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How to pick the right wine to gift this holiday season

Choose carefully: You want them to know you splurged.

Wine is a great gift, but picking the right bottle can be a challenge.
Wine is a great gift, but picking the right bottle can be a challenge.Read moreXsandra / Getty Images

It’s not necessary to splurge to drink good wine. There are plenty of well-made wines available for less than $20. However, there are some circumstances where spending more makes perfect sense, as with giving fine wines as gifts.

Wine makes a terrific gift around the holidays, since you can pick virtually any budget and treat someone to a small luxury they might not otherwise indulge in themselves. Fifty dollars may not go that far these days in other kinds of retail, but it can still get you a spectacular bottle of wine.

With so many options, the challenge is picking the right one. Cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are the top fine wine grapes, but you can find those wines at every price point, from the $10 magnum to the $500 bottle, so it’s not always clear to the recipient whether the wine comes from the top shelf or the bargain bin.

This helps explain the popularity of a few luxury wine styles, such as Amarone della Valpolicella, that in and of themselves signal what the giver spent. These unusual Italian red wines are delicious and well-suited to winter weather, but what drives their popularity as a holiday gift is that there is simply no such thing as “cheap” Amarone.

Amarone is not the name of a grape, but rather a style that is expensive to make. Normal, everyday Valpolicella is a light, fruity red blend. Amarone uses the same ingredients but is intensified using a laborious technique called appassimento.

Grapes for Amarone are partially dried after harvest to concentrate their sugars, acids, and flavor compounds, which boosts the wine’s alcoholic strength and turbo-charges its flavors. The result is a red wine of liqueur-like intensity, but only the faintest whisper of sugar content. This example from Masi is loaded with decadent flavors of rum-soaked raisins and black-cherry compote and tastes terrific with bold food partners, from blue cheeses to game stews.

Masi “Costasera” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico — Veneto, Italy

On sale for $49.99 through Jan. 5 (regularly $54.99); PLCB Item #7901

Also available at: Gloucester City Bottlestop in Gloucester City, N.J. for $39.96; Canal’s Bottlestop in Marlton, N.J. for $44.96; Total Wine & More in Cherry Hill, N.J. for $49.99; Total Wine & More in Wilmington, Del. for $56.99.