Wilder on Wine: Wines in the spirit of giving

Thursday, December 18, 2008 at 1:01am

As you are no doubt well aware at this point, the options for holiday gifts can be overwhelming. Even within a specific category, such as wine, you have thousands of bottles to choose from. How do you pick the perfect gift?

One idea is to give a wine that keeps on giving. There are many wineries that donate a portion of the proceeds from specific bottles of their wines to charities. So why not pick up a bottle related to the gift recipient’s favorite cause, and throw in a donation in their name while you’re at it? Don’t we all have enough stuff already? I think the idea of giving to a cause, and giving a wine to toast it with, really captures the spirit of the holidays.

Cancer is one of the most prevalent causes among philanthropic-minded wines, and it’s certainly an issue that touches almost all of us in one way or another. There are some excellent wines to choose from, and they’re all made in an approachable, fruit-forward style that is bound to appeal to any wine drinker.

For fun and fruity, go with the Hope Cellars Reserve Shiraz, which supports breast cancer research. It’s appealing in packaging (pink, of course), taste (from all estate-grown fruit, it’s balanced, ripe and rich shiraz with lots of plum, mocha and pepper) and price (under $15).

Another excellent breast-cancer specific wine is Cline’s Cashmere blend ($17) from California, which is made in the style of Rhone wines. It’s appropriately named: the texture is sumptuous and supports layers of plush fruit.

For super value, check out the Two Brothers Big Tattoo Red and White wines (around $10 each). The reds are from Chile, and the white is a German riesling blend. A partnership between brothers Erik (a world-renowned tattoo artist) and Alex Bartholomaus, they released their debut wine, Big Tattoo Red 2001, in autumn of 2002 as a way to raise funds for cancer research and Hospice care in memory of their mother, Liliana S. Bartholomaus.

On the higher end, I love the Dunham Cellars “Shirley Mays” Chardonnay ($43), from Washington state. It’s an incredibly well-made chardonnay that leans more toward a balanced, complex and crisp Burgundian style. It honors the winemaker’s grandmother, and a portion of the proceeds goes to a breast cancer research fund created in her honor.

Take your gift to the next level by adding a customized donation. Through the American Cancer Society’s Web site (cancer.org), you can make a donation of anything from $5 to $500, choose which area of research to direct it toward, and contribute either in your friend’s name or in the name of one of their loved ones affected by cancer.

There are a lot of other excellent wines that give to equally excellent causes. See the sidebar for more ideas.

And with the vast array of wine package designs on the market, even if a winery doesn’t specifically support a charitable cause, it can be the perfect accompaniment to a donation to the recipient’s cause of choice. For example, pick up the Magnificent Wine Company’s “House Wine” ($13) from Washington state and donate to Habitat for Humanity. Or pick up a bottle of Primaterra wine, which feature excellent Italian red and white varietals with cute child-like drawings on the label, and pair it with a donation to Unicef.

This year, consider giving a gift that’s more than what’s in the bottle!

Other wines with a cause:

Vinum Cellars "PETS" Petite Sirah ($15): Dark and rich petite sirah from California; part of the proceeds go to the San Francisco Animal Shelter. Pair with a donation to the Humane Society or the Nashville Animal Shelter.

Woodward Graff Cabernet Sauvignon ($40): An elegant Napa cabernet that donates to educational scholarships for students pursuing careers in the food and wine industry. Pair with a donation to the recipient’s alma mater, or their children’s school.

Steelhead Dry Creek Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc ($20): For the outdoorsman (or woman), this is big burly zin and zesty sauvignon blanc. The winery donates to Trouts Unlimited, and you could pair the wine with a donation to the Sierra Club.

Filed under: Lifestyles