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Fail-safe holiday gift guide 

How to make it a cool yule

Although I try so hard to shun the consumerist flimflam that Christmas has morphed into, I secretly get giddy when a package looking suspiciously like a wine bottle shows up under the tree. It's even better when, upon opening, it's evident the giver carefully considered the bottle before buying it. You, too, could be this thoughtful gift giver to the vino lover on your list. Just check out these ideas and throw them into your cart, online or otherwise.

Wine diary. Grab a respectable looking pocket-sized notebook at Target and customize it with colorful tabs labeled by grape variety. Your memory-challenged wine buds can keep track of what they taste. Cost: less than $10.

Vacu Vin Wine bottle stoppers. A tool every wine drinker should have, no matter how inexperienced. When finishing a bottle isn't an option, fit the rubber, cork-like stoppers into the top, then use the hand pump to suck out the damaging oxygen. The complete package will put you back about $12 at most kitchen stores and online.

Wine for Dummies. Go ahead and giggle, but this book is one of the best around. Updated in August 2003, this well-written, fun, easy-to-read wine resource features no-frills education, since the three authors understand most people just want to learn. Cost: under $15.

A decent wine opener. Still have friends struggling with those crappy wing-type corkscrews? Save them some humiliation by introducing the gift of wine loving: a Screwpull wine opener. No cork breaking, no complicated levers, no hassle. Cost: $25 at kitchen stores and online.

Crystal wine glasses. Not for the clumsy, delicate wine glasses provide an upscale, oft-described as better tasting, experience for the wine lover. Brands like Riedel, Spiegelau and Waterford vie for the first-place prize for best glass. Their different shapes and sizes are designed to maximize the wine's flavor by aiming it at a certain place on your tongue. Prices range anywhere from $6 to $70 per glass at wine shops, kitchen shops and online wine stores.

PDA wine software. For the technology buff, there's the Wine Enthusiast software package. Complete with wine terminology, a wine-cataloguing tool, and thousands of wine descriptions. Cost: $25-$30 online.

Wine magazine subscriptions. The gift may not be original, but these glossy, wine geek pubs provide info on winemakers, new wineries, wine reviews and trends that people love to track. The "must-reads" in the industry are Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Wine Advocate. Better yet, offer them online subscriptions, where they can read the monthly edition and search years of wine review archives. Cost: $40-$99.

Winemaking kit. For those really serious wine people aspiring to winemaking fame, there are actually home wine-making kits you can use in your garage. Home-brewing shops and websites (www.beer-wine.com) offer complete do-it-yourself kits starting at about $50.

Wine clubs. If you want to throw some money around, give a monthly shipment of highly sought-after boutique wines from California Wine Club (www.cawineclub.com). Gift subscriptions start at $117 for three months and go up from there.

Refrigerated bottle cellar. These cool, stand-alone appliances keep collections at an optimal temperature and humidity level to age wines better than on your countertop or in the closet. But they ain't cheap. Shell out at least $300 for the smallest 24-bottle and up to $5,000 for a fancy brand 100-bottle version. Research online.

Wine. Whether it's enshrined in a case or nestled in a velvet bag, people appreciate wine. For $12 and under, look no further than Australian Shiraz from Paringa, Wolf Blass or Wynn's. For $12 to $20, there's New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from Selak's, Washington State's Hogue Genesis Series wines, or Oregon's King Estate Pinot Noir. For $20 plus, Flora Springs Estate Merlot, Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rose Champagne, and sweet Inniskillin ice wines. Check other wine reviews online in the Creative Loafing archives.

corkscrew@creativeloafing.com

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