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Wine Gifts - plus some history

Updated on November 13, 2012
Wine Gifts
Wine Gifts | Source

Wine Gifts

While you’re working on your Christmas list this year, you might find yourself thinking about wine gifts and wines. Such presentations are usually well received because so many adults drink wine. Even some who don’t imbibe themselves enjoy having a bottle or two to serve to guests, as mankind has been doing for thousands of years. Wine drinking is an ancient activity. Humans have been enjoying the fermented juice from grapes for thousands of years in many locations on the globe. Over the centuries, wine making has become a specialized art, with new types of wines constantly being developed. And unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade or so, you know that wine has become a focal point of social gatherings in most developed countries. Just think about all the wine tours, wine tasting events, and wine and cheese parties here in the United States! We drink wine with meals, we cook with it, and we often serve it to guests in our homes. Kicking back with a nice glass of wine is a great way to relax. Bottles of wines, wine accessories, wine glasses, wine gift baskets, and other wine gifts have become very popular, too. Have you ever wondered, however, how all this got started?

red wine
red wine | Source

Ancient Wine Making

There’s evidence that man has been drinking wine for about 10,000 years. The oldest evidence of wine making was discovered in the present-day country of Georgia, in Eurasia. It’s unclear whether the resulting wine was made from wild fruits or from cultivated grapes, but historians know that grapevines were cultivated as early as 3,000 BC. Much of this evidence was located in what later became the Ottoman Empire, which included modern-day Turkey, Egypt, Romania, Albania, Serbia, Armenia, Greece, and other nations.

No one knows where the first winery was, but an exciting discovery made at the beginning of 2011 revealed the site of the oldest known winery. A cave in Armenia provided archaeologists with grape vines, grape seeds, a grape press, vats for fermentation, and vessels for storing and drinking wine. It’s estimated that this winery was in operation around 4,000 BC.

Wine Making has been done for thousands of years.
Wine Making has been done for thousands of years. | Source

Wine Making - in Europe

Greece, especially the region of Macedonia, played an important role in wine making. Evidence of crushing or pressing grapes for winemaking in Macedonia dates back to around 4,500 BC. If you’re familiar with Greek mythology and the ancient Greek deities, you know that Dionysus was the Greek god of wine and wine making. The figure of Dionysus embodies the process of wine making and the characteristics of wine drinking. The story goes that the god was dismembered by the Titans, but that he came back to life. This is symbolic of the grapevine. The vines must be cut back in the winter, making them look completely lifeless. In the spring, however, the vines once again become productive. Also, Dionysus had the power to make men joyful or to make them violent, as drinking wine can do.

Using Vitis vinifera grapes, Greek wine makers established the process of turning grapes into wine that served as the basis for future wine making. The early Greeks’ winemaking techniques spread through much of Europe, especially to Greek colonies in present-day Spain, Italy, and France. Greek colonies in southern Italy became famous for their wine production, largely due to the area’s climate.

By 270 BC, the Greek-controlled areas of southern Italy became part of the Roman Empire. With ensuing Roman battles, Italian winemakers and vintners became exposed to new techniques, especially those that were popular in Carthage. Winemaking and the daily consumption of wine became commonplace in Rome, and all levels of society were able to partake. At one point, every Roman citizen, including children, averaged drinking a bottle of wine every day.

Wine merchants in Rome quickly discovered that they had a “hot” product. From Germanic tribes, the Romans learned to make wooden barrels, which made transporting large amounts of wine easier. They began exporting their wines to modern-day France, Spain, Germany, and Britain. Also, Roman settlers and soldiers in these locations began to establish vineyards so that grapes could be grown and winemaking could be done locally.

The Church helped spread wine making and the drinking of wine.
The Church helped spread wine making and the drinking of wine. | Source

Wine and the Church

Religion is partly responsible for the spread of wine drinking and winemaking in Europe. Wine, vineyards, and the consumption of wine are mentioned numerous times in the Torah and the Old and New Testaments. In fact, after the Flood, one of the first things Noah did was to plant grapevines. You’re probably familiar, also, with the New Testament account of Jesus’ turning water into wine at a wedding. Wine became an important part of Holy Communion, or The Eucharist, in the Catholic Church.

