SANTA MARIA TIMES
BY K. REKA BADGER
Try as we might, there’s no denying it: Christmas looms, merry and bright, and we’ve got shopping to do. Fortunately, living in Santa Barbara County makes selecting gifts for wine and food lovers a fairly easy task, whether we’re wrapping up a special vintage or planning a wine country getaway.
Universally welcome and always the right size, gift baskets make a festive sight among the packages under the Christmas tree. You can purchase them pre-stuffed with assorted goodies or customize them expressly to dazzle discerning recipients.
To create your own, try building around a varietal theme, such as Syrah or Viognier. Include a couple of bottles of the appropriate wine, crackers, roasted nuts, caviar, hard salami, and packaged cheeses that don’t require refrigeration. If you can find a port-style Syrah, bundle it with dark chocolate, and pair a late harvest Viognier with quality caramels to enjoy after the savory snacks.
Match a selection of white wines, such as Chardonnay and dry Gewurztraminer, with baked cheese sticks, white cheddar popcorn, smoked salmon, and vegetable pâté. To augment the mood, tuck in a CD of classical music or rowdy barroom ballads, depending on the sensibilities of the recipient, or a handy iTunes gift card.
Stuff baskets with accessories that your oenophile can play with, such as a Screwpull wine opener, foil cutter, crystal glasses, whimsical bottle stoppers, and maybe even a subscription to Wine Spectator. For cooks, add slotted spoons, small kitchen gadgets, and a selection of vinegar and olive oil.
In lieu of actual baskets, look for branded winery boxes, ornate ice buckets, copper tubs, or miniature barrels to hold the goodies. Even decorative paper bags, wooden trays, or giant novelty glasses will do.
To get some ideas about what to include, check out the Costa de Oro Winery and Marketplace, just off Highway 101 at Stowell Road (922-1468, cdowinery.com. Drive-through service available!). This well-stocked store has a tremendous selection of fresh produce, cheeses, nuts, sweet treats, and savory bites, as well as a full lineup of Costa de Oro Winery wines.
At the McKeon-Phillips Winery tasting room in Santa Maria (928-3025, mckeonphillipswinery.com) look for gift baskets full of wine, logo glasses, chocolate, pasta, crackers, salami, vinegar, olive oil, and a candle. The price varies according to the wines and extras that each basket holds.
The staff at McKeon-Phillips will gladly make up baskets to order. Choose one or all of the winery’s fine vintages, and tuck in some tasty edibles to sustain your friends as they make their way through your generous gift.
Wine-loving hikers might enjoy a backpack loaded with wine, plastic plates, cutlery, and glasses, as well as a corkscrew, cheese cutter, and detailed map of local trails. For those with a sweet tooth, include a bottle of Kalyra Vintage Port, dried figs, and chocolate-covered cherries.
Armchair winos will delight in exploring their favorite subject through books, such as The California Directory of Fine Wineries, Central Coast Edition. Available at area wineries and online at amazon.com, the book profiles 59 tasting rooms throughout Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
ONE VINTAGE: A year in the Vineyard, by Chris Jones, chronicles the experiences of one woman in her Santa Ynez vineyard from bud break to harvest to the regeneration of winter dormancy. Full of thoughtful prose and evocative photographs, this lovely book is available at Foxen Winery and through sagehillpublishing.com.
For iPhone users, look no further than Mr. Picky’s latest app, a continually updated Santa Barbara County wine country directory that details area wineries, as well as selected restaurants and bottle shops. It features stylish graphics, interacts with Google maps, and offers alphabetical access to winery information, as well as a “Near Me” function that plots winery locations via coordinates.
Developed by a Santa Barbara couple and released last July, this handy application includes many wineries not shown on the official Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association maps. It highlights facilities mentioned in the movie Sideways, offers helpful tips, such as where to taste for under $10, and is available at the online iTunes store for a mere 99 cents.
For a gift they won’t soon forget, send your favorite food and wine lovers out for a day of tasting on the wine trail. Breakaway Tours (breakaway-tours.com, 1-800-799-7657) will transport them in style to winery hotspots throughout the Central Coast, and even arrange for a gourmet lunch along the way.
With time slipping by and Christmas looming large, why not take advantage of local bounty to delight the wine and food lovers on your holiday list? Wrap that bottle, stuff that basket, and enjoy the happy season, calm in the knowledge that your shopping is done.
K. Reka Badger is easy to shop for. Send her cheer at firstname.lastname@example.org.