During my 23-year history of working in the business of wine and food, I’ve always found there’s nothing wine aficionados love more than sharing a special bottle of wine among friends. No matter how expensive the bottle nor how precious (it may be the last one in the cellar!), there’s sweet satisfaction in sharing it with friends who love wine, too. I’ll never forget our first dinner party after relocating to the Central Coast in 1996. We had invited five couples who worked in the culinary arts, so my husband, Dan Hardesty, pulled from our cellar a 1971 Penfolds Grange Hermitage Bin 95. It was 25 years old, but had held up beautifully. It silenced the room as each of us stopped to appreciate the fine, albeit small, taste in our glass. While we all wished we had more of it, it was an unforgettable moment.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
When you’re putting together your Christmas gift list, I think you’ll find it easy to satisfy the wine lovers you know, be it your boss, uncle, grandmother, or neighbor. Buying someone a gift of wine as expensive as that Penfolds isn’t affordable for most people—including me. But you can provide someone a gift of wine that you love, and it doesn’t have to be that costly to provide the recipient satisfaction. That’s particularly so if it comes from one of our SLO County wineries, because they’re much more reasonably priced than a similar quality Chardonnay or Pinot Noir from Napa or Burgundy.
Here are some of the recommendations I heard about from local wine sellers who can help you please any wine connoisseur. Keep in mind that they all offer wines, wineglasses, decanters, gift certificates, and more, but they all have something to offer that’s unique to their wine shop.
The Crushed Grape in SLO is one such wine shop in a most unlikely space. They’re behind the Bed Bath & Beyond, and across the street from the Sears Automotive Repair shop. Owner Gretchen Gonyer created “the home of the original SLO Baskets” in 1986, and she’s busier than ever supplying businesses with their annual orders of wine and food baskets. She provides numerous choices, including baskets filled only with SLO County produced foods and wines. You can also get baskets without wine for food lovers of every age.
Gonyer’s assortment of wines ranges widely, from value-priced brands to small artisan wineries. A nice addition when shopping here is the deli, where you can get a great sandwich hot or cold, salads, soups, and chili. All of the specialty foods Gonyer uses in her gift baskets are available for purchase separately. Check out the candy section, and you’re sure to wrap this shopping trip up with a sweet treat for the drive home.
If you need more help in finding exactly the right wine for the wine snob you’re buying for, consider a shop that’s entirely focused on wines. We have many choices:
Central Coast Wines on Higuera has had the front window boarded up so long, owner Dianna Ritchie said she felt like she was living in a cave. But it’s ready at last, just in time for all the holiday shoppers. She has a wealth of choices: wines at every price range; gourmet foods and cheeses; micro-brews from Germany, Belgium, and California; and merchandise, including Riedel crystal stemware, tableware, backpacks, and clothing. It’s a great stop on Thursday night during Farmers Market in SLO, when there’s always a local winemaker there pouring samples of his or her wines.
A bit off the track, but well worth finding is Vintage 1255 on Monterey Street. There, manager Greg Rose prides himself on an amazing selection of excellent small brands, like Linne Calodo, L’Aventure, and more. He explains his focus is on really small brands that are hard to find. And do check out the selection of gourmet cheeses that he only cuts to order. Besides presents for friends, be sure to treat yourself to the perfect pairing of cheese and a Hush Harbor baguette for the wine you take home for yourself.
Avila Wine & Roasting Company in Avila Beach offers many local wines and more at every price range. Wine connoisseur/owner Manny Luiz searches out wines he considers perfectly balanced and stocks up on them. He proudly sells brands like Sierra Madre, Ridge, Renwood, and Jack Creek. Luiz also carries a nice range of affordable magnums (the 1.5-liter bottle holds the equivalent of two regular-sized bottles) that are perfect for serving at parties, or as gifts. The small shop features art by his cousin Colleen Gnos, whose oil paintings, prints, and postcards feature mermaid-, beach-, and wave-themed original art.
In Templeton, 15 Degrees C has a great collection of local and imported wines. I love discovering special Rieslings from Germany or Alsace. Owner Ali Rush Carscaden, a certified sommelier, created a popular line of “15c gift bundles” that might include wine and cheese, or beer and cheese. Or you might consider the gift of a certificate for her “wine university” classes for any wine lover. The series of classes costs $350, making it something a parent might buy for a son or daughter who’s an aspiring winemaker. Each class features tastings of around 10 wines with handouts and presentations.
In my Pismo Beach neighborhood, visit Tastes of the Valleys Pismo Beach. Owners Ash and Lissa Mehta offer an extraordinary range of gems from all over the Central Coast, then they throw in a few from Oregon, Sonoma, and Napa Valley wineries. They’re offering a new line of wine stoppers that are really beautiful, made from grapevines that are bonded and polished ($39.95 each). But it’s mostly about the wines, and they boast the offering of 500 wines by the glass daily—that’s hard to find anywhere.
I hope that when you find that special wine you want to give to a good friend or beloved relative, you’ll buy another as the perfect gift for yourself. You deserve it for your generosity.
Contact New Times’ Cuisine columnist at email@example.com.