Holiday shopping for wine aficionados made simple: Recommended items on Tom Oetinger’s shopping list.

As this issue of Saddlebag Notes arrives at your mailbox the annual ritual of holiday shopping has already commenced.  In spite of this I submit for your review my 2017 comprehensive holiday shopping list for friends and family that fall into the ‘wine aficionado’ category.  The items listed here can be found either locally or online and all but guaranteed to bring joy to the hearts of wine lovers in SaddleBrooke and beyond.

As time goes on I have become less enamored with wine gadgets and gizmos.  New products arrive on the market with increasing regularity promising to enhance our wine experience.  More likely than not, most of these items end up in the back of a cabinet tucked behind your juicer or sit on a shelf at the Golden Goose.  That being said I recently bit the bullet and purchased two items that are actually worthwhile:

Unless your wine stash consists of nothing but bottles with screwcap closures you need an opener.  While there are countless styles to choose from I have always preferred the tried and trusted standby: the ‘waiter’s friend’: a pocket-sized cork screw and bottle opener.  My counters tend to be cluttered enough, so it’s nice to have an opener that I can drop into my utensil drawer.  My current favorite is the ‘HICOUP Premium Waiters Corkscrew’ it is well-made, attractive, has a sharp foil cutter and well designed, two-step cork extracting system. A perfect stocking stuffer, it can be had for less than $12 on Amazon.

The second handy gadget that I find myself using frequently is the ‘MENU Wine Breather Carafe’.  It makes aerating my red wines a snap. I just attach the carafe on top of my open bottle, flip it over and the wine pours down the inside of the carafe giving it a thorough, gentle aeration.  Flipping it over once more returns the aerated wine into the bottle.  Besides being cool to watch it works really well.  If you have an old red that has thrown a lot of sediment you will have to use the old fashioned decanting method, but absent this issue the carafe is a great tool.  Another Amazon purchase available for $45.

A little wine knowledge is a dangerous thing.  Employed recklessly, one can bore the heck out people at your monthly unit party. That being said, having a certain level of education can make it easier next time you have to order a bottle for your table at the Vistas.  Two books in my library that I consult on a routine basis are “Wine Folly, The Essential Guide to Wine” by Madeline Puckette ($25) and Karen MacNeil’s ‘The Wine Bible 2nd Ed.’ ($39.95).  ‘Wine Folly’ is a great book for beginners.  Madeline makes considerable use of graphs and other visuals to make wine regions and varietals easy to understand. ‘The Wine Bible’ is a fantastic reference, filled with detailed information about specific wine types and all of the major wine regions worldwide.  A well written book for that person in your life who wants to move well beyond telling the difference between a red Bordeaux and a red Burgundy. 

If you’re looking for a way to spend your ‘required minimum distribution’ for 2017 on that certain someone, a well-made wine cooler is a common sense investment.  Storing wines at a consistent temperature in this desert climate is important.  An outstanding retailer is the Beverage Factory ( in San Diego. This retailer has a broad selection of coolers in all sizes.  They offer free shipping and their prices are competitive. You can even haggle a bit by phone.  I recommend looking at the Allavino brand. I’ve owned an Allavino stand up wine refrigerator for two years and have so far been quite impressed.

 Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend a few wines. The first is a gift for that special friend or special occasion:  The 2014 Emmolo Napa Valley Merlot.  Emmolo is a product of the Wagner Family of Wines; most people will recognize their flagship brand Caymus.  Jenny Wagner is the winemaker and she has crafted a beautiful Merlot in the true Wagner style.  The wine is dense, concentrated and expressive with good structure, deep, dark fruit flavors and a velvet smooth, port-like mouthfeel.  No mistaking this for an old world wine.  It can be found locally for around $60.

My second recommendation costs significantly less and is a great wine to bring to holiday gatherings.  The 2016 Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Valley (WA) Chardonnay rings in at about ten dollars and is worth every penny. Chateau Ste. Michelle is celebrating their 50th anniversary and has made use of a greater percentage of single vineyard fruit in this year’s entry-level Chardonnay.  The result is a fresh, fruit-centric Chardonnay that eschews the excessive creamy, buttery flavors of many wines at this price point.  It’s a well-balanced, well-made, affordable Chardonnay that is widely available here in Tucson.

Happy Holidays!

Tom Oetinger holds an advanced certification in wine & spirits from the WSET in London, England and is available to answer your wine questions at