The Reluctant Sommelier: Wine Gifts for Valentines Day

Don't forget the card!

By Nina Sventitsky

There’s still time to get a cool wine-related gift for your top person – even if that person is you.  Some ideas follow, and my short list of bubble bottles…


  • $199 to $399

My #1 gift is a pricey gadget that allows you to open that rainy day wine whenever. It preserves bottles for months (and supposedly years.)  The principal is that you can open that $65 of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, enjoy a glass and come back to the bottle months or years later to enjoy again.  On any given weekday, you can enjoy a couple of glasses of reasonably priced Chinon (Cabernet Franc, Loire Valley) to go with roast chicken and have a Shiraz (Syrah, Australia) with grilled meats the next and not waste a drop of either wine.

I’ve got one of these, a fancy “sommelier” version. Clamp it around the neck of the bottle, without removing the foil, depress the lever to bring the surgical needle down through the cork, press the gas button and tip over to pour.  Lift the lever to draw out the needle and unclamp. The needle is small enough to allow the cork to theoretically re-seal, and the argon gas replaces the space left in the bottle to eliminate oxidation. Or so says the surgeon who invented it.

Once only available online or through independent wine retailers and at the high original price of $300, it’s now available at Amazon and Bed Bath and Beyond in a more practical white version for $199 — and other versions in colors.  The only drawback once you’ve purchased are those pesky argon gas capsules, which pour about 15 glasses of wine per capsule.

The company launched by getting top wine directors in restaurants across the country to use the gadgets in their by-the-glass programs; a colleague of mine created a Magnum by the glass wine list for his wine bar in San Francisco using this system.

There are several wine preservation systems out there – but at this point, all require you to bite the bullet and uncork. Coravin offers a pricey, but almost foolproof option.  And no, there is no empirical evidence yet that wines may last for years and years once Coravin-d, in case you skeptics are wondering. It just launched 4 years ago, too early to tell.

Brookstone Aperto Auto Sensing Wine Opener

  • $49.99

I got one of these as a gift from another wine friend because we professionals need it easy sometimes.  I love the smoothness in the way this thing works. If you’ve got carpal tunnel, or just want a press and play option, this is your gadget. It comes with a nifty foil cutter, charges up to open several cases of wine, and discharges the cork neatly too.  The Rabbit is a bit too clunky for me, but the Aperto is slim, sleek and works well.

Wine Enthusiast Silent 18 Bottle Dual Zone Wine Fridge

  • $269

Well priced, fits in most places, dual zone (for whites and reds) with stand-up room for bubblies and magnums! Can I tell you how annoying it is to fit anything other than your average Bordeaux-style bottle in most wine fridges with horizontal shelves?  This one solves that problem and won’t break the bank. Wine Enthusiast offers free shipping this month for orders over $99, and their products are guaranteed.  If you can’t get this in time, buy a bottle of nice bubbly and tie a ribbon around it, with the order confirmation.

Wine, from Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines

Give your honey a hint with this list, it’s a great starting point.  Focus less on scores, and more on the wine you love and the price. Plenty to be happy with here.

This Top 100 is compiled by popularity, value, availability and WS reviews. There are some winners in this list for sure, great prices and an interesting mix. Try the Marques de Caceres Rioja Reserva 2012 #19, Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Blanc 2015 #26, Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir 2016 #54, or for the big tannin lover #66, Scaccioadiavoli Montefalco Sagrantino 2011.

Short list of Bubblies

Let’s remember that IT’S ONLY CHAMPAGNE IF IT COMES FROM CHAMPAGNE, France. All other wines made in the traditional style/methode champenoise should be called sparkling wine in general, and by a real wine name if that applies (Cava is from Spain, Prosecco is from Italy, etc.). Domestic US bubblies are called Sparkling Wine.

Except Korbel, which grandfathered in the word Champagne before the new rules. You should not be buying Korbel for Valentine’s Day — I am fairly egalitarian and unsnobby when it comes to wine, but this is brunch mimosa stuff and does not belong in a romantic gesture in my opinion.

Dom Pérignon 2009/Dom Pérignon Rosé 2005 

  • $170 – $325

Iconic wines from the house of Möet Hennessy.  If you appreciate Champagne, you can’t go wrong. Does not need much explanation, Dom is always vintage-dated, and is not made in years deemed sub-par for the brand, which makes it special and in demand.  Rose’ Dom Perignon is a unique blend made from  Grand Cru Pinot Noir blended and Chardonnay and aged over 10 years. 2005 vintage marked one of the most impressive rose’ years for the brand. Smooth talking wines.

Champagne Armand de Brignac

  • $300

This is the “Ace of Spades”, for it’s distinctive embossed bottle. Jay-Z bought this Champagne house in 2006 after a stupidly elitist and thinly veiled racist remark by the managing director of Cristal denounced the rappers and fans that latched on to it in the 90’s. Not necessarily the crème de la crème of Champagnes, but remember that most Champagne is pretty damned good anyway. I will admit that I saved the bottle to class-up my wine glass cabinet — and it’s a nice pitcher for filtered water at dinner parties, or for watering houseplants. Bling!


Schramsberg Blanc de Noir Sparkling Wine

  • $42

“White from Black” is my favorite style of bubbly, probably because I’m partial to Pinot Noir. You get a more complex aroma (imo) from B de N’s – the creamy brioche + hints of cherry and wild strawberry on the nose; this wine can go from charcuterie board to roasted something easily, and what the heck try it with tacos or Thai takeout for a hi-lo thing. The winery, located in Napa Valley, has original caves constructed in the late 1800s.  Personified American style, like pink and green Bermuda shorts in a glass.

Gruet Brut

  • $15

New Mexico is the home of Gruet – which makes wonderfully priced sparkling wines from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, grown in high altitudes. The family came from France in 1983 to bring their Champagne expertise here and to live the American dream. You can find this wine in most grocery stores, Total Wine, BevMo, etc.  For $15, you’re buying a piece of terroir – grapes grown at 4000 to 5000 feet in the mountains of New Mexico. Serious potato chip wine – bubbles offset oiliness, try it.