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Gifts for Winos 

At every budget level

Although a plain, brown bag might suffice for some winos, others want their Holiday/Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Whatever-Else gift in a plush velvet bag. I'm pretty sure I own every kitschy, wine-related knickknack that has emerged from China's belching factories, and the velvet bags are often the best part. But there are some items that wine enthusiasts actually want or even need -- and they don't have to be expensive. Although this holiday season pundits predict that Americans will spend record amounts of cash (or, more likely, credit), I'm not exactly rolling in it, are you? This guide might ease the pain.

Cheap ($5-$12)

Wines. Less adventurous: Porcupine Ridge 2005 Sauvignon Blanc Western Cape ($10); more adventurous: Borsao 2006 Campo de Borja ($8); very adventurous: Feudo Arancio 2005 Nero d'Avola ($10).

Wine charms. Despite their cutesy cheesiness, they're useful when you have a dozen matching wine glasses (ditto for martini glasses). $10 for a set of four. If you're creative, you can design your own using wares found at crafts stores.

Vacu Vin Rapid Ice Wine Chiller. This handy frozen girdle fits around a wine bottle and chills it within 20 minutes. $11 at WineEnthusiast.com or at upscale kitchen stores. Also useful to keep bottles cold.

Moderate ($12-$25)

Wines. Less adventurous: Four Vines 2005 Naked Chardonnay Santa Barbara ($14); more adventurous: Catena 2004 Malbec Mendoza ($16); really adventurous: Yangarra Park 2004 Old Vine Grenache McClaren Vale ($24).

Vacu Vin Wine Bottle Stoppers. Everyone should own this tool. On those rare days when finishing a bottle isn't an option, fit the rubber, cork-like stopper into the top, then use the hand pump to suck out the offending oxygen. About $12 at most kitchen stores and online.

Books on wine. For the wine newbie, the down-to-earth book by Courtney Cochran called Hip Tastes ($12.89 at Amazon.com) or the perennial bible by Kevin Zraly, Windows on the World Complete Wine Course ($16.47 on Amazon); for the geeks in your life, there's the enlightening To Cork or Not to Cork, by George Taber ($17) -- it chronicles the pros and cons of cork versus screw top, or First Big Crush by Eric Arnold ($16), an entertaining diary of his experience during harvest in New Zealand.

Wine aroma kit. For true geeks learning to train their noses to distinguish wine aromas (professionals often use it for exercise). Companies charge more than $100 for what you can build for less than $20. Fill film canisters or small glass bottles half-full of each of the following: coffee beans, cinnamon, cherry cola, cloves, raspberry jam, tobacco leaves (cigar is best), black cherry jam, green pepper, dirt, grapefruit rinds, lemon or lime rinds, dried mushrooms and leather. The premise is to smell the wine, then smell the essences and find similarities. Very cool for parties.

$25-plus

Wines. How about a mixed half or whole case? Review a few of my columns (archives at charlotte.creativeloafing.com) and buy six-12 bottles. No need for wrapping the cardboard box; put a bow on top and smile.

A decent wine opener. Another necessary item: a Screwpull wine opener (but not the table model -- no foil cutter). No complicated levers, no hassle. Retails around $30 anywhere wine stuff is sold.

Good wine glasses. I buy Spiegelau crystal since they're cheaper than Riedel and I can't tell the difference. But Riedel has a relatively new line of stemless glasses called "O." But for someone super special, even better than the plain version are the "Zin Bitch" Os from Four Vines Winery in Paso Robles. $10 each at FourVines.com.

Catania Wine Enhancer. The gift for the wino with everything. How it works is top secret, but you place a flat glass filled with wine on top of it (an "O" glass is appropriate) and 10 minutes later, the tannins are softer and the wine is, literally, fruitier. I tried it. It freakily works. $65 and it comes with a money-back guarantee (and a velvet bag) at WineEnhancer.net.

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