If you know a particular grape or brand that your host favors, go with that. If not, your task becomes even easier: Figure out how much you want to spend, and go with the best value you have found in that range, a wine that tasted like it should (and could) cost a whole lot more. With any luck, it will provide as much “discovery” for them as it did for you.
Holiday gift: This should be more personal. While the host gift is, in a sense, all about you, this should be all about the recipient. And just a little thought goes a long way.
If their name is Jordan, give them a Jordan chardonnay or cabernet. If they’re Jewish, find a wine from the fabulous Israel house Golan Heights (Yarden is often on the label). If they recently returned from Spain, go for an Olivares Monastrell in the $15 range, a Muga Reserva for around $25 or a Clio at about $50.
Unless it’s a stocking stuffer for someone close, eschew the “joke” bottle, where it’s too easy to misfire on more than one front. After all, while Old Bastard might be one of the world’s most profound wines — and priced accordingly — Fat Bastard is one of the least profound.
On the other hand, nothing says the holidays like an off-target gift.