Everyday: As popular as they are, Italian pinot grigios can be a bit wearying on the palate, a la chardonnay. I think it’s because of the oak (in both cases). The Simply Naked Unoaked California Pinot Grigio ($7-$8), on the other hand, is crisp and vibrant the whole way through, with nice texture and clean citrus flavors. Winter weather aside, it’s especially (and doubly) suited for this time of year: as a friendly, refreshing holiday party sipper and a great gag gift that people actually can use rather than try to figure out to whom to re-gift it. The “naked,” by the way, connotes the lack of wood.
Occasion: Another great gift, at a way-other end of the price spectrum, comes from Down Under: the Kaesler “Old Bastard” Shiraz ($190). Not to be remotely confused with the bargain-based Fat Bastard line, this big ol’ red boasts explosive dark fruits but a wondrously refined edge. It’s generous and harmonious, with spice and smoke elements and beautiful tannins, and the finish very nearly lasts throughout the 12 days of Christmas. This is the perfect wine for a fancy holiday meal with standing rib roast or beef Wellington, but is seriously swell on its own near a crackling fire.