are thousands of grape varieties, so why do we keep giving and receiving the same five to 10 types of wine over and over again? Remember when I said we are not creative? One reason is that many people get intimidated when they go into a wine shop. Don’t be. The people there want to help you. Be honest, and let them know you are learning, and you are looking for something interesting and a little different.

So what is a little different in a red wine? I love grenache, with its lighter color and body, and bold flavors. Grenache has a lot to offer, with bright red fruit aromas like raspberry, strawberry, red cherry and even some citrus. It is an interesting and exciting wine that works with many food dishes, including spicy foods and roasted meats. Grenache is a red wine that many white-wine drinkers like, with price points ranging from below $20 to some of the most expensive wines in the world.

A very good friend of mine said, “Any gift that is thoughtful is 10 times more valuable than a mindless one … regardless of the price.” She recommends you add a note or tag to the bottle—and write why you chose the bottle for them. Make the gift of wine personal from you to your host, and it will always be the right choice.

Steve Noel lives in Reno and is a viticulturist, winemaker, wine writer, publisher (at and wine-industry speaker. Steve has visited wineries on four different continents, as well...

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