Over the years I've hosted lots of wine tastings, tried lots of wine gadgets, read lots of books, watched lots of videos. Here's a collection of the best wine gear I've found - for everyday use, entertaining, education, etc. Everything is listed according to category: books and wine education, gadgets/glassware/serving/entertaining, movies, etc. All these items also make great gifts. Enjoy!
GADGETS / GLASSWARE / SERVING / ENTERTAINING
These are the glasses I use at home. Because I plan wine tastings for groups, I need lots of glasses that conform to the standard tasting shape, work for all kinds of wine, double as wine glasses for everyday use, and don't cost much per stem. These fit the bill, and I buy them by the case. For more on choosing glassware, check out "Wine Glasses: What Kind, Why, and Where to Get Them."
I first saw this tequila tasting set for sale in the Museum of Fine Arts Houston gift shop. I'm not sure what it had to do with the art on display, but I fell in love with it. Except I don't drink much tequila... And then some great friends got it for me as a birthday present, and I've had fun experimenting with ways to use it. My favorite way is to serve Port in the glasses and put chocolates or brownies on the tray. Or you could serve Sauternes with foie gras or cheese as either an appetizer or dessert, and feel very European. Not only does this serving set look great, but the glasses and tray come off the stand and can go through the dishwasher. Hooray for easy clean-up!
**The price of the 6-shot set seems to fluctuate between $100 and $300. If the price above looks high, check here.
I've written before about why wine glasses should have a stem, but these are designed to travel, so I'm giving them a pass on that feature. If you (or your intended gift recipient) like to take wine to any of the wonderful, outdoor Houston venues where glass is not allowed (like Miller Outdoor Theater or a Galveston beach), these would be a great way to upgrade your wine experience from that red plastic cup.
You want to have a glass of wine outside. Gnats love wine. You don't like drinking gnats. Get some of these!
I own one of these and have been very pleased with it. The price has even come down quite a bit from when it was first released. Some people never decant or aerate their wines, others always do. I fall into the "occasional" category. (For more on that topic, check out "Should you let the wine breathe?") But if you want to aerate, I think this is the best choice of the many options on the market. Some people like the Vinturi, but it takes 2 hands to use and spills if your aim is slightly off. This Nuance model fits securely into the neck of the wine bottle and provides a perfect non-drop spout.
If you have an open bottle you aren't going to finish, Private Preserve (or a similar system) is the best way to keep the wine fresh until you're ready to drink it. The can sprays inert, harmless gasses into the partially empty wine bottle, and the gasses, which are heavier than air, create a protective blanket on top of the wine, so it won't oxidize as quickly. Then you just stick the cork back in the top. For me, just one of these cans will last more than a year. For more on how to preserve wine, check out "Saving Your Leftovers (or, how Bear Dalton convinced me I'd been preserving my wine wrong for years!)" and "The Best Way to Save an Open Wine Bottle."
Chalkboard table runners are fun to use at dinner parties or wine tastings. Write information about the wine, or which foods to pair with which wines, or let your guests write (or draw?) their impressions. As a bonus, the runner also protects the table from wine or food drips and spills. You need chalkboard markers to write on them. The markers go on wet (kind of like a paint pen, if you remember those), and need a few seconds to dry. Then the writing won't smudge. At the end of the night, wipe the chalkboard runner down with a damp paper towel (you may need to wipe a few times), and use it again and again. (You can also see my favorite wine glasses in the pictures below.)
Wine Aroma Wheel. It helps people identify what they're smelling in the wine. It's fun at parties, but also for the serious wine student who wants to improve his ability to identify aromas. An all-around great tool.
This is great multi-tasker. It's 2 pieces: On the bottom is a basic stainless steel ice bucket or wine chilling bucket, which is always useful when entertaining. For a wine tasting party, you snap on the lid, and you have the perfect spit/dump bucket.
