Liquor is lazy gifting—it's an Amazon gift card with heft.

By Joel Stein
Updated December 05, 2019
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The same molecules of water have been on Earth since before the dinosaurs, given and returned in a constant cycle. So it is, I believe, with bottles of Veuve Clicquot. People gift it to me, and like all humans, I pretend to be happy, store it in my cellar, and then regift it to others, the garish yellow box never opened. It is possible, in fact, that there is no Veuve Clicquot Champagne at all, only heavy Veuve Clicquot boxes.

Not one of the dozen people who have given me Veuve Clicquot has inquired if I like Veuve Clicquot, because liking Veuve Clicquot is not the point of giving Veuve Clicquot. It is the perfect lazy holiday gift: It’s expensive but not prohibitive; everyone knows its price point, so you get full credit; it’s got a pretty label; it tastes innocuous and sweet. It has everything that Veuve’s far more expensive (but worth it) La Grande Dame bottling doesn’t have. Grande Dame has never been given to me because that would require asking me what kind of wine I like. The only people I know who have done that are sommeliers and my mom, partly because that requires listening to me talk in detail about the kinds of wine I like.

Veuve Clicquot is so universally gifted that my friend Kristin Newman, a sitcom writer, was given a box of Veuve Clicquot that came with a “Happy Anniversary” note. It was not her anniversary. The note was addressed to the person who gave the bottle to Kristin. I was relieved to find out that person wasn’t me.

It’s not just Veuve. All liquor is lazy gifting. Oh, that guy likes wine! That woman loves whiskey! That couple likes to get wasted and forget how much they hate each other! Liquor is an Amazon gift card with heft.

Except liquor gifting is not as safe as you think. Lots of people I know have confessed to giving wine to friends who were newly sober, which is a rough faux pas to recover from. A gift that says, “It slipped my mind that you wrestled the genetic demon that destroyed your marriage, ended your career, and got you arrested on Hollywood Boulevard” is not going to go over well, no matter how pretty the box is. My friend Cara Berk told me she once bought her friend a bottle of Frangelico: “She was allergic to tree nuts. But it’s boiled down, so she’s good. So that’s good; she’s going to be fine,” she remembered. “She was not fine.”

There’s an even more horrifying liquor-gifting error than almost killing your friend with a liqueur I’m guessing was named after one of Angelina Jolie’s relationships: not opening the bottle of wine I brought to your dinner party. Supposedly, there’s an etiquette rule that you do not have to open a guest’s wine. This makes sense if you want to build a society without dinner parties. I brought that wine so there’s at least one thing I’ll enjoy that night. Where does a host’s right to suspend gift habeas corpus end? If I bring a box of cookies, are you allowed to wait until everyone leaves and eat them all in bed? If I wanted you to enjoy the wine later, I would have put it in one of those little bags with a bow and a note about Kristin’s friend’s anniversary. I get that you may have carefully selected a Rhône to pair with your braised short ribs. But if you don’t also open the Montrachet I brought before the entree, at your next dinner party you’re getting a Veuve Clicquot box full of rocks.

I’m in no way saying you should go to your next Christmas party with a vase or a candle or one of those pillows that you put on a bed and then take off a bed so you can use the real pillows underneath. Just put a little bit of time into your liquor purchase so the gift is personal.

If I need to spell it out further: Buy me the Grande Dame.

8 Wines Anyone Would Be Happy to Get

Wines from Surprising Places

If you find a bottle from Poland, Switzerland, Michigan, Mexico, Israel, either the republic or state of Georgia—I’m interested. That’s something I can’t easily find and have never tried. It doesn’t have to even be good. The most obvious version of this is Chateau Musar from Lebanon. I’m always excited about that.

A Year That Means Something

The year we met? The year we graduated college together? The year we both had kids? A bottle with meaning is a really nice gift.

A Bottle From a Place You Traveled

I like to be bored with your stories about wine.

Sherry

All sherry is good sherry.

Very Old Rioja

Old Rioja vintages are no more expensive than Veuve Clicquot but do take some work to find. Very old anything is interesting to me. It can even be from an off-year of Bordeaux. You can buy those online at auctions pretty quickly, but it does take some planning—which is what makes it a good gift.

Dessert Wines

No one buys dessert wines for themselves. Port, Madeira, Sauternes, Canadian ice wine—it’s all fun.

Oversize Bottles

Magnums are nice. But 3-liter bottles are super-fun. Even cheap ones.

Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad Cava

My wife and I like this Cava in part because it has all this metal hanging from the bottle. It tastes good, too.