It's almost Christmas and you've got a long list of people to buy for. Perhaps you don't have enough time or energy to ponder their religious or political identities and find an engraved, Whataburger Yeti that expresses their values. It's going to be okay. Trust me.
As punting on gifts goes, wine is something almost anyone can get behind. The catch is you probably don't know much about wine.
The subject is vast, it has no clear point of entry, and unless you've wallowed in confusion long enough to find your footing and already have a working knowledge of major regions, then you'll need some help in how to gift wine for the different drinkers in your life. We have your back.
Below you'll find a list of archetypal wine drinkers and how to shop for them. Hopefully this helps take a little pressure off your holiday shopping (and don't forget to grab one for yourself).
For the partier
This is your friend from college that never slowed down. He or she still pre-parties before a night out, still mixes liquor and beer, and cares very little about the perceived quality of what's being served.
What to buy: It doesn't really matter what you buy, since you're just enabling a habit. Any red blend, malbec or cabernet sauvignon.
Where to buy: The gas station, pharmacy, or out of a stranger's car.
How much to spend: If you spend more than a tank of gas, you've over done it. Find a bottle under $15. Buy two and call it a day.
How to gift wrap it: Ask for paper, instead of plastic and stick an adhesive bow to the outside. Done and done.
How to make it special: It's not. Don't pretend it is. You both know better.
For the student of wine
This is for the genuine, good-natured friend who takes a stab at making Danish dessert breads simply because he or she values experiences over possessions. They are earnestly learning about food and wine, but might be doing so in their spare time.
What to buy: Go global, not domestic. There are a lot of reasons why people find wine interesting, but the friend described above might fall into a group that enjoys wine because it's multicultural. To take learning about wine seriously is to take learning about a culture that isn't yours seriously. This is likely one of the experiences your friend values: exposure to someone different than them. Explore Spanish reds from the regions of Priorat, Rioja, or Jumilla, German rieslings, Austrian Furmint, or still red wine from Portugal. Ask store staff for a recommendation so you feel comfortable with what you're getting.
Where to buy: Major wine retailers, or privately-owned wine shops. These are likely to have the best help in the way of educated recommendations from their employees.
How much to spend: Spend your budget, since your friend is likely to appreciate the thought more than the monetary value of anything you purchase. You can get out for as little as $15-$20, or you can spend up to a couple hundred dollars.
How to gift wrap it: Do a quick search on Google for the wine you've purchased and include technical info, tasting notes, or a technical sheet. Most wineries will have a PDF of this info on their websites, but they often hide it under a section called "trade information." (If you can't find it, try calling the winery and they should be able to email it to you.) Print the PDF, roll it like a scroll, tie some ribbon around it, and put it in the same gifting bag as the bottle of wine.
How to make it special: Make the bottle of wine from somewhere you know they've visited or from somewhere you know they have a connection to. If you have the time, research the cuisine from the region the wine is from and pair some cheese or small bites with the wine.
For the name dropper
You know them. They talk about what they drink for the same reason they drive a Mercedes they can't afford and hang out with people they don't like. It's a status symbol.
Where to buy: You might swing in to a major wine retailer, but almost any upscale grocery store will do. Tom Thumb and Kroger will both get you where you need to be.
How much to spend: Like all status symbols, you're going to have to overpay. Be prepared to spend between $60-$100 on the bottle.
How to gift wrap it: Red bag, tissue paper. Done.
How to make it special: Put a sincere handwritten note on a card, and throw it in the bag.
For the sommelier
While the sommelier might have chosen it as his or her career for all the right reasons, it's still a career. Buying them something they often drink for free, or at the very least have access to on a daily basis, might not work as a gift. Look for something other than wine.
What to buy: Aged Japanese whiskey, if you can find it, might bring them to tears. Look for local microbreweries they may not be familiar with, especially if you're traveling by car across state lines and can drive the beer back (it's illegal to ship alcohol across state lines if you don't have a wholesaler's license). Also, you might think about purchasing a tasting or gift card to a local brewery or distillery they already know well. Finally, consider some artisanal coffee or tea.
Where to buy: Gift cards or tastings you can purchase at the brewery or distillery. Rare whiskies or spirits you'll likely need to call around to retailers to see who has what. If you can't find anything for this Christmas, you might need to be on a waiting list. Some fine wine and spirit shops only get a few bottles of something and they'll likely keep a list of people they know are interested.
How much to spend: Again, for local breweries or distilleries, you don't have to break the bank. For rare spirits, be prepared to pay anywhere from $50-$200.
How to gift wrap it: All of the above will often come in their own box, so all you'll need is wrapping paper.
How to make it special: Include unique glassware. You don't need an entire set; just a fun coffee cup or whiskey glass to go with whatever you've chosen.