BOOKS / WINE EDUCATION
For the novice wine enthusiast... This is a cute, fun, and engaging book that also gets a lot of information across. It has good visuals, plus the scratch-n-sniff wine aromas. It would be great to keep on your coffee table as a conversation starter. I wrote a full review of it here.
For the beginning to intermediate wine enthusiast... I love this book. It covers lots of topics related to wine (how to taste, how to describe what you like, how wine is made, how to read labels, storing, serving, important wine regions, etc.) and answers all the "why" questions that I always want to know about. Even better, it's packed with infographics on nearly every page to illustrate the information. Look at the cute little yeasts! Later in the book, when the yeasts have died, they have Xs over their eyes. It's awesome.
Also for the beginning to intermediate wine enthusiast... Great Wine Made Simple is one of my favorite books for learning about wine on your own at home. It explains all the basics of wine in a clear and straightforward way, with a focus on learning to identify and describe the wine characteristics you like. To this end, it gives very specific instructions on how to set up your own wine tastings to learn about each characteristic. It lacks the fantastic infographics of Wine: A Tasting Course, but it recommends more tastings and goes into more detail about setting them up. For this reason, it's also a great resource for planning wine parties.
For the serious wine student... This really covers all your bases. There's not much you can't look up in this gigantic tome.
For the ultra-serious wine
I love this true story of fake wine. It's fascinating and reads almost like a mystery novel. I think even someone who isn't a wine geek would enjoy it.
Here is a great, less expensive item for a wine geek. A giant periodic table of wine grapes, organized according to detailed information about each of their characteristics? Be still my infographic-loving heart! Makes a great addition to any wine geek's office, kitchen, or preferred tasting area.
MOVIES / VIDEOS / WINE EDUCATION
I enjoyed watching this film when it first came out, back when I was interested in wine but knew almost nothing about it. I enjoyed it even more a few years later, after I had taken lots of wine classes. It's entertaining, educational, and engages with one of the central issues of winemaking as the wine business becomes ever more globalized.
This film follows candidates for the most difficult wine certification exam in the world, as they study and take the exam. It's fun to watch whether you know much about wine or not. I wrote a full review of it here.
This film examines the relationship between Bordeaux and China, covering the business issues as well as the cultural factors. It's fascinating, and I wrote a full review of it here.
This film provides an easygoing, entertaining introduction to the subject of wine. It's suitable for the complete wine novice, but also enjoyable for those with a bit more wine knowledge. If you love John Cleese like I do, you'll enjoy it regardless.
This 6-hour documentary on Prohibition is amazing, but I'd expect nothing less from Ken Burns. With lots of images and video of the times, it traces the evolution of the temperance movement from it origins before the Civil War, to the ratification of the 18th amendment prohibiting alcohol, to the many unintended consequences of the law, to its repeal with the 21st amendment more than a decade later. The story is far more fascinating and complex than I imagined. If you're interested in the history of alcohol, American history, or just love the roaring 20s, this documentary is for you.
Essential for exploring a wine trail, or even for routine wine purchases. Don't buy a bottle and then let it get damaged by the heat in your car. This 6-bottle insulated rolling tote is the greatest. It's compact and can be carried by a short handle, a long shoulder strap, or rolled like luggage. Because the interior divider is flexible, you can adjust the sections to meet your needs -- so if you have 4 bottles plus some snacks, ice, or other drinks, you can just fold down one of the dividers to create a larger space.
Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen did a thorough trial of wine travel bags for packing bottles in suitcases. The VinniBag won for protection of the bottle, containment of any potential spilled wine, and versatility for handling a range of bottle shapes and sizes. It's reusable and washable. You blow into the air valve to inflate the bag around the bottle. The bottle is cushioned, but if it does break, the wine is contained in the bag. While I haven't personally used this bag, I have tried others which were disappointing -- either because their size wouldn't accommodate a larger bottle (Champagne in my case), or because the bag's seal wasn't tight, or the padding was thin. The VinniBag will be my go-to wine travel bag from now on.