The Noble Writ: Gifts for the Wine Lover
From my experience, buying wine for the wine lover is not a good way to go. For many wine lovers, a not-insignificant part of the fun is the hunt itself. Whether trying to track down a rare bottle, pursuing some self-devised and regimented approach to tasting one's way around the world of wine or somewhere in between, most wine folks love the act of purchasing wine themselves. Buying wine for a wine person deprives them of this pleasure.
For this reason, a gift certificate to a good wine shop is one of the few circumstances where going the gift-certificate route is not a completely lame cop-out. It provides the opportunity to get the wine lover into a store with reduced financial risk. (Wine people do seem apt to overspend the certificate, but at least it helps numb the monetary pain.) Personally, I always use gift certificates to buy bottles that I never would pick up on my own dime, but that have always interested me. My favorite local shops, all of which offer gift certificates, are Bon Vivant Wines, 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar, the Wine and Cheese Place and the Wine Merchant.
I find periodicals a good present, in a gift-that-keeps-on-giving sort of way. My favorite wine writing over the course of the last decade or so has been in The Art of Eating, a quarterly publication that should be in every wine and food lover's home. I discovered AoE only about four years ago and kicked myself at the time for missing out on so much wonderful writing that went before. Thankfully, back issues are available, and I've been able to catch up. Among the larger distribution wine magazines, Wine and Spirits has been doing fine work over the past few years, with less of the "lifestyle" filler that plagues some other publications in the genre.
There are also more specialized wine publications that focus on tasting notes (and, unfortunately, points). In choosing one of these, it helps to know what types of wine interest your intended recipient. If it happens to be Burgundy, a subscription to Allen Meadows' Burghound would be an excellent choice. Ditto Claude Kolm's under-appreciated Fine Wine Review, which focuses its coverage on Burgundy, Germany, the Northern Rhone, Northern Italy and good values from anywhere in the world. If Champagne happens to be the drink of choice, the passionate and always excellent Peter Liem has a new Champagne-specific subscription website, ChampagneGuide.net that is worth checking out.