Because wine was a necessary part of The Eucharist, the Church had to be guaranteed a constant supply. As a result, monks often became winemakers. In Germany and France, Benedictine monks became some of the most important vintners and winemakers in the countries. Other orders of monks also became important wine producers, and some groups made more wine than they needed for mass, so the extra wine was often sold and exported to be used for a variety of purposes.

During the middle ages, the Catholic Church in Europe was a powerful entity. In fact, for the most part, it controlled the crowned heads and dictated customs and traditions of society. All levels of social classes, from the king to the peasant, looked to the Church for guidance. Since wine was revered by the Church, it was viewed as a positive element. Keep in mind, however, that while drinking small amounts of wine was approved, drunkenness was not. Often, wine was diluted with water to greatly reduce its alcoholic content.

The Little Ice Age greatly decreased the production of wine.
The Little Ice Age greatly decreased the production of wine. | Source

The Little Ice Age

Wine was a common beverage in Europe by the middle ages. In some parts of the continent, however, it was expensive, so it was largely reserved for the merchant class and up to the nobility. Such was the case in most northern European nations. In southern regions, where wine grapes were grown in abundance, wine was inexpensive and was imbibed by all classes of society.

The climate in much of Europe changed in the middle ages, starting around 1550. Periods of cooler weather were interspersed with warming periods, lasting until roughly 1850. This span of three hundred years is often referred to as the “Little Ice Age.” While not a true ice age in the literal sense of the term, there was widespread cooling that had dramatic effects on the population. Rivers froze, many harbors became un-navigable, and flooding destroyed cropland. The growing season was shortened, and harvests decreased. As a result, famine was widespread in some areas. Colder winters and wetter summers made grape growing difficult, and in some areas, viticulture ceased completely. Until about 1700, wine could rarely be stored for more than a year, so the beverage became dear in many locations. Without the grapes for winemaking, many Europeans turned to making beer and liquor from grains.

Not all the Europeans affected by the lack of grapes during the Little Ice Age were ready to give up their beloved wines, however. Some soon learned that wine could be made from fruits other than grapes, so “country wines” began to be made.

I like to buy wines from local wineries.
I like to buy wines from local wineries. | Source

American Wine

Grapes were growing wild in North America long before the first European explorers arrived. The first colonists brought European grapevines with them, trying to establish vineyards along the Atlantic coast. The vines didn’t grow well, due to a combination of climate, diseases, and insects. The settlers in these areas were forced to make wines from the native grapes or from other fruits.

The grapes brought to the New World by the Spanish explorers fared much better. The “mission grapes” thrived in Mexico and California. The first successful vineyard planted in California was at Mission San Diego, planted in 1769 under the supervision of Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan missionary. Serra established several more vineyards, and over the years, the practice of growing wine grapes spread – not only in California, but to other states, as well.

American wines were usually considered inferior to their European and South American counterparts. Much of this attitude changed, however, when vintages of American wine began to win prestigious awards. Thanks to hardier grape vines and new technology, vineyards can now grow in places where it would have been impossible just a few decades ago. Today, wineries can be found in all fifty U.S. states, including Alaska.

wine cork art
wine cork art | Source

Unique Wine Gifts

Trying to come up with some unique wine gifts for someone special on your shopping list? There are plenty available, and you’ll find a wide range of prices, so you’re sure to find one to fit easily into your budget. If you want to give bottles of wine, you might want to consider giving something new for the recipient to try. Stick with the same type of wine the person likes, but offer a different vintage or a related wine. For example, if the person likes white wine and usually drinks chardonnay, try giving a bottle of Pinot Grigio. I enjoy giving wines from local vineyards as gifts, and I’ve already purchased several bottles for Christmas presents.

Truly unique wine gifts can also include interesting wine racks. Choose one that will compliment the recipient’s decorating style, or find a neutral one that will go with just about everything. Another idea is to give some wine-related artwork. This might include a still life painting, a vintage black-and-white framed photograph of wine or a famous wine-growing area, or art made of wine corks.

One of the most unique wine gifts I've found is also very useful. If you've ever included wine on a picnic, you know that you usually don't have a level surface to set the glasses and bottle on, right? Picnic Stix solves the problem! They're wire picks that stick into the ground. The top of the metal spikes are made to hold your wine glasses and your bottle of wine. Cool!

A wine gift might also be unique if it includes a rare, unusual, or hard-to-find vintage. If you’re giving a single bottle, wrapping it is a snap! You can find lots of gift bags specifically made for wine bottles. Just slip the bottle in the bag and add some tissue paper. If you don’t want to use a gift bag, wrap the bottle in wrapping paper and tie it with ribbon at the top. For a more rustic look, use newspaper or brown butcher paper. Instead of ribbon, you might want to use a raffia bow or twine. If you use twine, you can attach a wine charm or two to the bottle. If you want to give more than one bottle in the same bag or box, make sure your wine gifts have some cushioning between them. You’d hate for one of the bottles to break!

Wine Accessories

Wine gifts are much appreciated by anyone who enjoys drinking wine. And since many people enjoy winemaking as a hobby, wine making equipment and wine accessories often make nice gifts. Even if you don’t want to give wine as a gift because you’re not sure of the recipient’s individual tastes, there are plenty of wine accessories that would go with any types of wines. Some include wine glasses, corkscrews, wine racks, wine savers, wine chillers, wine aerators, and wine glass charms. I’ve often given glass charms as gifts. A set is inexpensive, and you can tailor them to your recipient’s interests. To see more accessories associated with wine drinking, click on any of the products below.

Wine Glasses
Wine Glasses | Source

Wine Glasses

A set of wine glasses makes a great gift for practically any occasion – birthday, wedding, Christmas, or anniversary. If you haven’t noticed, there all sorts of styles from which to choose, ranging from fun and funky to fancy and formal. You can find stemmed and stemless wine glasses. Consider the habits of your recipients when choosing the best wine glasses. When and where does the person usually enjoy a glass of wine? Is it by the pool, at the dinner table, or at a party? If the person enjoys a casual glass of wine outdoors, you might want to consider shatter-proof glasses.

You might decide on a set of monogrammed stems, or you might prefer some hand-painted glasses. If your recipient appreciates whimsy, check out the redneck wine glasses below. They’re like small Mason jars on stems. Glasses for serving wine are available in glass, pewter, stainless steel, plastic, and crystal. You can also find goblets ringed with gold or silver, etched with designs, or adorned with a motif.

Wine Gift Baskets

Wine gift baskets make wonderful gifts! After all, who doesn't enjoy tearing into a basket of goodies? You can purchase already made gift baskets that include wine, or you can make your own collection. Another option is to buy gift baskets that include foods and other items to go with wine, and you supply the wine to add to the basket.

To make your own wine gift baskets, choose the wines first. Next, select foods that will go well with the wine or wines you’ve selected. Food items might include pastas, pasta sauces, Italian bread, cheeses, crackers, cheese spreads, sun-dried tomato spreads, dark chocolate candies, fresh fruits, nuts, and biscotti. If you don’t want to go the food route, fill the basket with wine accessories. After choosing an appropriate basket or other container, fill the bottom with shredded paper or excelsior. Place the wine bottle in the center of the basket, and surround it with other items, placing larger items first. Fill in the small spaces with wine charms, individual wrapped candies, and small packages of crackers. If you like, you can place the basket and its contents in a large clear bag. Vacuum out the air and fasten the top of the bag with a wire twist-tie. Cover the wire with a bow or ribbon. If your gift basket has items that need refrigeration, make sure the recipient knows that.

Need some ideas for gift baskets that contain wines and cheeses? Use the table below as a guide.

Ideas For Gift Baskets

Other Foods
fontina, gouda, brie, manchego
cream sauces, grapes
camembert, sharp cheddar
peaches, apples
Monterey jack, gouda, colby
peaches, blackberries
provolone, mild cheddar, gruyere
apples, garlic sauces
Asiago, parmesan
marinara sauce, pasta, figs
Pinot Noir
gouda, Lancashire, Edam
apples, berries, salmon
Chenin Blanc
camembert, goat cheese, derby
apricots, peaches, pears
Camembert, mild cheddar, colby, gouda
caviar, strawberries, blueberries
Roquefort, Stilton
dark chocolate, cherries, figs
brie, gorgonzola, Havarti
plums, pears
Pinot Grigio
fresh mozzarella, farmer, ricotta
pears, apples, pineapple
Sauvignon Blanc
brie, mozzarella, cheshire
vinaigrette dressings, pears, apples

How to make Wine Gift Baskets:

more about Gift Baskets:


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